Partying Is Such Sweet Sorrow: A tribute to Every Time I Die
The sad news of the band’s break-up has led us to ponder the band’s achievements and its legacy.
It is better to destroy
Than to create what is meaningless
So the picture will not be finishedEvery Time I Die – “Imitation Is The Sincerest Form Of Battery”
Every Time I Die understood the artistic temperament well enough to know when their band was over – even if it feels like its work remains unfinished. The announcement this week that ETID will no longer continue follows weeks of uncertainty after a divide opened up publicly between singer Keith Buckley and the rest of the band. Knowing something is done doesn’t mean the end isn’t going to be messy.
I’m not going to rake over the live coals of that situation here. Sadly, band members growing apart from their lead singer is not unusual. There is precedent for groups involving siblings falling apart. In heavy music, one of the most famous examples is Sepultura, when Max Cavalera left after 12 years. Keith and Jordan Buckley kept ETID on the road for twenty-four years, with a relatively stable core line-up. Their run has been remarkable, but leaves some questions as to what the band could have been, and what it might become posthumously.
I first saw ETID in 2004, supporting Chimaira in Edinburgh, Scotland. Chimaira were riding high on their album ‘The Impossibility of Reason’, part of a pack of bands being touted as the New Wave of American Heavy Metal. ETID had released their own breakthrough album, ‘Hot Damn!’, but weren’t so easily pigeonholed.
Was ETID a hardcore band? Yes. Were they a metalcore band? In a way – they pioneered some of the hallmarks of that sound, especially in their dissonant breakdowns. Were they a metal band? No, but they bridged a gap between hardcore and metal, which is how they fit on a tour with Chimaira. As the years progressed, ETID occupied a position which is the envy of any band in any genre: they just sounded like themselves.
ETID’s consistency was extraordinary. Some albums were better than others, but they never released a poor record. For that reason, they operated at a certain level for years – they were mainstays of the Vans Warped Tour to the point they came to personify it.
But with last year’s ‘Radical’, the consensus seemingly in the band, and certainly amongst critics and fans, was that this was a ‘levelling up’ album. After years of building, it felt like ETID were about to grab the brass ring.
It is possible, that instead, their already sizeable reputation and fanbase grows in their absence, and they gain a truly legendary status that was already being hinted at. Testament to that is the generation of hardcore bands surging through in their wake – it’s arguably the most exciting scene in heavy music right now.
‘The younger bands, like Turnstile, Code Orange, and Knocked Loose, I see so much of us in them,’ Keith Buckley told me in a Knotfest.com interview for ‘Radical’. ‘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.’
But it’s hard not to think of Buckley’s lyrics to “Underwater Bimbos From Outer Space” here: ‘We made the scene when we made a scene/And though it was brief, it meant everything/Oh, what a pity, now they’re bound to make us saints’.
Well, I hope they don't mind me indulging in a little bit of hagiography here.
From their stellar back catalogue, everyone will have their favourites. For me, "Partying Is Such Sweet Sorrow" from 2012’s ‘Ex Lives’ summed up so much of why I loved ETID: the banjo opening, its berserk riffing, the pummelling breakdown, the scathing self-awareness (‘I am not the company I keep’) – it even contained lyrical allusions to the renunciation of alcohol by the intellectual Ivan in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel ‘The Brothers Karamazov’: ‘I told you, all I want is to live on to thirty, and then... dash the cup to the ground!’ Ivan protests.
But it was 2016’s ‘Low Teens’ album that stands as their masterpiece. It’s full of raw emotion and profundity. Will Putney’s production made the band’s sound truly thunderous. Opener “Fear and Trembling” rains down like the fists of love and hate. Closer “Map Change” remains their greatest piece of songwriting, mining a brave new melodic seam: ‘I’ve weighed down the earth/No use trying to save it’.
‘Low Teens’ was a rare album in heavy music. It had a very good first half and an incredible second half. Life and death themselves are on a knife-edge in "Petal", over squalling guitars and drums which throw the song around like a puppet. "The Coin Has A Say" builds up steam like a runaway train, before crashing into the buffers. Both songs contain a searing honesty about becoming a parent. ‘A new goddess has emerged from the mist/And took the blade from my wrist,’ Buckley sang about his daughter on the latter. It seemed to be a trend when Converge, a hardcore band of similarly consistent standards, released their own dadcore song the following year, “A Single Tear”.
The great thing about ETID is that the last two paragraphs could be about any of their nine albums, depending on personal preference.
We shouldn’t look away from the fact that ETID’s dissolution has been, if not triggered, then hastened by the pandemic. Covid has changed everyone’s lives, often with devastating consequences. Keith Buckley acknowledged its impact in a statement on his social media this week. I imagine the pandemic period has been just as difficult for Andy, Steve, Jordan and Goose.
‘My Truth is that pandemic changed me,' wrote Keith. 'full stop. I looked at my life and I realized not only was I unhappy, I was exhausted from pretending I wasn’t. So I stripped everything back until I found out what I Loved. Then I worked to nurture that Love and set boundaries around it. Any growth that has transpired after that has been, to me, miraculous.’
I’ve been haunted this week by the lyrics of “For the Record” from 2009’s ‘New Junk Aesthetic’: ‘I've had a good run but can't run anymore/Just put me down’.
I hope all the ex-members of ETID can find the time and space to grow. They have the legs to run much further. As for the ETID’s legend as a band, its story has only just begun.