AFI started out as a hardcore punk band and over time changed their sound to blend their punk roots with elements of Gothic and alternative rock. Their breakthrough album keeps in tune with their punk influences, but has hints of their later sound. Here they often mix fast guitars with Gothic imagery and music. While you can heart traces of the direction they would eventually go, their punk sound is still loud and clear. It’s the beginning of their now well known style.
The album begins with the short instrumental track “Initiation.” It’s nothing but muted guitars with odd howling noises. It’s not much, but it seems to prepare the listener to what’s in store, which is why the song title makes so much sense; they’re initiating you into their inner circle. The following track “The Lost Souls” is nothing but in your face punk rock. It has a cool thudding bass line followed by heavy drums before the speeding guitars and Havok’s spitfire vocals start up. Though the track is steeped in punk rock it foreshadows the direction they would eventually go during the bridge. Here is where everything slows down and grows more melodic before picking up again. It’s a great mix of their initial sound blended with their future one.
Like most AFI albums this is another one that’s easy to leave on without skipping a track. “The Nephilim” has a killer bass line that sounds like it’s stalking the night. Though the music has a punk vibe, there is a lot of darkness found in the song thanks the images in the lyrics. With Havok singing “The seasons change without me/I remain in shadows growing wings” it sounds like he’s singing about a demon or some other supernatural being. “Sacrifice Theory” has another sick bass line that’s really subtle, but blows you away when you catch it. It sounds like it takes influence from surf rock as it trills up and down the fretboard. Here is where the band mixes their love for punk with alternative rock creating a chaotic mood perfect for the mosh pit.
“Smile” is an interesting song. From the title it sounds pretty positive, but the content is all about disgust for society. This becomes clear when Havok sings “I hate humanity!” It even ends on a resounding note when he sings “I’ll end the world tonight” followed by a guitar riff that sounds like it was ripped from a horror movie. The intense mood, howling vocals, and contrast at work makes it an awesome track. “Wester” is really catchy with the chorus of “nothing can stop us now.” This makes it memorable and stick in your head instantly. Also, there’s a lot of Gothic imagery here that would later show up on their other albums. With lines like “I can feel you waiting for me as the sun retreats to the hills and I, /Below the blanket of a burning sky, wrap myself within/Embraced by dead leaves as the rain leaves trails of black down my face/And I creep through the twilight to that/hidden place beyond the lonely” makes it sound like he’s some dark creature on his way to the graveyard for a date. The way the tempo slows down for the bridge shows the band’s habit of mixing things up to keep the song interesting.
“6 To 8” is a really clever song about life on the road. Many bands have songs about touring, especially young ones, but it’s hard to write about it in a way that doesn’t get predictable and tiring. AFI found a way to make it mysterious and great because they didn’t make it obvious. They make the listener figure out what it’s about leaving a satisfying feeling when they do. The lines that give you the biggest hint of what it’s about are “What new friends will the day bring?/One for one thousand acquainted/What new home will the night bring?” The first time you hear it it may puzzle you, but after a while it clicks. He’s talking meeting new people and sleeping in a different place every night on the road. This is a great example of why AFI have some of the best lyrics.
Though the band keeps up with their established punk sound there are several examples where they stray away from it. “The Despair Factor” sees the guys using electronic elements for the first time. It jostles the listener because it’s completely unexpected, but the way it sounds like bullets firing off makes it work. They slow it down for “Ever and a Day” with the dark, melancholic music and haunting lyrics like “Lie in the darkness, I’m slowly drowned to sleep/Nothing left to lose/Three tears I’ve saved for you” create this eerie and beautiful tone. The bittersweet closing track “Morningstar” is very hushed from the palm muted guitars to the soft singing. But what makes it stand out are the strings that come in during the second verse. Again it’s something that throws you off, but it adds this hidden beauty to the song. In AFI fashion, the ending is really amped up and intense to make it come alive. These songs show how though they had an established sound they weren’t afraid of playing with it and trying out different things, something they still do today.
Overall, the album gets 8/10. The album is full of tracks made for the circle pit, but a darker, Gothic inspired song begins to show here. You get both sides of the band: the wild punk rock that made them underground darlings and the thoughtful melodic darkness that launched them into the mainstream. This is definitely the start of them constantly evolving their sound, which they still do now. If any fan is curious about their punk rock past, this is the LP to listen to.