AFI

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.

 

Material – Blaqk Audio

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 8.5/10

Blaqk Audio is the synth and electronic based side project of AFI’s Davey Havok and Jade Puget. Moving away from punk rock, the duo explore lush beats, swirling rhythms, and hard hitting synth. They’re not doing anything completely unique with the genre, but they work with it well. Their debut album, Cexcells, was solid, but their follow up Bright Black Heaven seemed more or less the same. How does their long awaited third release hold up?

With this album Blaqk Audio doesn’t take any risks and sticks with their well worn formula of electronic and sythpop infused songs. This doesn’t necessarily make the album bad, but there’s very little about it that catches your attention the first time you listen to it. That’s because so much of the record sounds familiar or too similar to their past efforts. The dark nature of “Black at the Center” and the way Havok wails “I’m helpless/am I’m freezing” brings up similarities to “Ill-Lit Ships.” The rapid and catchy “First to Love” seems to continue the 80s, New Order vibe found on many of their other songs. And “I’m a Mess” uses the synth/piano format they seem to admire.

Despite this, there are some stand out tracks on the album. One of the best is “Curious Friends,” which starts with cold, futuristic music out of an 8-bit game. Havok sings in a robotic manner giving this feeling of isolation. The song amps up during the ear worm hook of “Does he tell that he loves you/like you do” and turns into more of a dance song. Everything about it is so satisfying it grabs your attention right away. The opening track “Waiting to Be Told” is another highlight. It continues the dark mood of the record with harsh, throbbing electronic beats opening the song. It’s one of the most intense on the album.

To Be Alone” has this great slow build up where the beat pluses and throbs while Havok softly sings. The track comes alive as things get more intense with eerie ambient noises sounding like other worldly moaning. Again, like other songs here it does sound like one of their previous tracks, but it still grabs your attention. “Material” is more of a forgettable song. The music and style is actually reminiscent of New Order’s “Blue Monday” and it’s not the first time their influence pops up on the record. It’s not a bad song, it’ll still get you moving. It’s just buried underneath the stronger tracks.

For some reason Blaqk Audio like having one super upbeat, poppy dance song on their albums and unfortunately, here is no different. Don’t be fooled by the name, “Graphic Violence” is the complete opposite of its brutal sounding title. The whole thing is really bright and sickeningly sugary sweet. It sounds like something that would play on a teen show on Nickelodeon. You picture pink splashes and lots of hearts when you hear it. It is slightly catchy, so it has potential to grow on you, but it sticks out on the album and doesn’t warrant itself for repeated listens.

The album hits a low point towards the end with generic sounding tracks “You Will Hate Me” and “Ceremonial.” On both songs, the mood shifts to upbeat dance music better suited for a Rihanna song. Rather than being stark, dark, and heavy hitting, the music is everything you currently hear on pop radio. Though they can be catchy at times, both of the songs are pretty bland and are filler more than anything. Luckily, the closing track “Anointed” ends the album on a high note. Though it doesn’t stray too far from what we’ve already heard on the album, it does add dirty guitars giving it more of a rock edge than the other tracks. There’s also an air of mystery and sensuality that makes it appealing. It manages to be another stand out track on the record.

With Blaqk Audio Puget and Havok show how versatile they are with music. They easily move out of their comfort zone to play around with something new. The problem is this album, just like their last one, sounds so similar to what they’ve already done. They even address the same themes of love, sex, and loneliness. You don’t expect them to do something so drastic it doesn’t even sound like them. Rather, you’d hope they’d find someway to make the album stand out from their others. Material is still another solid entry in their catalog with more irresistible songs. But since it’s so similar to their other stuff, it may take a few listens for the album to take. Still, it’s great to hear from Blaqk Audio again.

Crash Love – AFI

Release Year: 2009

Rating: 7/10

AFI may have started out as your standard punk rock band, but later in their career they were bold enough to switch up their sound making way for some of their best albums. For their 2009 effort, they changed things again and successfully divided the fan base along with it. The new lighter, more rock oriented sound alienated those who craved the hardcore, aggressive nature of the band. It can be considered the black sheep of their catalog, but is it really that bad?

