While the mid-point of Every Time I Die's career brought them arguably their highest mark of commercial success following 2003's lauded Hot Damn!, it may have been a creative low point. The band had been further infiltrating their hardcore-influenced, southern-flavored metal with shades of sleazy dirtbag rock, but something seemed off with the disappointingly inconsistent Gutter Phenomenon in 2005. Every record since has found the band refining and rebranding just what they're about and what they're capable of, and thankfully, Ex Lives is no rut in this ever-improving journey.
Is Ex Lives the band's heaviest record? Nah; that'd be 2001's Last Night in Town. Is it their best? Nope—that's still Hot Damn!. It is, however, their most creatively ambitious and stylistically diverse. What's key is how well the band hone their hallmark traits without strictly pandering to either fans or themselves. This much is evident when repetitively delicious opener (and appropriately, the first song premiered from the album
at the start of the year), "Underwater Bimbos from Outer Space" opens with the sort of panicked, pounding chaos one might hear from quasi-contemporaries the Dillinger Escape Plan, and while there's plenty of variation on the record to follow, it sets the tone.
Keith Buckley might be drawing a point of smug self-referentialism when he declares "We made the scene / when we made a scene," and after that, perhaps points to the glut of watered-down copycats that followed in Every Time I Die's wake: "Oh, what a pity. / Now they're bound to make us saints." These are exactly the cheeky turns of phrase and the shit-eating-grin bravado that made the band a delightful, intelligent anomaly amid the wealth of too-serious, straight-laced dark hardcore/metal acts they arrived with in the early 2000s, and it's good to hear that little has changed.
But this doesn't at all prevent the band from trying new things, either. Fresh tones infiltrate "I Suck (Blood)," with juddering riffs out of Queens of the Stone Age's playbook, while the sneering, desperate sigh "Revival Mode" explores the melodic hard rock of Buckley's side project, the Damned Things, to far better success and realization. Alternately scathing/ruminative closer "Indian Giver" bears some of this in a more chilling mode and briefly picturesque narration. "Partying Is Such Sweet Sorrow" opens with a playful bluegrass banjo; two minutes later, Buckley's barking one the most fierce and compelling hooks of the entire record, a declaration that finds him trying to sway someone's judgement of him: "I am not the company I keep." Tempo shifts and changes have always been an ETID standby, and they liven up frenetic cuts like "Holy Book of Dilemma," "Touch Yourself" and bonus track "Grudge Music" with the type of punk aggression people probably tend to forget the band still retains.Bottom Line:
To stay relevant this late in your career is an arduous task, but Every Time I Die seem to have one-upped such an obstacle. That they're essentially in the midst of a career renaissance is even more impressive.