Like the latest meat-cheese-tortilla concoction from Taco Bell, Ex Lives, the sixth full-length by Every Time I Die, recombines the same basic ingredients the group has been mixing since 2003’s sophomore surprise, Hot Damn! This time around, though, the band’s Southern-fried, Pantera-meets-Maylene heat has been toned down in favor of the straighter metalcore of ETID’s roots. The result is beefier, but it’s also blander. Lead single “Underwater Bimbos From Outer Space” opens the disc with a no-nonsense squall of skinned riffs and puke-stained screams; founding brothers Keith and Jordan Buckley still have a firm grasp on the handle, and they’ve settled into a reliably brutal groove.
Unfortunately, that groove doesn’t hit the same gutter-deep desperation as 2009’s New Junk Aesthetic, the glorious low point of the band’s sleazy, sassy swagger. “We are the first of the fashionably late,” Keith rages in “Underwater,” but his cleverness feels defanged—and it doesn’t get anymore menacing on “Partying Is Such Sweet Sorrow,” especially considering its mock-bluegrass, twang-injected intro. There’s always been an ironic twinge to the Buffalo group’s appropriation of Dixie-centric metal, but here it topples into full-blown self-parody. The lazy, laughable lyrics of “Typical Miracle”—“There was whiskey in the Devil’s blood / And there was my blood in my cup”—don’t help.
When lapsing into the raw, technical, silly/savage hardcore of tracks like “The Low Road Has No Exits,” the Buckleys and crew still know how to overpower. Alternately, the few songs on the album that wholeheartedly embrace the band’s filthy, melodic, hip-fracturing boogie—“Revival Mode” being the nasty best—are fantastic, even as they point toward a new direction that remains teasingly, frustratingly underdeveloped. Ex Lives’ muddled, imbalanced mashup of flavors only proves that ETID should fully and finally commit to its crazy blend of seasoning—or dial the recipe back altogether.