“The whole winter, the temperature was in the low teens. Utterly freezing,” says Every Time I Die’s frontman Keith Buckley regarding the months that yielded their eighth full-length album. Such is the price you pay for living in Buffalo, NY. Granted, the weather seems like a rather mundane topic for the normally acerbic and irreverent vocalist, but even the most acid-tongued hardcore band must have their sociable side, right? But Buckley and his cohorts Jordan Buckley (guitar), Andy Williams (guitar), Daniel Davison (drums), and Steve Micciche (bass) aren’t so hard up for pathos at this point that they’re grumbling about the temperature outside. If anything, Low Teens is their most poignant and impassioned album in a career full of sardonic illuminations and pit-inciting fervor.
The icy backdrop of Buffalo underscores a winter of dramatic change. Most notably, the band was on tour in Toronto in December when Keith received a phone call that his wife was in the hospital with a life-threatening pregnancy complication. It was a harrowing night as Buckley left the tour and raced home to overwhelming uncertainty. “I was facing death, not in a symbolic sort of ‘cyclical change’ metaphor but literally,” says Buckley with his token literary-minded self-awareness. “If I lost my wife, I would have to raise my daughter for her. If I lost my daughter, my wife and I would be forced to try and cope. But if I lost them both my life would end and I would see to it. Once I knew that in my heart it became the only certainty I had, and that was a relief.” Both wife and daughter survived the ordeal, but the moment of crisis had a lasting impact on Buckley and an inevitable role in shaping the lyrical scope of Low Teens. “It was abject helplessness, and that entirely new feeling opened up a lot of questions about place and purpose. I honestly don’t think that’s too far off from the lyrical content of our other songs but anyone that saw the news knows the source this time. They know that this is a response to a very specific event and not just a dude shoehorning an existential crisis into his routine for some interesting imagery.” When Buckley yells “untimely ripped into this world, I was born again as a girl” in the searing ring-the-alarm track “Petal”, there is no metaphor, no thinly veiled allegory. The birth of his daughter literally saved his life.
Lyrical motifs aside, other big changes were afoot during that Buffalo winter. From a sonic standpoint, the most crucial development was writing with new drummer Daniel Davison. Fans of Every Time I Die’s caustic combination of savage metallic hardcore and pentatonic riff-laden classic rock will not be disappointed by Low Teens’ thrash attacks and Southern-boogie breakdowns. But Davison’s heft, dexterity, and creativity pushed the band forward. “Daniel joined and not only further unlocked Andy and Jordan and Steve’s potential but put such a unique force behind the band’s dynamic,” Buckley says of his new bandmate. “I know that everything that has happened is necessary for what is presently happening but, man, to think about what the band might have been like if we had him sooner—private jets, shows on the damn moon.” You can hear this new energy on “Glitches”, which blazes with the kind of raw basement hardcore that originally catalyzed the group, but rages with a pinpoint accuracy beyond any meager hardcore band’s reach. “C++” marries desert rock croons, Unbroken’s metallic riffage, and a pile-driving chorus into a relentless hook-laden anthem. “The Coin Has A Say” operates as an extremity test, with every gear-shift somehow pushing the band into inexplicably heavier territories. Yes, Every Time I Die has always juggled hardcore urgency, metal brutalism, and rock melodies, but never has it felt this instinctive or this vicious.
Low Teens’ razor-sharp sound and auditory barbarism was also abetted by engineer and producer Will Putney (Acacia Strain, Body Count, Exhumed). Every Time I Die have always opted to avoid complacency and mix things up with the recording process, but Putney proved to be an even more valuable component to the album than expected. “We just like change,” says Buckley. “Will had a hunger we found exciting. He was willing to do whatever it took to make this record which included coming to Buffalo and working in a strange studio. If he was willing to step out of his comfort zone, so were we. And I definitely don’t mean to disparage any other producer we’ve had but I have never in my life heard so many incredible ideas for an Every Time I Die record come from one man.” And indeed, Putney adeptly captured the band’s dichotomic ability to juggle melody and malice. Low Teens’ guest vocalists further demonstrate these polarized extremes, with formidable bellower Tim Singer (Deadguy, Kiss It Goodbye, No Escape) roaring alongside Buckley on opening track “Fear and Trembling” and longtime friend Brendan Urie (Panic! at the Disco) providing a melodic counterpoint on “It Remembers”.
Change may be a welcome element to Every Time I Die’s creative process when it comes to studio personnel, but family crises and rotating band members can be debilitating developments. The pressure drop that yielded Low Teens could have crippled a lesser band, but Every Time I Die weathered the winter to deliver their strongest offering to date because of, not in spite of, these hardships and roadblocks.