First, a sidebar: The idea here is to post about albums each week that are album of the year contenders for me this year. I already have a semi-formed idea of which albums are really in the final running to be #1, so this series is more meant to highlight albums that I've loved to a great enough extent that they gave me that type of feeling. Here's all of the pieces so far.
The degree to which I enjoyed Every Time I Die's From Parts Unknown was largely unexpected because I haven't been a huge fan of this band in the past. Since then, I've gone back and listened to most of the group's back catalog, but nothing stuck with me as much as that 2014 LP. From Parts Unknown has a really intriguing mix of ETID's usual Southern-tinged hardcore and a variety of other sounds, like the creepy crawl of "Moor" and the relatively poppier "Old Light," which features Brian Fallon.
Something that still really sticks out to me about that record is Kurt Ballou's production, as the Converge guitarist elected to let ETID's fury speak for itself. It's raw and the guitars are like barbed wire, and that choice enabled the instruments to rip through harder than on past ETID albums, for my money.
This year's Low Teens (Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube embedded here, Amazon) marks the second straight Every Time I Die record that has fully engrossed me. The production here, this time courtesy of Will Putney, brings a different aesthetic to the table. Putney has worked with bands that fit more into the current-age definition of "metalcore," and his fingerprints help identify a louder and more polished Every Time I Die.
It works really well. Keith Buckley's vocals are layered perfectly over grungy riffs on the very-Southern-rock "Two Summers," while the sludgy, chilling opener "Fear and Trembling" works just as well. Highlights like "C++ (Love Will Get You Killed)," "Petal" and "The Coin Has A Say" feature major high points that provide a satisfying payoff amidst lyricism that's primarily very dark.
With all due respect to the musicianship on this album -- it's not rewriting the book, but it's still a top-notch effort from all parties, and the drumming on this LP is executed to brutal perfection -- the lyrical effort from Buckley is what separates Low Teens from From Parts Unknown and the rest of ETID's discography for me. Most of the album was written from a dark and uncertain place, as Buckley faced a situation where his wife and unborn child were in a life-threatening medical condition. His child wound up being born significantly early in the pregnancy, and while both of them are happy and healthy now, the experience wound up being the driving force behind Buckley's contributions to Low Teens.
"There was nothing I could do; I was sitting there holding her hand," Buckley told AltPress in a great rundown of the album and its themes. "It showed me new depths of what I am capable of feeling." This is reflective throughout the entire album; as AltPress runs down, with really good detail from Jason Pettigrew, the record is littered with heavy nihilism as Buckley looks up from rock-bottom at what's happening in his life.
The song that sticks out most to me in this light, a song that I can't help but get chills every time I listen, is "Petal," where Buckley reflects on the worst potential outcome in his situation. There are a ton of lyrical clips that show this:
The thought of death is soft and clean and beautiful and white / It's the purest of the drugs / 'Cause It's everything at once / What if meaning never comes?
I'd better warm up my gun in case love is not enough / What haven't I done? What have I done? / What haven't I done to deserve a cold war on all sides? / It's so bleak all the time
If I have to walk alone I'm giving up / I can't stay here knowing love is not enough
"Love is not enough" is repeated enough times during the track for it to be the lyric that sticks with me the most. The fear of love not being enough to -- maybe not save the lives of your loved ones -- but that you could experience such a love and have it be ripped away out of nowhere is a harrowing place to be. This is the darkest song on the album, for my two cents, and it serves as the record's emotional climax to me.
Every Time I Die is on top of the metalcore mountain, or whatever. This is a second straight incredible album and a total contender for my album of the year.
Part 2 of the AOTY Contender Series.