A Fire Inside

AFI (The Blood Album) – AFI

Release Year: 2017

Rating: 7/10

AFI is one of those bands I’ve grown to love and appreciate more over the years. I initially got into them with “Girl’s Not Grey” and Sing the Sorrow. So when they teased a new album last year, I was beyond excited. Burials isn’t necessarily my favorite, but it was solid. I hoped The Blood Album would top that and mark a proper return for the band. Well, that isn’t really the case.

Even before the album dropped, AFI got a lot of flak. Some fans called the songwriting lazy while others thought the songs were just boring. And after spending so much time with it, I see what they mean. The album isn’t bad; it’s just kind of there. Very few of the songs are notable or exciting like we expect from AFI at this point. The opening track “Dark Snow” is decent and kind of catchy with its hook of “I go on,” but it’s not the most gripping song to introduce an album. AFI has always been good at creating openings that punch you in the teeth and tell you what you’re in for. While this track does map out the sound for the rest of the album, it’s kind of tame. It has the potential to grow on you, but it’s not very exciting.

Things get better with “Still a Stranger.” Though it reminds you of something from Crash Love, it has this great energy to it that kicks you into gear. Frontman Davey Havok even pulls out some aggressive vocals though I gotta admit, they do sound a bit forced. It’s a nice way to even out the song with some edge, but it sounds like he’s laying it on a bit too thick. It almost doesn’t fit. Still, this track manages to be one of the more notable ones from the album. Another song in the same vein is “Aurelia.” Havok hypnotizes you with the way he sings “Aurelia, the new wolves await/Aurelia they brought you new chains.” From there the hook is kind of repetitive, but it does its job at making the song stand out. It does sound similar to other songs on the album due to the midtempo music, but it’s still a decent entry.

The rest of the album follows the same suit: songs that barely register, but sound good in the whole scope of the record. Tracks like “Hidden Knives,” “Pink Eyes,” and “Get Hurt” aren’t terrible. There’s just not much to say about them. They have a generally bouncy energy to them while midtempo rock music plays out and Havok spits out some lyrics. I guess they work as a whole, but the songs are kind of weak when you listen to them outside the album. They just don’t hit you the way a good AFI song should. And it doesn’t matter if it’s aggressive or not. Songs like “The Interview” and Endlessly, She Said” are still memorable and charming even though they’re not in your face. The same can’t be said about most of the songs on this album.

Snow Cats” is another decent song that has a bit of a Decemberunderground feel to it. With the somber, mellow guitar riff opening the track, this one has a melancholy mood to it. Still, it’s not the best song in their catalog particularly when it comes to the lyrics. The chorus is easy enough to remember, but the rest of the lyrics aren’t all that engaging. It sounds like Havok strung together a bunch of phrases to be provocative and it doesn’t work. “Feed From the Floor” shows off their lighter side with the brighter music that sounds like it was ripped from The Cure. But after a few minutes, the song grows dull and boring. And closing track “The Wind that Carries Me Away” is only memorable because it sounds like their version of Depeche Mode’s “I Feel You.” The song is aiming for an ominous, smoldering sound and it doesn’t quite hit it. Like most of the other tracks, it’s decent but doesn’t do much.

There are a handful of songs that gives us a taste of the classic, hard hitting AFI we desire. Single “White Offerings” is still one of the standout tracks here. It has a pummeling energy, awesome drive, and tons of attitude. It makes you want to start breaking shit when you hear it. “Dumb Kids” is another standout song for a lot of the same reasons. It finally brings some excitement to the album. It makes you want to pump your fist in the air and start pogo dancing. Personally, these are the type of songs I wanted on the record, mixed in with some morbid romance for good measure. “She Speaks the Language” and “So Beneath You” stand out for actually sounding different. The former has an alluring stuttering guitar riff giving the song a dangerous vibe. The looming bass playing during the verse is killer too making for a notable track. The latter finds the band getting in touch with their aggressive, hardcore side once again. Out of all the songs on the album, this one has the most punk rock influence and will likely appeal to longtime fans.

