Album Review: Every Time I Die – “Ex-Lives”

I’m not going to lie, I’m biased; Hot Damn, is one of my favourite albums of all time. However, Every Time I Die’s (ETID) track record has not been consistent. Gutter Phenomenon’s thin guitar tones and the drastic change in vocal delivery left me disappointed. Then there was The Big Dirty; an album that houses some of my all-time favourite ETID tracks (namely, Leathernecks and Cities and Years) but had some noticeable weak points as well. But New Junk Aesthetic left me worried about the future of ETID; the album had some slayers, but overall I was left thinking that this band’s best work was behind them. Their latest album, Ex-Lives, is one of the most anticipated arrivals of the year; but does it bring that confident swagger we all know and love?

Let’s find out!

The direction in which this band is going is heavier and darker; this is immediately conveyed by the opening track, “Underwater Bimbos from Outer Space”. The relentless riffing resembles something of mass hysteria while the repetitive screaming induces a feeling of madness. This accompanied by the video directed by singer Keith Buckley is enough to give a grown man nightmares.  The assault doesn’t end there, as “Holy Book of Dilemmas” (one of my favourite tunes) and “A Wild Shameless Plain” blast through at 1:49 a piece continuing the barrage of powerful breakdowns and trashy drum beats. It isn’t until “Typical Miracle” and “I Suck (Blood)” that you get those toe-tappers reminiscent of passed ETID. This album has an incredibly strong start, reminding me why ETID naturally attracts so much attention.

The intentional stand out track, “Partying is Such Sweet Sorrow”, is that cliché balls-out cock-rockin’ tune that we have all grown to love ETID for. This song dramatically changes the mood of the album, but not for very long. The first half is something you’d kick start a party too, but by the end of it you’ll be wondering if someone slipped something into your drink; refreshing stuff (pun intended). Next up is “The Low Road has No Exits” which is another one of my favourite tracks on the album. It’s catchy, has great lyrics, and is simply a fun tune exhibiting this bands strong points; a defining track of new ETID sound.

Another stand out track is “Revival Mode”.  This song is unlike anything ETID has done on previous albums: which is arguably a good thing.  I think it’s important to point out that this album was produced by Joe Berassi, the same guy who has done a number of Queens of the Stone Age (QOTSA) albums. That unique droning rock n’ roll vibe that QOTSA does so well is quite alive in “Revival Mode”; which I found a little too obvious. It’s a bluesy classic-rock tune in the middle of a metal-core album; I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it. I commend ETID for exploring different styles on this album, but a track like this comes off as awkward and unbecoming. Ultimately, it’s one of those songs you’ll either like and give them kudos for, or skip over; you’ll have to decide for yourself when you buy the album.

Drag King, Touch Yourself, and Indian Giver are the tracks that sum up the album. Drag King has some unique noodly guitar lines, a super catchy outro (with the vocals again reminding me of Josh Homme of QOTSA) and for being the longest song on the album at 4:11, goes by in a flash. Touch Yourself exhibits relatively new drummer, Ryan Legers, precision and speed which serves as a good contrast to the drumming style of former kitman, Mike “Ratboy” Novak. Finally, Indian Giver brings it home as a sludgy tune with a really cool vibe; another fine example of the blurring of genres that this album is reaching for; a bold track to end this album with.

When this album was over, I felt like I missed something; as if I missed the point. I’ve listened to it again, and again, but I keep feeling the same way. Nothing about this album stood out to me the same way some of the previous albums had. I had a hard time defining what tracks I liked most; which is normally incredibly easy for me to do on ETID albums.  Of course there were some songs that I liked more than others, however looking back on ETID repertoire of music, not a single one off this album really made an impact on me. I found that they replaced their unique character with a ferocity that aims to impress; a change that infinitely impacts my appreciation for this band.

Everything about this album screams ETID, but perhaps the character that shines brightest on this album are Keith Buckley’s vocals.  There is an air of seriousness on this album that is unlike past efforts and there may be a number of reasons for this.  On former albums, Buckley has written about his distaste for the music industry and the monotony of playing shows (Depressionista comes to mind). Beyond this, his work with the Damned Things may be a sign that his range of artistic expression may not be sufficient through ETID alone. This album, and I would say New Junk Aesthetic as well, are moving in this new direction; away from the “one trick pony” riff after riff sort of stuff and into exploring new genres. Although this developing sound is necessary for the growth of ETID, I feel as if this transition sometimes comes off as awkward and cliché. Buckley is still one of my favourite vocalists and lyricists of this genre, but I think he is trying to reach for something that is not obtainable through ETID.
There is an organic feel with ETID songs that I think they are trying to branch away from.  This band is heavily driven by guitar which has the potential to be limiting. As the band has had something like 7 different bass players over the years it is clear to see that the position is filled out of necessity, not for creative input. This lack of dynamic may be the demise of ETID unless they are able to continuously redefine this style for albums to come; a task that I sense is becoming more and more difficult.

As this band develops, so will their influences and creative capacities. Ex-Lives, Every Time I Die’s sixth full-length, left me with a feeling of indifference, which was something I feared. ETID continues to be at the forefront of this Metal/Rock genre that they have created for themselves; but as is always the problem, where do you go from there? Although Ex-Lives is another fine effort by ETID, I feel it safe to conclude that their best days are indeed behind them; I can only hope that their next effort will prove me wrong.

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