When I was 19, I shamelessly picked up tickets with one of my good friends to the Milwaukee leg of the Taste of Chaos tour. Deftones were headlining, and as a teenager during the nu-metal era, I figured I owed it to the ganglier/angstier version of myself to see them live. The Eagles Club was permeated with a sort of carnival atmosphere, packed to the brim with suicide girls and pimply teens, a goth rainbow of bondage pants and Atreyu t-shirts. Fueled by six free energy drink shots, I decided to ignore the absurdity of it all and make the place my personal playground. As Story of the Year did an endless amount of unnecessary backflips, I entered a mosh pit and wreaked some serious havoc amongst the crowd of teenage girls. Other shows felt equally self-serious, bowing at the altar of teenage angst. MySpace heroes The Smashup featured my favorite lead singer of the day, performing a highly choreographed routine in which he repeatedly wrapped a microphone around his throat as though swinging from the gallows. Aiden looked straight out of a Hot Topic catalogue. As for Deftones, their set was more shit sandwich than shark sandwich.
However, I was blown away by Every Time I Die’s set. They were able to translate the shameless pandering into camp self-parody, rejoicing in youthful hedonism and rebellion with a wry smile. The songs abandon the typical verse chorus style, creating a mounting tension with dissonant half steps, repeating hardcore riffs and rapid fire drum fills before the cathartic release of churning, half-time breakdowns. At the center of it all is lead singer Keith Buckley, who somehow manages to imbue his vocal chord-shredding screams with a certain smarminess. The themes are purposely hackneyed and condense romantic rock and roll hedonism into one-liner after one-liner. Buckley toes a thin line between bravado and irony, recognizing the absurdity of a grown man pandering to children, a 30 year old in a 16 year old mosh pit, but going at it with winking abandon anyways.
The unrelenting style is no different on ETID’s newest full-length Ex Lives. The band seems to channel Jason Statham in Crank, churning through adrenaline-soaked jam after adrenaline-soaked jam as if their lives depended on it. Ex Lives is the audio-equivalent of shotgunning a Four Loko, leaving you buzzing but slightly light headed and ready to make a host of bad decisions (the album is probably not appropriate for someone with a heart condition). Buckley is at the top of his game, trading religion for whiskey, placing manic depression on a pedestal.
The album wastes no time announcing its presence on opener “Underwater Bimbos from Outer Space”, Buckley shrieking “Wide-eyed, brilliant, dynamic rest/I want to be dead with my friends” over rapid-fire hardcore riffs in a completely indiscernible time signature. Then the punchlines begin over the first breakdown with Buckley declaring himself “the last of the lost, but now… the first of the fashionably late.” The song becomes truly overblown as the band briefly resumes its scattershot riffing before entering an even bigger breakdown. The song is ETID in a nutshell: over-the-top, dizzying, and riotous.
The onslaught continues on “Partying is Such Sweet Sorrow”, simultaneously a tribute and lament to the effects of alcohol. Featuring some Deliverance-style banjo soloing, Buckley details how he strayed from the path to salvation one Solo Cup at a time. The band seems happy to indulge Buckley’s hyperbole, with directionless guitar parts that seem to change every ten seconds, breaking down and devolving into chaos like an ADD-afflicted child after a few too many Pixie sticks. Buckley “curse[s] the day we raised out glass up like a bridge to let the Devil pass because he ain’t ever left this town and only beaten and unborn live with him now.” Ridiculous statement? Yes. But also patently badass.
The album lets up only for a second on “A Wild Shameless Plain”, ETID’s teenage primer to Sabbath. The song is drummer Ryan Leger’s chance to shine, as the song is essentially just a two-minute drum fill over sludgy guitar riffs occasionally punctuated by dissonant highs. Buckley, sounding serious for maybe the first time of his life, lambasts the morbid human fascination with hunting. “The prize?”, asks Buckley. “Hollowed out eyes, mold in the cracks of its skull.” Heavy stuff, bro.
In the end, it is difficult to classify Ex-Lives. It’s not an album designed for “best-of” lists. Though technically impressive, Ex-Lives M.O in reality is nothing more than an effort to string together as many hooks in a forty-five minutes span as possible. It’s hard to say it’s a guilty pleasure; the band seems to take their work even less seriously than I do. This album falls in a sort of Patrick Swayze middle ground. It’s analogous to the simple pleasures of watching an elite team of communists paratroop from the sky and take over a local high school, or of a footrace punctuated by a dog being thrown in Keanu Reeves’s face. The message is simple: stop taking yourself so seriously and recognize that maybe the gaunt suicide girl standing next to you with the bondage pants and excessive eye liner is on to something after all.
Tim Myers is a contributor to Frontier Psychiatrist. Despite the fact that most of his reviews deal with the dark and depraved, he’s a pretty nice guy.