Review Summary: The awakening of a pissed off and scared metalcore giant.
The long-term success of Buffalo quintet, Every Time I Die is undeniable. Their eighth full-length, Low Teens
, marks their sixth Billboard top-100 (and third top-25) release in a row, as well as their fourth consecutive 4.0 rating on Sputnik. Despite their talent and success, the band had a growing number of detractors claiming that they had actually fallen into a creative lull, and that each successive album felt more and more like going through the motions. I’m not going to lie, I was one of those lamenters, but no more. In addition to the usual assault of frenetic screams and nasty riffs, Low Teens
teeters on the brink of insanity with a raw emotion and desperation never before seen from the group.
This shift is signaled in the very first line belted out by vocalist Keith Buckley: "though it may haunt us and break our hearts, death cannot tear us apart." Buckley had been faced with tragedy last winter, when pregnancy complications threatened the lives of his wife and prematurely-born daughter. Fate forced him into the role of a powerless observer for weeks, and during this time he also began the battle of sobriety after 20 years of drinking. Understandably, these weeks brought him to a very dark place, and he dealt with his emotions by writing them down. Thankfully, both his wife and daughter eventually pulled through, but the horror of his experience lives on in Low Teens
Buckley is as much a tour guide as a vocalist on Low Teens
- leading the listener through the even the most bleak and personal corners of his psyche. The sheer honesty and vulnerability displayed in his words is often breathtaking to behold. The best example of this comes in the song “Petal,” which was the first one he wrote while processing his family’s situation. In it, Buckley affirms that "I'd better warm up my gun in case love is not enough," and later concludes, "if I have to walk alone, I'm giving up. I can't stay here knowing love is not enough. Untimely ripped into this world, I was born again as a girl." The raw emotion of Buckley’s tortured words and delivery is matched beautifully by the rest of the band, as Buckley’s last line is wildly screeched over the nastiest breakdown on the album.
Buckley is an expert writer who possesses the ability to use metaphors and imagery to seamlessly tie together his verbal landscapes. His work on Low Teens
showcases these strengths, as he makes use of oceanic themes in an especially effective manner due to the album’s sonic resemblance to ferocious ocean tides; colossal riffs crash over and over like waves, while Stephen Micciche’s burly basslines serve as the undertow. Buckley’s oceanic lyrical references permeate their way into several songs, and there are two in particular on which they flow perfectly: “Religion of Speed” and “Map Change.”
The former documents Buckley’s realization that his life has been reminiscent of a 37-year burial at sea - drowning beneath a crushing mass of indecision, self-sabotage, and futility. He answers the wakeup call caused by the “violent waves” of his family’s near-death experience, and vows to “sever the anchor” of his past self and make radical changes (including sobriety) to become the man he wants to be: “when all I am is a stone that says the name I had and the years that I had been, the quiet depths and the measured steps won’t echo like the shriek of riot did.”
In the epic closer, "Map Change," ETID brings it all home, as the final bridge finds a pensive Buckley concluding his grieving and self-realization process with the lines: "clenched in the jaws of anguish are only godless men. Chaos is drawn to silence like life is drawn to death. The dusk is so much clearer than the dawn had ever been. I'm a ghost." The record then comes to a close as Buckley exhaustedly embarks upon the chorus one last time, his voice fading away as if it were being engulfed by the tide.
In addition to its lyrical, emotional, and thematic strengths, Low Teens
also offers ETID’s best work to date in a compositional sense. The extreme urgency of Buckley’s lyrics and vocals is paralleled by his band’s music, which is loaded with the speed and heaviness you’d expect from them. In addition to that, though, they utilize the songwriting savvy that comes with having been in the business for 18 years. The aforementioned “Religion of Speed” and “Map Change” are sprawling (they are the two longest songs in ETID’s discography) masterpieces in which the band tap into a sense of subtlety and progression that has not before been heard in their work.
ETID also do a great job showcasing their various sounds and influences throughout the 43-minute runtime of Low Teens
, which clocks in at six minutes longer than any other album they have ever released. “Two Summers” is a call back to their southern rock roots, with Buckley exclusively singing over folky riffs; “It Remembers” burns a slow contrast between Buckley’s intentionally-muted delivery and guest-vocalist Brendon Urie’s soaring notes; and “Just as Real, but Not as Brightly Lit” is as much a song as it is a riff battle between guitarists Jordan Buckley (brother of Keith) and Andy Williams, who both shine throughout the entirety of the album with their never-ending stream of filthy riffs.
It’s as accurate as it is cliche to say that Low Teens
is the awakening of a giant. Every Time I Die is at the forefront of the metalcore genre because they’re simply better than most everyone else, and Low Teens is a (or perhaps the
) landmark addition to their impressive discography.