If there’s one song on the album that I just flat out don’t like it’s “Above the Bridge.” I already mentioned the complaints about lazy songwriting and it’s all over this track. The music itself is okay. It’s kind of generic and has a bit of a Cure vibe with the keyboards. They actually sound pretty similar to the keys on “Just Like Heaven.” Seeing as they were a huge influence on the band, it’s not that much of a surprise. While the music may be unoffending, it’s the hook that I cannot stand: “I saw you step upon that bridge/I saw you walk across that bridge/I saw you float above that bridge.” The constant repetition makes the song annoying. When I first heard it, I dubbed it “that bridge song.” There are some other uninteresting verses, but that’s all there is to it. And even those suffer from constant repetition. Very few of the songs on the record are fantastic, but this one is definitely the weakest entry.

So is the Blood Album bad? Not necessarily, it’s just not very exciting. Rather than having songs that are thrilling, charming, and exciting, the songs are just there. Very few of them manage to stand out and grab your attention. Others are okay at best, sounding generic or too similar to one another. Sadly, the album is kind of disappointing. It’s enjoyable, but still overwhelmingly okay. Usually, their songs can be described as charming, romantic, morbid, or elegant. The best way to describe the new stuff is decent rock songs. And it has nothing to do with their change to a lighter, friendlier sound. I love that AFI is constantly evolving; I just want it to be interesting. This album misses that mark. It does have potential to grow on you over time, but it might take a while. It seems maybe Havok and Puget had too much on their plate while making the record. At the same time, they were working on the new Blaqk Audio album and Havok was working on Dreamcar. It’s fine to want to do a lot of different projects, but there comes a time when you need to focus on just one. I’m glad AFI are back, but I expected better from them. Hopefully, when they’re ready for their next album it’ll be one that will remind me why I fell in love with the band in the first place.

 

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Burials- AFI

Burials_2013-09-23_22-18Release Year: 2013

Rating: 8/10

2013 has been full of epic returns and with it came the return of AFI. Though their last album received mixed reviews from fans, this one is sure to please everyone even though it won’t make the list of their stellar records. If anything the record shows that the band knows how to play the dark card really well, whether it’s in the bone chilling music or haunting lyrics that stick with you after the song ends. While the album isn’t perfect there are a number of great songs here that show the band isn’t ready to stop yet.

The album begins with the short, but sweet track “The Sinking Night.” In a way it sets the mood for the record as the dark, heavy music with the ambient noises gives it this ominous sound. Davey proves he still has a way with lyrics as he sings “Blackness drips from both of my hands/the gold in my palm was mistaken for sand/can you feel it?” The picture these lines make is really creepy and sounds like a nightmare you hope to never have. “I Hope You Suffer” is one of the best songs here. The entire feel is dramatic and epic as the band adds strings and piano to expand the sound. The piano also adds this pretty element to this brutal song. The dynamic in Davey’s vocals is classic AFI. He sounds sweet and warm during the verses, but unleashes his anger and anguish during the chorus that repeats “I hope you suffer.” It’s an excellent song that shows the band at their best.

While not every song is standout here, there are a few that are stellar. “The Conductor” has great intense music with a guitar riff that gets stuck in your head. You can feel and hear the power in this song. This along with the sound of the pre-chrous makes you want to pump your fist in the air and start a riot. Again, Havok brings on the clever lyrics during the second verse: “Bleed into black clouds/And I will lick them clean/Turn to a tourniquet/And cinch yourself to me.” The metaphor about the tourniquet really sticks in your head because you can visualize exactly what he’s trying to say. Also, it’s a dark romantic image. Another great song is the closing track “The Face Beneath the Waves.”

AFI have never been shy about their influence from The Cure and this song has that band written all over it. The title alone is similar to the dark Cure track “The Drowning Man.” This is probably one of the darkest songs of the album thanks to images of death and isolation. There is also ominous howling throughout the track that gives it this haunting feeling as if a restless spirit is wandering around. Another trace of The Cure comes during the bridge when the bass is playing. It sounds like it’s ripped from one of their songs. The entire feeling of the song is really cold and dark. It’s an excellent track and brings the album full circle.

While there’s not really an unlikeable song to be found, there are some that aren’t as strong as others. “Heart Stop” almost doesn’t fit on the record, especially since it sounds like a Jimmy Eat World song, yet it’s still pretty good even if a bit depressing. “Anxious” is another track that’s not bad, but there’s nothing about it to make it stand out from the others. “Wild” is actually a really great song with a frantic pace and a hint of electronic music similar to Havok’s side project Blaqk Audio, but since it’s buried so far in the album it’s not instantly noticed. It seems that the record starts off strong with great tracks that are memorable, but at the halfway mark it begins to taper off where the songs are easy to tune out or just ignore altogether.

