Every Time I Die is a metalcore band that folks might be inclined to give a chance if they could get past their paralyzing fear of convulsive rhythms, screamo vocals and snarling guitar throw downs.
The volatile Buffalo, N.Y., quintet's music is informed by hardcore punk's blistering brevity, mosh-pit machinations and occasional concessions to melody, and the lyrics are often witty.
Front man Keith Buckley, who supplies the yowl atop the squall, understands that there are rock fans who might quail at the thought of encountering the band's ear-battering exchanges - "people that just don't get it," he calls them. But the 28-year-old musician and former 10th-grade English teacher adds, "It's not our job to lull them into getting it."
Early this year, Buckley, along with his guitar-playing brother, Jordan, guitarist Andy Williams, drummer Mike Novak and bassist Josh Newton, are touring first in support of Killswitch Engage (and stopping at D.C.'s 9:30 Club tonight), then as a headliner to promote The Big Dirty. (That tour will stop at Rams Head Live in March.) Every Time I Die's fourth CD, which was released in September, has been called the band's best since 2001's debut Last Night in Town.
Buckley says the recording of The Big Dirty was "off the cuff. We knew what we were going after - the punk rock and live feel of our older stuff."
Comparing the disc to those that preceded it, Buckley says, "We started off sounding like [Boston-based punk-metal act] Converge and ended up like Led Zeppelin. That's what years of nonstop touring will do for you."
Buckley is speaking - illegally, he notes - on a cell phone while driving around Buffalo. "You caught me in a good mood," he says cheerfully.
"I just left the wedding [reception] of a high school friend who had joined the Peace Corps and now teaches English in Germany."
He also cautions that if the conversation ends suddenly, it will be because he has spotted a police car - "They're real strict around here about driving and talking" - and that he will call back.
Was he recognized as a rock star at the wedding?
"I did sign some autographs," Buckley says. "When you sign autographs at the buffet table, you know you've made it."
Buckley says futility is a major theme of The Big Dirty. It's there in such songs as "A Gentleman's Sport," inspired by a book he read on fox hunting and "about something you go after but can't catch," and "Pigs Is Pigs," "about not wanting to give up what you know, and people trying to make you give up what you know."
Buckley holds his hometown near and dear, and it figures prominently in The Big Dirty. Most obviously, there's "Buffalo Girls," which opens with the line, "We're makin' habits out of vanities."
"It's me considering my life when I get home from tour," Buckley says. The [less than virtuous] things you do on tour become a routine when you get home."
Buckley also says the song is "very relevant" to his favorite movie, It's a Wonderful Life, noting that in his version of the Frank Capra classic, "Jimmy Stewart sings it to his wife, Donna Reed."
There's also a Buffalo-inspired line in "Rebel Without Applause," which takes to task bands who are the antithesis of what they portray - "Don't give up the ship/We'd rather sink than admit it."
"Me and some friends were in a historically themed bar one night, The Founding Fathers," says Buckley, "and there's this flag hanging in there that is one of the first of the republic and it has the motto, `Don't give up the ship.' So I decided I was gonna have to work that into a song."
Most personal, however, is "Rendez-Voodoo," which has a blues boogie undertow. "I was into ZZ Top when I wrote that," Buckley says. "It's based on the girl [a Buffalo graphic designer named Lindsay] who is now my fiancee. We've known each other since we were 11 years old, and we got engaged about a month ago.
"We had our first date in a bar in Buffalo named Rendezvous. Usually, you think everything you do is inconsequential and does not have an [immediate] outcome. But after that night, I came to realize that what happened [would] have an effect on everyone."
Buckley says his interest in music has been lifelong, and he credits his father, a teacher at the University at Buffalo, with turning him on to James Taylor, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd as a child.
"I sat in on one of his classes in May, and one of his students came up to me afterward and asked for an autograph," recalls Buckley. "Because of me, he's the man on campus."
Len Righi writes for The (Allentown, Pa.) Morning Call.
Every Time I Die, Killswitch Engage, Dillinger Escape Plan and Parkway Drive perform tonight at the 9:30 Club, 815 V St. N.W., Washington. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $27. Call 800-955-5566 or go to tickets.com.