Every Time I Die's Ninth Album Gives a 'Radical' Edge to Their Dark Metalcore
Published Oct 20, 2021Longevity and critical acclaim notwithstanding, it's a bold move for any musical outfit to label their new record Radical. After all, using a term this symbolically-loaded can easily be viewed as an open invitation for polyvalent readings. Could it be an indicator of stylistic variance? A grand gesture towards progressive philosophy? Or merely a nod to '90s anachronism and Bart Simpson catchphrases?
For Every Time I Die, the answer appears to be a little more nuanced. Their ninth studio album arrives five years after 2016's Low Teens — the longest gap between recordings of their career — and two decades since the release of their raucous 2001 debut, Last Night In Town. Yet, in the fast-paced realm of heavy music, five years is practically an eternity. The distant past of 2016 appears almost quaint compared to the stark reality that birthed Radical, one shaped by the dismal spectacle of four years of Trumpism, the tragedy and stasis of a global pandemic, and a divisive political landscape punctuated by rampant inequality, police violence, and social unrest.
The metalcore pioneers make this narrative influence apparent on the album's scathing lead singles. Beginning with the reflective "Post-Boredom," the band pairs stomping rhythms with a monstrous hook — recalling the haunting oblivion refrain from "It Remembers" — as frontman Keith Buckley knocks back shot after shot of lyrical apathy with a chaser of resigned annihilation. The scorching "Planet Shit" has Buckley dragging racist cross-burners, flag-waving nationalists, and "soulless hypocrites" kicking and screaming to the guillotine. Shored up by a barn-burning southern-rock instrumental, the track eventually sharpens to a penetrating point: "When all the lines that were drawn / Are washed away in the blood / The blade that cuts through their spine has good people on both sides."
Much of Radical plays out like a compositional "greatest hits" for the Buffalo quintet, with returning producer and engineer Will Putney (Knocked Loose, Counterparts) rendering each performance in glorious detail: sludgy grooves and thrashy licks from axemen Jordan Buckley and Andy Williams ("Dark Distance"; "Hostile Architecture"), scattered panic chords ("A Colossal Wreck"; "Distress Rehearsal"), chaotic fusillades from new addition and former Norma Jean drummer Clayton "Goose" Holyoak ("Sly"; "People Verses"), and a smattering of off-kilter, jackhammer breakdowns ("Desperate Pleases"; "AWOL").
Adding to Every Time I Die's already impressive list of coveted guest features (including My Chemical Romance, the Gaslight Anthem, Alexisonfire, Panic! at the Disco, Glassjaw, Fall Out Boy, the Bronx, and more), "All This and War" allows '68's Josh Scogin to exorcise himself over the top of a nihilistic party anthem, powered by stop-start transitions and larynx-shredding screams. With versatility in mind, Radical immediately pivots into the sweeping grandiosity of the plaintive "Thing with Feathers," as Buckley and Manchester Orchestra's Andy Hull croon over ruminations on eternal life and divine light.
As a published author, Buckley has consistently brought a philosophical, literary bent to his sardonic lyricism and Radical is no exception. If Low Teens was the product of the frontman's brush with death and despair, then LP number nine is informed by denial, ego death, and the transformative potential of self-discovery. Tracks like "The Whip" and "sexsexsex" lend a dark, libidinal edge to Buckley's notions of pleasure and pain, interpolating Deleuzian masochism with the erotic desire for a "Venus in fur."
Meanwhile, "White Void" is positively Nietzschean in its existential cry for meaning ("By the time we saw the sun it had set / By the time I saw the light I was dead / You sing into the white abyss / The white abyss sings back to you") and album closer "We Go Together" echoes Low Teens standout "Map Change" by embracing a sense of cosmic scale, daring to question the very fabric of reality itself. Taking a psychic inventory of all his flaws and self-destructive impulses, Buckley expands his consciousness to encompass all things: "I am mother / I am daughter / I am the body, dead in the water / All points are in the center in a space that's never-ending."
With one of the most uncompromising and sophisticated discographies in heavy music, it's hardly surprising that Every Time I Die move into their third decade of existence with an emphasis on refinement and range over unnecessary risks. Rather than fix what isn't broken, Radical finds the group doubling down and levelling-up their expansive, swaggering metalcore in every way possible. (Epitaph)