Most emo and post-hardcore bands that start in their teens mellow out with age. The Casket Lottery, on the other hand, have followed the exact opposite trajectory. While their initial trifecta of foundational full-lengths —1999’s Choose Bronze, 2000’s Moving Mountains, and 2001’s Survival is For Cowards—fit firmly within emo’s scrappier side in the late ’90s and early 2000s, their 2012 return, Real Fear, was decidedly darker and heavier than anything they’d released before. It was a seemingly unpredictable turn, but one that also felt like a band growing into themselves, free from external expectations while seeing no reason to turn the volume down.
“I think a lot of people, as they age, just feel more comfortable with a little bit of a lower energy thing going on,” says guitarist and vocalist Nathan Ellis. “And I’m the exact opposite. This is important for me to have a little catharsis here, a little something to get off my chest.”
Flash forward eight years and the band’s timing for channeling that aggression into an even edgier follow-up couldn’t be better. With Short Songs for End Times (out now via Second Nature Recordings, Wiretap Records, and Big Scary Monsters), the Kansas City-based four-piece have crafted a punchy and appropriately titled soundtrack for the current cultural moment. Shedding the unsettling synths prominent on Real Fear in favor of a denser approach, the album is unafraid to put loud guitars up front, sonically centered on the power of the riff.
The record’s cosmic collision with 2020’s slow-motion apocalyptic vibe was somewhat coincidental. While Short Songs for End Times was first chosen as a tongue-in-cheek working title in late 2018, it was too perfect not to stick. It’s a fitting summation of a record defined by focused tension, drawing its energy from the thoughtful push and pull between Ellis and Terrance Vitali’s guitarwork, underpinned by the driving rhythm section of bassist Stacy Hilt and drummer Jason Trabue. Abrasive yet accessible, it sounds identifiably like The Casket Lottery, but without coming across like a repeat of anything they’ve done before in their two-plus decades together.
“On Real Fear, I feel like I pulled the guitars back so much to make room for everything else, and this record, I didn’t do that,” says Ellis. “This record started with guitar ideas and I just leaned into all of those. I demoed the hell out of all these songs, and they each had three or four iterations before I felt like they were right.”
What’s next for The Casket Lottery after the record’s release remains an open question. When Ellis was reached by phone, the band was in the middle of practicing for a video live stream, explaining that while the band is best experienced when packed into small, sweaty spaces, they’re figuring out how they can push Short Songs for End Times until touring is back on the table. Not a unique situation for any band these days, perhaps, but for an album thematically tied up in existential dread, maybe it’s fitting that the act of promoting the record is itself an act of defiance in the face of the most fucked-up year in modern history.
“We’re gonna figure it out as we go, but it’s definitely not something I was prepared for,” says Ellis.
Pick up a copy here