SIFTING #2- EVERY TIME I DIE
Every Time I Die should never have worked. The band emerged from deepest, darkest Buffalo, New York at the turn of the century with an English teacher on vocals, a circus strongman on guitar, a revolving door of bassists, and a guy called Ratboy on drums. Sure, they played a whip-smart and wicked fast version of metallic hardcore but they were notorious for cracking wise and acting the fool. And come on, they were called Every Time I Die. By the band’s own admission, it’s a stupid name. However, as silly as they might seem from the outside, the creative core of the band, vocalist Keith Buckley, his brother, guitarist Jordan, and guitarist Andy Williams, have (almost) always taken their art seriously.
That passion and direction helps explain why, against at least some of the odds, Every Time I Die didn’t just work, they survived, they thrived even! They exceeded expectations over and over again. And they continue to thrill now, with the recent release of their eighth full-length album.
It helps that they don’t really do bad records. Some better, some worse, of course, but no bad ones. You could probably drop in anywhere on their back catalogue and find something to love. To help navigate the highs and higher highs of Every Time I Die’s discography though, this is the second in a series of features ranking a band’s work from worst to first.
Let’s start sifting!
‘LAST NIGHT IN TOWN’ (2001): We start at the beginning. Every Time I Die’s debut album is a firecracker. And while that means it is chaotic, fast and loud, it also means the experience is unlikely to stay with you for long after it’s over. There are hints of what the band would become here but everything feels disjointed, and delirious with adrenaline. Almost like the band were just kids when they recorded it.
BEST SONG: ‘Jimmy Tango’s Method’
‘EX LIVES’ (2012): Some folks love the darkness and intensity of Every Time I Die’s sixth album. For me though, too much of ‘Ex Lives’ lacks staying power. The first handful of tracks are a breathless rush where it is excellent riffs or powerful moments that stand out, rather than full songs. The band’s deeper dive into grungy layers and atmospheric guitars is super effective, but this feels like a better record than it actually is.
BEST SONG: You can’t go wrong with a title like ‘Underwater Bimbos from Outer Space’ but it’s probably the distinct sound of ‘Revival Mode’.
‘GUTTER PHENOMENON’ (2005): This didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. Every Time I Die had incorporated southern rock grooves and hints of twisted melody into even their earliest material. But when ‘Gutter Phenomenon’ arrived sounding as accessible as it was abrasive, it felt like the work of a brand new band. However, while it has so much going for it- including Daryl Palumbo, Gerard Way, and Michael Madsen!- it feels like a uniquely flawed part of this band’s canon. A thin, dry production job saps some of the power from the songwriting, and looking back, this was actually the band caught mid-learning curve. They would soon perfect the formula.
BEST SONG: ‘The New Black’
‘FROM PARTS UNKNOWN’ (2014): Most Every Time I Die albums are full of immediate thrills. That’s true here- ‘Decayin’ with the Boys’ is a punk rock rollercoaster and ‘El Dorado’ is a yowling, howling blast– but ‘From Parts Unknown’ is also equipped to reveal new secrets with each repeat listen. There are singing squeals of feedback, ominous fogs of static, songs as catchy as they are complex, and, for a record that starts with the words “blow your fucking brains out”, even a rare dose of hopeful lyricism. Kurt Ballou’s excellent production makes the best of it all too.
BEST SONG: Tough one. But ‘Moor’ stands out on every listen.
‘NEW JUNK AESTHETIC’ (2009): In 2007, Every Time I Die made a leap forward. By 2009 and the release of their fifth album (their first for Epitaph), they sounded like a band very comfortable in their skin. There’s never any sense that they’re coasting, it’s just that almost every song here feels… complete. From eerie thunderstorm opener ‘Roman Holiday’, past the fidgety brilliance of ‘White Smoke’, to the bastard rock ’n’ roll rumble of ‘The Sweet Life’, everything is in its right place. By all accounts this wasn’t an easy record to make. It sounds like effortless excellence.
BEST SONG: The fast and furious ‘For the Record’.
‘HOT DAMN!’ (2003): For a band so capable of moving at high speed, the rate that Every Time I Die improved between their first and second record is still whiplash-inducing. If you’re looking for a flaw, that cover art isn’t great, but otherwise it’s clear within 20 seconds of vicious, leering opener ‘Romeo a Go-Go’ that everything has changed. Riffs zing, details pop, and while the prime directive is still barely contained chaos, the likes of ‘Godspeed…’ and ‘Ebolarama’ are just as likely to start a dance party as a mosh pit. The end result remains a rare edge-of-your-seat experience, a genre benchmark, and a giant leap forward. All delivered in less than half an hour too.
BEST SONG: ‘Floater’ is my jam, but ‘I Been Gone a Long Time’ is the star turn here, a signpost to greatness.
‘THE BIG DIRTY’ (2007): Ah, the formula refined. Like the culmination of everything that Every Time I Die had been building towards since their inception, ‘The Big Dirty’ arrived fully formed. It crackles with electricity, shimmers with heat, and flirts with chaos but holds together so well. Just as metalcore began to bog down, the Buffalo boys cut loose in every way possible. ‘We’rewolf’ and ‘No Son of Mine’ remain vital parts of the band’s live shows a decade later but every song here is armed with huge grooves and shiny hooks destined to jab between the folds of your brain and stay there. A statement and then some.
BEST SONG: ‘INRIhab’ feels devilishly underrated.
‘LOW TEENS’ (2016): Keith Buckley has always found plenty to scream about. But Every Time I Die’s latest album is different. Out on tour, the frontman was informed his wife was in hospital with a life-threatening pregnancy complication. Mother and new daughter are now doing fine but the experience is cut through the entirety of the ‘Low Teens’ lyric sheet. There is talk of birth, death, hospital rooms, and lines like “There’s a vacuum where the brightest future was, I’d better warm up my gun in case love is not enough”, and it’s all delivered by some of Buckley’s most impassioned, desperate vocals too. Stark stuff. But the music behind it is perhaps the band’s most confident, driven and dynamic work. There are lurching riffs, artistic left turns, laser targeted turmoil, and in ‘The Coin Has a Say’, perhaps the most crystallised version of the band’s sound. It’s a snapshot, hopefully, of a band at their darkest, driven by the saddest news, but determined to burn brighter than any punk band on their eighth album should. A new triumph from near death. Essential listening
BEST SONG: ‘Map Change’
Not just surviving then, Every Time I Die are thriving indeed. Lists like this just aren’t supposed to have a band’s newest album at the top. Not when they’ve got this much quality material behind them, not when they’ve been this good for this long. But such is the consistent power and enduring excellence of ‘Low Teens’. If the past is anything to go by, though, I wouldn’t bet against the group getting even better in the future. What. A. Band.