When I first heard the album I agreed with those who hated the album. Gone were Davey Havok’s intense sneering vocals, the dirty guitar riffs, and the bad ass nature of the songs. There were some elements from their last LP Decemberunderground, but I wasn’t really feeling the lighter sound. Revisiting it now I find there are a handful of strong songs. The opening track “Torch Song” is one of the strongest on the album. It has the dark, Gothic vibe from their previous effort with morbid lines like “I’d tear out my eyes for/you my dear/oh my dear.” It’s also pretty catchy, but some fans my find some similarities to “Endlessly She Said.” Another surprisingly good song is “Too Shy to Scream.” It has this old school swing/rockabilly vibe to it that’s very playful and energetic. It seems a bit out of place at first, but it really grows on you. The chorus is really catchy and the entire thing just sounds like a good time. This is another contender for best song on the LP.

Veronica Sawyer Smokes” and “Okay, I Feel Better Now” are strong songs from the album. The first is a reference to Winona Ryder’s character from the movie Heathers and seems like a love song to the actress. It’s an upbeat track with some light, jangly guitars with a simple chorus that gets stuck in your head. This track seems to have the most pop sensibilities even down to Havok’s singing, which is very light in nature. The latter song builds up this sense of anticipation keeping listeners hungry for the moment when everything explodes. It never reaches that point, but it does keep getting intense as the track goes on. There’s also a sense of darkness to it similar to their older songs.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album is okay at best. Too many of the songs are forgettable or suffer from weak lyrics. The melodic “End Transmission” has the line “the broken radio/was playing suicide” which sounds kind of cool, but makes no sense when you think about it. And these high school-esque lyrics are sprinkled throughout the LP. AFI have always had lyrics with great images that stick with you and that’s entirely missing from this album. Instead, everything sounds too sappy and cliché. It also makes some of the songs too sweet. Aside from sounding like something by The Smashing Pumpkins, “Darling I Want to Destroy You” has Havok singing so light and it sounds way too sweet and fluffy. Even though the hook is decent, it still sounds like a whiny emo song from the mid-2000s.

Songs like “Medicate,” “I Am Trying Very Hard to Be Here,” and “Cold Hands” are all okay, but they just aren’t as memorable as their other songs. One issue are the super clean guitars. In some cases it works, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss Jade Puget’s gritty, dirty sound that added so much aggression to their songs. Without it, the songs fall flat and never get that chance to come alive, grabbing listeners by the throat. For many of the songs I was waiting for the moment when everything would explode, but it never came leaving me unsatisfied.

So is the album? No, but I wouldn’t put it with their best. There are a good amount of strong songs that both explore new sounds and mark a return to their aggressive nature. In some cases the new, lighter AFI isn’t that bad, but it does leave most of the tracks forgettable and weak. Fans who have been following the band since they started will be disappointed since it seems like they completely abandoned their punk rock roots. This wouldn’t be such a problem if the other songs didn’t seem like filler. This experimental effort isn’t horrible, but it can’t hold up with their classics.

Playlist: Latest and Favorites

There’s nothing like waking up in the morning and finding out your favorite band has released a new song. You never know what you’re getting: will it blow you away so hard you can’t imagine waiting another second for the new album? Or will it be so disappointing you vow to give up on them? Whatever the reaction, usually gets you in the mood for their older stuff and that’s what this playlist is about. The artists featured here have released new songs over the past 2 years. Their latest single will be paired with a personal favorite, so sit back and get excited about new music. Or just be satisfied with their older stuff, either way is fine.

Maroon 5

“This Summer’s Gonna Hurt Like a Motherfucker”

Ever since Adam Levine’s ego grew bigger than his head, I haven’t been a fan of Maroon 5. Morbid curiosity keeps me checking out their new stuff, but it’s usually a disappointment. My feelings are the same with this song. It’s pretty obvious the band are trying to score the “song of the summer” title with this single. Levine goes completely falsetto while pop electro music swirls around him. It’s a pretty mediocre track and sounds similar to all of the songs on their last album. I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that Levine shows his ass in the video or how obvious it is Maroon 5 are trying to be bad ass and score a hit song.

“This Love”

Remember when Adam Levine’s naked oily body wasn’t covered in tattoos? That was back in 2005 when the band’s mega-successful debut dropped. And this was one song you couldn’t get away from. It’s simple, catchy, and really dirty if you actually pay attention the lyrics. It’s not like Maroon 5 changed pop music forever with this song; it was just really well crafted like the rest of the album. Levine sounds like himself rather than a whiny, falsetto mess who’s always trying to be sexy and sensitive. Also, the band actually sounded like band instead of back up for the singer. Ah, simpler times.

