Review Summary: A refreshing twist on the classic ETID sound
The first song that truly made me an Every Time I Die fan (after the catchy and popular hit "The New Black" of course) was "Wanderlust" off 2009's "New Junk Aesthetic". To me, that was the first time that vocalist Keith Buckley bared his soul on an album. It's weird to say that a band so notorious for their energy lacks emotion, but prior to "Wanderlust", it didn't feel personal. Listening to Buckley sing-yell, "Because your heart is no place for a wretch like me", you could truly feel where he was coming from. One of the biggest criticisms I've held about Every Time I Die has been that their music lacks intimacy. Buckley has one of the most unique and instantly recognizable voices within the genre and always delivers a passionate performance, both live and recorded, but rarely do his vocals seem to connect with the lyrics. There is no doubt that Buckley is as talented as they come, and one of the more brilliant lyricists of modern music, but there have been few moments of true vulnerability and pain captured throughout ETID's history. "Wanderlust" was one, and fortunately for us, "Low Teens" is another.
Buckley (and the rest of the band by extension) had quite a rocky year leading up to "Low Teens" and it shows. Between Buckley's struggle with addiction, his desire to get clean, and almost losing his wife and unborn child to illness, the revered vocalist penned arguably his strongest and most passionate set of lyrics to date. From start to finish, there is a new side to Buckley rarely seen, a new vulnerability that makes "Low Teens" incredibly personal. Listen to Buckley shout "Hell is not a myth" on the phenomenal "Map Change" and you understand immediately that those words come from a truly intimate and private place. Even on the more tongue-in-cheek "I Didn't Want To Join Your Stupid Cult Anyway", the lyrics pull you in and connect you to Keith Buckley, the human, rather than Keith Buckley, the performer. This introspection and emotion makes for an album that is equal parts powerful, raw, and mature, and the band as a whole is all the better for it.
Speaking of the rest of the band, everyone else is outstanding as well. Make no mistake, "Low Teens" is still an Every Time I Die record through and through and does not feel out of place among the rest of their catalog. As is the norm, guitarists Andy Williams and Jordan Buckley, and bassist Stephen Micciche are all impeccable at creating the hard-hitting, powerful, and "nuanced-but-blunt" compositions that we've come to expect from the band. Even new drummer Daniel Davison (ex-Norma Jean/Underoath) meshes so perfectly with the style that I actually forgot previous drummer Ryan "Legs" Legler left the band until I started writing this review. The aforementioned "I Didn't Want To Join Your Stupid Cult Anyway" will no doubt be a staple of ETID pits for years to come and "The Coin Has It's Say" might be the best song that the band ever releases. If you had any doubts that Every Time I Die would one day alter their sound and not make a true "Every Time I Die" album, "Low Teens" should put any of those fears to rest.
With all that in mind, compared to previous releases, "Low Teens" experiments far more than some of it's predecessors ("From Parts Unknown", notwithstanding). The band takes some risks, with the majority of them working out for the positive. From the punk rock roots of "Glitches", to the southern-rock inspired "Awful Lot", to even the quizzical, but surprisingly effective guest vocals from Panic! At the Disco's Brendon Urie on "It Remembers", "Low Teens" is rife with successful renditions of the classic ETID sound. There are a few niggling production issues, such as the weird guitar part on "C++ (Love Will Get You Killed)" that sounds dubbed in over the rest of track, or that the track order itself is somewhat disjointed and jarring at times, but those are relatively minor quibbles in the full scope of the album itself.
There is no denying that Every Time I Die have a "formula" and to their credit, it works. What makes "Low Teens" fantastic is that it follows that formula and tweaks it just enough to make it fresh, but not so much as to ruin what we expect from an ETID album. After nearly 20 years, many bands are lucky to still be together, never mind producing such high-quality content as "Low Teens". This is Every Time I Die at it's finest- heavy, aggressive, and energetic- but with an added dose of intimacy, and the result is amazing, making "Low Teens" arguably the best ETID album to date. Like a world-class chef experimenting with a classic recipe, Every Time I Die manage to breath new life into their discography, while remaining true to the signature sound they have curated as a band.
Favorite tracks: "Map Change"; "The Coin Has It's Say"; "It Remembers"