Every Time I Die’s seventh full-length album, the appropriately-titled From Parts Unknown, proves just how unstoppable the Buffalo-based hardcore kings really are. The record is by far their most aggressive, unbridled effort to date, its title lending itself not only to the new sonic frontiers being explored by resident riff-machines Jordan Buckley and Andy Williams (along with bassist Steve Micciche and drummer Ryan “Legs” Leger), but also to vocalist/lyricist Keith Buckley’s apparent newfound acceptance of unknowability. Having recorded with the mighty Kurt Ballou of Converge at his studio GodCity, Every Time I Die truly has never sounded better. From Parts Unknown is louder, clearer, rawer, and it makes Ex-Lives, the band’s previous effort, sound like demos.
While Every Time I Die didn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel with From Parts Unknown (hey, if it ain’t broke…), they certainly amped up every aspect of their sound. Each song on the record could find a welcome home on one of the band’s prior releases – for example, “Decayin’ with the Boys” showcases the Southern tinge and attitude of 2007’s The Big Dirty, and the minute-and-a-half rager “Thirst” recalls the urgency of 2009’s New Junk Aesthetic – but the band’s seemingly nagging need to constantly outdo themselves has rendered From Parts Unknown their most relentless, technical, and impressive offering ever. What Legs has brought to the band since his debut in 2009 really can’t be qualified and the drums on From Parts Unknown being as awe-inspiring as they are is a testament to that. Seriously, do a spin focusing only on Legs. It’s insanity.
Vocalist Keith Buckley has evolved beyond the guttural into something primal. Never has he sounded so impassioned, so pained and unhinged, and it is a wonder to behold how far he has come. From Parts Unknown’s lyrics show Buckley at his most brutal and uncompromising yet, all the while displaying a new air of acceptance and positivity. Don’t get me wrong – Buckley is as self-effacing and desperate as ever (“Illuminate the filth with the glow of your righteous heart. Shine a light upon the world, and I’ll scurry back to the dark”), but a marked change has definitely occurred. What was once “What next? What next? There’s gotta be something more than this!” on 2009’s New Junk Aesthetic is now “What is now instead of what is next. Our reflections only draw us to our death.” It seems Buckley has taken to living in the moment, a new development that adds to the record’s unabashed ferocity.
Opener “The Great Secret” begins with a few dissonant, distant chords before exploding into an all-out eardrum beatdown as Buckley screams “Blow your fucking brains out.” While know-nothings may cringe at such a violent and dark opening line, the metaphor soon becomes clear as Buckley continues, “Extinguish the glow forever and in will come the sun.” He explained the song in a track-by-track with Music Feeds: “I learned pretty late in life that my own brain was my worst enemy. My inner monologue had done some terrible things to sabotage my own life. This song is about ignoring what you think and going by how you feel. The first line refers to blowing your brain out like a candle whose light is inferior to that of the sun.” Anyone who thought Every Time I Die couldn’t write a more devastating opener than Ex-Lives‘ “Underwater Bimbos from Outer Space” has been cruelly proven wrong.
“Pelican of the Desert” keeps up the blistering pace set by “The Great Secret” and features Sean Ingram of Coalesce delivering what is possibly one of Buckley’s best lyrics ever, “Love is the way. Love is the only way. Love is the only way out.” “Decayin’ with the Boys” captures the attitude Every Time I Die has come to embody since their party-primed Gutter Phenomenon in 2005. The song’s psychedelic bridge over which Buckley seductively sings “I got so much soul in me that I’m barely alive” is new territory for the band, and surely makes the song (the NSFW party-video for which can be seen here). “Overstayer” is Gutter Phenomenon on steroids and is rife with Buckley’s trademark lost anxiety as he cries, “What in the fuck am I doing here? Why did the rapture not take me in? It is my curse to carry on. I should have died when I was young. I should still be burning lung. If I had known what I’d become, I should have drown in the flood with the rest. I had the chance, but here I am.”
