The new album from Every Time I Die makes it crystal clear that the time for moderation is over. When it comes to how we conduct ourselves and how we approach society, extreme and open views are now welcome. ‘Radical’ is the ninth album from the quartet from Buffalo, New York, and, somehow, it’s their most ferocious yet. It feels like being mauled by a sabre-toothed cat, thawed after the winter of their previous record, 2016’s ‘Low Teens’.
For singer Keith Buckley, ‘Low Teens’ was an emotional reckoning. Its title referred to the unforgiving temperatures when they recorded it, set against his icy internal landscape. He had almost lost his wife Lindsey and newborn daughter, Zuzana, in late 2015. Zuzana was born prematurely at 30 weeks because Lindsey had complications due to HELLP syndrome. Zuzana spent 62 days in the hospital – much of it separated from her mother, who was receiving specialist care elsewhere.
The song "Petal" documented this with harrowing honesty. It was about the desperation of rushing between his loved ones in two different hospitals, thinking he might lose them both. Buckley roared in anguish, echoing Shakespeare’s MacDuff, ‘Untimely ripped into this world/I was born again as a girl’.
As a result, ‘Low Teens’ was almost devoid of Buckley’s caustic humour. But it charted vulnerability and loss on its closer “Map Change” in a new emotional register for the band: ‘I’ve weighed down the earth/Not sure if I can take it,’ Buckley sang.
‘Radical’ carries forward the inchoate rage from ‘Low Teens’ but leaves behind the sense of hopelessness. It’s a whirling dervish of an album, almost irresponsibly heavy at times. It bursts at the seams with the inventive riffery which has made Jordan Buckley (Keith’s brother) and pro-wrestler Andy Williams one of the deadliest guitar frontlines in hardcore metal.
Throughout the album, Buckley has a mad glint in his eye: ‘I’ve done it all wrong for so long it feels okay’, he sings on “Post-Boredom”. Bolstered by Will Putney’s adamantine production job, Every Time I Die is twenty years in and still has nothing to lose. They know their formula but find new lines of angular attack with their compositions – the band (completed by bassist Steve Miccich and drummer Clayton ‘Goose’ Holyoak) jostle throughout with Buckley’s allusive wordplay.
On “Planet Shit”, Buckley grabs the listener by the throat and demands to know what side they’re on. It speaks directly to the divisions that have riven the United States in the wake of Trump and the Black Lives Matter movement: ‘there’s no law when the outlaw wears a badge’. Anyone familiar with the cover photo of 2012’s ‘Ex Lives’, which shows a protester in an Every Time I Die T-shirt kicking off against riot police, knows exactly where the band stands. Nevertheless, Buckley’s venom is startling: ‘you fucking monsters. we stand no chance without your heads’.
‘Yes the time for moderation is over,’ Buckley writes to me over email. ‘But as far as whether or not it is focused on societal problems depends on where you as an individual are choosing to focus your energy and attention. I think more than anything else this country is suffering through a severe spiritual crisis. Full stop. Too much going out, not enough going in. We each have one, MAYBE two, True emotional/psychic connections with other people and even those channels are all fucked up and rotting. It’s unfortunate. We are so desperate for True connections that we start believing all types of bullshit, things we KNOW are wrong. And then we have to lie about what we know as True and now it’s a slippery slope. This country is fucking FLYING down that slope. Like Clark Griswold on his sled flying.’
Clark Griswold was played by Chevy Chase in ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’. Likewise, Every Time I Die is flying down that slope on this album – hilarious, anarchic and terrifyingly out of control.
Or are they? There’s a lot of poise on ‘Radical’ and, in places, an unprecedented musicality. “Thing With Feathers”, featuring Andy Hull from Manchester Orchestra, answers what Radiohead might sound like if they dabbled in hardcore. Its lyrics reach back to the difficult ‘Low Teens’ years. It’s a song for Buckley’s sister, Jaclyn, who passed away from a long struggle with Rett syndrome at the start of 2017: ‘while you’re locked beneath your bones, the sky awaits.’ Buckley has said that he felt he was living life to its fullest in the band partly in tribute to his sister, who couldn't.
The best songwriting often feels like prophecy. It’s disturbing to read the lyrics of “Dark Distance”, with its demands for a plague. Also “Desperate Pleasures”, which proclaims that ‘we can not be saved by the men digging graves’ in a world which is sick. The end of that song, in an album stuffed full of mosh pit-destroying breakdowns, promises breathtaking violence in the live setting as Buckley screams, ‘hey, look on the bright side. there’s nowhere but up from a canyon in hell.’
‘Please keep in mind the song was written and recorded before the pandemic so I wasn’t necessarily speaking about this particular pandemic,’ says Buckley. ‘The theme just resonates throughout time. Here’s the thing – I’m seriously fucking asking. That isn't rhetorical. Like, does anyone know in what ways the world itself can heal us? We’re beyond absurdity here. We need the literal. We need entirely new schools of thought. We need to look into PSYCHIC healing. Not fucking kidding. What do we have to lose at this point? Does ANYONE have a better idea? If so, please help us. We’re dying. Literally.’