“Greater Than 84” is kind of an odd song. It begins with this weird with this weird bright, disjointed riff that sounds really off. It almost doesn’t fit the band at all. Otherwise, it’s a catchy and energetic track. Once you get past the odd riff, the song grows on you, especially with the intriguing chorus of “The future’s here/it’s 1985.” I know this might be a silly thought, but this line makes me think of Back to the Future, since that’s when the movie took place. “17 Crimes” is another bright, upbeat track and it may throw some off after hearing something as dark as “I Hope You Suffer.” It’s far from the best song on the album, but again being filled with hooks makes it easy to grow on you. It actually sounds like something that comes from their last album.

Overall, the album gets 8/10. It’s not as strong as some of their past albums, but it’s still a stronger than their last effort. While it does have a few songs that aren’t as memorable, there are plenty of tracks that are catchy, darkly beautiful, and somewhat creepy. Havok still proves he has some of the most intriguing and clever lyrics around as some will stick with you, while others get under your skin. It’s a promising return for the band that slows they don’t plan on stopping yet.

Decemberunderground- AFI

Release Year: 2006

Rating: 9/10

AFI’s seventh album finds the band experimenting with new sounds and styles while sticking with their Punk Rock roots. The way the music is presented and played could make this their most epic album yet. The songs are bursting with energy and aggression and though the music can be upbeat and get you moving, the themes presented here are quite dark.

The album opens with the short, but powerful track “Prelude 12/21.” It may sound weird to say this but this has got to be one of the best tracks on the album. The song is pretty short, but there is so much going on here that draws attention to itself. The booming drums, powerful vocals, and ethereal singing really gives off an epic vibe. It also sounds a bit haunting, especially at the beginning with the tinkling music starting us off. This song is also great for giving the listener a taste of what to expect from this album.

“Kill Caustic” is similar to their older material with the fast distorted guitars and growling vocals, while “Miss Murder” is catchy and full of energy. It also flawlessly changes tempo causing Havok to resort to his screaming, harsh vocals before reverting back to singing. “Endlessly, She Said” finds Havok singing softly in this somber, lullaby. All the songs here are awesome. There are elements in every song that you can pinpoint and cling to as your favorite. Whether it’s the vocals from “Kiss and Control,” the cool bass playing in “The Killing Lights,” or the delivery of “Love Like Winter,” there’s something in every song that will get your attention. Some of the songs are catchy and easy to sing along to, while others are deep, somber, and beautiful.

One song that stands out from the others is “37mm.” Whereas the other songs are full of harsh vocals, aggressive guitar playing and booming drums, this song has none of those elements. It begins with music that sounds mystical, light and pretty. I’m not entirely sure what instrument is playing, but my best guess is keyboard. Not only is the music light and more on the mellow side, it creates an isolated cold atmosphere. This is emphasized by Havok’s soft vocals. At times it sounds like he’s whispering because he’s singing so softly. The song is also on the haunting side of things when everything comes together. This is a great track that deserves more attention.

As mentioned before, there are dark themes going on here. Often times the songs will reference topics and use images referring to suicide, death, loneliness, isolation, winter and recklessness. The music will often emphasize the theme by sounding aggressive or creepy. At times the singing even seems cold and lifeless, which perfectly fits the album. With a title like Decemberunderground, you would expect a really cold feeling on the album. AFI did a great job reinforcing this idea in the music.

The band gets a bit more experimental on this album in regards to the music. While the blazing guitars and Punk Rock influence is not absent here it doesn’t take over the album. For one, the piano is used more in these songs and it can really add a startling touch to songs like “The Interview.” Other tracks incorporate a bit of synth. You can best hear it on “Love Like Winter.” It’s not used exclusively, but rather is used to make the sound bigger on this track. While it’s great to see that AFI hasn’t given up their roots, it’s also nice to see them trying new things, especially since they make it work so well.

Overall the album gets 9/10. All of the songs are great. There is something in each of them that makes you take notice. There’s never a point during the album where it becomes boring or loses focus. There are dark themes and images to be found here even though they may difficult to spot at first due to the uptempo music. This is an underrated AFI album. It may be due to the fact that the band was mainstream at this point, but that shouldn’t matter if the music is still good. It really is fantastic and deserves more attention.

What are your thoughts about Decemberunderground? Leave your comments below.