Following “Overstayer” is “If There is Room to Move, Things Move,” possibly the fastest Every Time I Die song ever. It is surely the album’s most relentless track, clenching tighter and tighter until the chorus bursts wide open as Buckley relinquishes the existential “Everything’s dead until it’s alive. Man will exist, and then he will die. Just take the ride.” The song is the best example of Buckley’s recent embrace of the unknown as it concludes, “I threw out the map and let go of the reigns, led by a stranger into the strange. The answer is that there’s no answer at all.”
The mid-way point of From Parts Unknown is undoubtedly its climax. Buckley agreed in an interview with Blare Magazine saying, “I think the middle of that song [“Moor”] – the whole heavy instrumental and screaming vocals – is absolutely the climax of the album. It blends in really well with the piano part on either side, it raises up into it, and then climaxes and goes into the tail end of the record.” “Moor” is indeed bookended by piano with Keith quietly and somewhat disturbingly crooning over top, and with atmospheric elements added by Ballou, the song really is, as Buckley calls it, “a real creep fest.” It is definitely unsettling, and for good reason. Buckley detailed the circumstances of the song as such: “Something very unfortunate happened to someone I love very much while I was away from home. It left me feeling angrier and more helpless than I have ever felt, and yet the person who it happened to completely transcended the experience. I tried to follow suit and learn to forgive but I could not. I still cannot. This song is about the karma and the undeniable human desire to seek revenge.” This vague description most likely refers to his wife’s assault (detailed here), and with this knowledge in tow, lines like “So I make believe I’ve discovered peace, but I’ll skin the man alive and sell the meat” and “I have eyes of every color now, and they’re vigilant. It doesn’t matter who knocks, you don’t let them in. There are terrible men. I’m one, so I should know” take on a heavy and affective realness. The song crushingly climaxes as Buckley desperately screams, “All I want is his head and this horrible fucking world will be wonderful again. There is so much beauty and love, and when I eat his beating heart, I can bring it back to us.” The despair in Buckley’s voice will level any listener, and his self-portrayal as a man utterly bereft of recourse in the closing line “There’s nothing that I couldn’t do except cover you when the slings and arrows came. And I’ve never been the same” is enough to evoke tears. When all is said and done, “Moor” may go down as the most important song of Every Time I Die’s career.
The tail-end of From Parts Unknown features the angular “Exometrium” and “All Structures are Unstable,” throughout which guitarists Buckley and Williams show off some new tricks, even with a few nods to Ballou in the form of Converge-like buzz-saw accents. The leads are mesmerizing, and you’ll hear new parts with every spin. “Old Light” is the record’s only real faltering, albeit a slight one. A vehicle for guest vocalist Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem, it’s restrained by its structure and doesn’t shine until its final segment. Fallon and Buckley certainly sound good together, but “Old Light” can’t help but sound like something the band has done before on New Junk Aesthetic’s closer “The Sweet Life” – punk, punchy, straightforward, and not to mention featuring The Bronx’s Matt Caughthran, which is ironic, since “Old Light” sounds a lot like The Bronx. It’s a fun song, but doesn’t stand up alongside the rest. That said, the record ends on a high note with a one-two knockout from the barn-burning rocker “El Dorado” and the brutal “Idiot.” “El Dorado” is From Parts Unknown’s catchiest track and is sure to be a crowd favorite with its jammy, stoner-metal outro. “Idiot” is fast and riddled with blinding pull-offs. Oh, and how about that ten-second scream? (Seriously, watch this Instagram video.)
As Buckley pleads, “All I want is for everyone to come to hell. There we can be free and learn to love ourselves,” so ends yet another masterful album from Every Time I Die. Now fix everything you’ve broken since you hit play. Whether From Parts Unknown is their best album is up for debate – they certainly think it is. When it comes to ETID, everyone will always have their own favorites, but From Parts Unknown is inarguably the band’s most assaulting, complex, and best-sounding work to date.