‘The scene I grew up in was predominantly men but there were a SIGNIFICANT amount of women and I realized that it was not at all a “boys club” like I had heard about other scenes being,’ says Buckley. ‘I was lucky. I got punched in the face by a moshing girl when I was a 15-year-old boy. That must have awoken something in me. Like at the moment of contact I had a slow-motion epiphany: “Women should be in charge of EVERYTHING”. I mean, I’m kidding, that didn’t literally happen. It also might as well be True. I’ve lived believing firmly in that idea for as long as I can remember. I’m in an FLR
It’s not new, but one of the schools of thought Buckley promotes is more women in power, or just more women. This is a thread throughout the album – ‘no gods unless they’re women’ he pleads on “Dark Distance”; 'I am the mother. I am the daughter,’ he sings on “We Go Together”; and ‘never trust a man’ he repeats like a mantra on penultimate song, “People Verses”. Every Time I Die has long been about exploring the crisis of masculinity with Buckley as the filter. Even back on 2005’s ‘Gutter Phenomenon’ he called in a breakdown on “Bored Stiff” with the unforgettable, ‘Hey there, girls, I'm a cunt’.
Subjugation to a good woman is the basis for "sexsexsex", one of the more playful tracks on ‘Radical’. Special mention goes to the riff at the end of this one, which splits the octave on the guitar and chokes us out like a shifting wrestling hold.
Every Time I Die operates at its peak when it meshes with Buckley’s ongoing psychodrama. “People Verses” reaches a metaphysical level, describing humans as entities that burn brighter than the sun. There’s a lot of out-of-body perspective shifting on the album, as if Buckley is looking down on himself, or from the afterlife. This might be a recognition of a part of Buckley that died with his sister.
“Hostile Architecture” seems to revisit the scene of “Partying Is Such Sweet Sorrow” from 'Ex Lives' – a song that went as far as quoting Dostoevsky’s 'The Brothers Karamazov' in its pledge to ‘dash the cup’ and leave hedonism in the past. “Hostile Architecture” sees Buckley’s penchant for a witty pun resuscitated: ‘a real “party’s over" atmosphere. you can’t go home but you can’t stay here./there’s too many ghosts, not nearly enough spirit.’
‘I guess in simplest terms “Partying” is about cutting ties with things that define you,’ says Buckley. ‘“Hostile Architecture” is about cutting ties with your old self entirely. When you do that, where are you? Where do you see yourself? I wrote it from the perspective of someone who had an ego death that I had not yet had personally. I wrote it “imagining” what it would be like. Very similar to “Partying” except in that song I was looking around at dead “things”. In “Hostile Architecture” I’m looking down at dead “me”. Goddam. Didn’t expect it to go there. Love it.’
Partying is a metaphor for reinvention, on an album that seems to reject self-realisation. This is abnormal in a genre like hardcore, known for self-definition and empowerment. ‘Stop now, before you find yourself,’ he warns on “All This And War”. I’ve often wondered whether Buckley gets by living the life of a sceptic, walking around with a wry smile on his face, even as the world continues its slide into hell.
‘It’s about (to use Hesse imagery) getting to the end of the tunnel and touching the mirror,’ counters Buckley, referring to the Magic Theater sequence in Herman Hesse’s novel, ‘Steppenwolf’. ‘However, I realized even THAT is not enough for me. It wasn’t when writing the album and it isn’t now. The journey doesn’t end there. It can’t. I found myself thinking through this pandemic that I didn’t want to find myself reflecting back on my life to just casually find my personal Truth after 20 years of looking, when writing the best album of our lives, and then I just die in a covid-induced wheeze in an overcrowded hospital because people don’t trust science. And if my daughter Zuzana gets it? I’m back in the 'Low Teens' days of loss. Life is more than that. it HAS to be. So, I thought, after you “touch the mirror”, what about turning around and walking BACK through life with a wry smile on your face? It legitimately became the only way I could existentially cope with the news of the world. I straight up had to live believing that was possible. Seeing yourself, turning around, and getting a GOOD journey/trip/whatever this time. Turns out I was right.’
Contrary to the opening line of album closer “We Go Together”, the world isn’t a projection that goes away when you close your eyes. The radical act is to walk through the fire, and enjoy yourself while you do it. And to take as many people – and as much of yourself – with you as you can. Throughout the album, Buckley has the zealotry of a cult leader and the compassion of a palliative nurse overseeing his own inevitable ego death.
In the twenty years they have been around, much has changed in the heavy music landscape. One of the most exciting is the next generation of hardcore bands punching through. They are contorting the genre into new shapes. The last time I saw Every Time I Die was a few years ago being supported by the relatively green Knocked Loose. Will Putney also produced their jaw-dropping new EP, ‘A Tear In The Fabric Of Life’. Would “The Whip” have the same cinder-block heft without Harms Way and Jesus Piece pushing them for their crown? Probably not.
‘The younger bands, like Turnstile, Code Orange, and Knocked Loose, I see so much of us in them,’ says Buckley. ‘And the ones that are our peers, I see as different versions of what we might have been had we made different decisions when faced with choices. This community is beautiful. It evolves and helps and cares and FIGHTS. The world should take notes.’
The world of hardcore and metal always takes notes when Every Time I Die releases a new album. Their records are electrifying, thoughtful, punishing and FUN musical experiences. ‘Radical’ is no different. If the world is a spiritual wasteland full of empty promises, ‘Radical’ is an honest manifesto. It is chaotic, severe, disciplined, ill-tempered, revelatory, deceptive, witty, stony-faced, tyrannical and open-hearted – full of the messy contradictions of life itself.
Radical, from Every Time I Die is currently available via Epitaph Records. Get the album - HERE
Catch Every Time I Die on tour throughout 2021 and supporting Underoath in 2022.
EVERY TIME I DIE TOUR DATES 2021
11/4 Columbus, OH The King of Clubs
11/5 Grand Rapids, MI The Pyramid Scheme
11/6 St Louis, MO Red Flag
11/7 Iowa City, IA Gabe's
11/8 Omaha, NE The Waiting Room
11/9 Lawrence, KS Granada Theater (KS)
11/11 Fort Collins, CO The Coast