Panic! At the Disco

“Hallelujah”

I stopped listening to Panic! when the rest of the world stopped caring about them. I wasn’t that impressed by their second album and haven’t paid attention to their new material since. And judging by this song, I made the right choice. I don’t even know where to begin. It has this weird gospel, soul vibe going on, which is completely different from what they previously did. There’s even a part with a gospel choir and hand claps. It’s totally unexpected. Because the chorus is so repetitive, it’s one of those songs that’ll get stuck in your head even if you don’t want it to. Otherwise, the song is just weird.

“But It’s Better if You Do”

P!ATD surfaced at a time when sounding like Fall Out Boy meant guaranteed success. They weren’t the greatest band, but what made them stand out was how fun their songs were (even if the titles were obscenely long). This track from their debut, which is now 10 years old, mixes upbeat pop-punk with vaudeville-esque music that was standard for their sound at the time. The entire thing is full of energy, it gets you moving as soon as the first jaunty piano note is played. It’s upbeat, memorable, and puts you in the mood for dancing whenever you hear it. Between musical changes and band departures, the band haven’t been the same since.

Slipknot

“Killpop”

Slipknot’s latest is considered the “poppiest” on .5: The Gray Chapter. With the soft, muted beginning and Corey Taylor’s mellow vocals, it does throw listeners for a loop the first time it’s heard. But it doesn’t take long for the track to go back to the aggressive nature the band is known for. The single mixes the band’s melodic side with their intensity, providing a best of both worlds. Everything keeps building up until the explosive ending where Taylor sounds violent and viscous. It also helps that the lyrics suggest something darker is going on: “We were meant to be together/Now die and fucking love me/We were meant to hurt each other
Now die and fucking love me.” It’s actually one of the stand out track from the LP.

“Left Behind”

This is Slipknot at their best. For their second album, Iowa, they turned everything up from how intense the music was to the darkness of the lyrics. The entire album is their most brutal and disturbing and this is one of the best tracks. That hypnotizing guitar riff looping around your head matched with Corey’s extreme vocals he’s become known for since, make for a song that’s intense as fuck.

Motley Crue

“All Bad Things”

The Crue have spent the past two years promoting their farewell tour by signing treaties, doing late night television, and doing endless press conferences. Between all that, they also released this new single and it’s not that bad. The band will never be as good as they were back in the 80s, but at least the track roars to life with a wicked riff that’s in your face and aggressive. It’s not their best, but it’s a fitting way for them to say goodbye since the chorus screams “All bad things must end/all bad thing must die.”  For a few brief seconds you even think you’re listening to classic Crue.

“Dr. Feelgood”

Motley Crue will be remembered for a lot of things, but this is the song they’ll always be associated with. This is when they were the indisputable bad boys of metal and you can hear it on this song. Everything sounds viscous and evil with Mick Mars’ blazing guitars and Tommy Lee behind the kit. No wonder parents thought they were Satanic. The single was recorded after the band got sober and it showed they didn’t need drugs to kick ass.

Incubus

“Absolution Calling”

Recently, Incubus released their new EP Trust Fall (Side A) with this track as its lead single. Unlike most of the material from their last LP, this one feels more like classic Incubus. It’s upbeat, energetic, and lots of fun. It mixes in their brand of alt rock with some wavering synth for a weird dance vibe. It’s actually a really good track and marks a great comeback for the band. This along with the other songs from their latest release get you excited for what they’ll do next.

“Stellar”

The second single from Make Yourself is one of my favorites. The song sounds dreamy with the watery opening riff and Brandon Boyd’s soft singing. This track also plays with the loud/quiet dynamic with soft verses and a loud chorus.  The whole thing is a bit sweet and sentimental. It’s actually kind of relaxing and puts you in a good mood. Though it wouldn’t be as successful as their next single, it’s still among one of their best songs.

Billy Idol

“Can’t Break Me Down”

Idol returned last year with his first new album in seven years along with a phenomenal new book. The album itself was decent enough and this track was among one of the best. This is most likely because it sounds so similar to his older material. But at least Idol still sounds great and there’s no mistaking it’s him when you hear it. The “bang-bang-bang” of the hook is a little cheesy, but it’s something you come around to the more you hear it. It’s still not as strong as his stuff from the 80s, but at least he can still make good music.

“Eyes Without a Face”

There’s no question that Billy Idol was on top of his game in the 80s. He had many hits during this time, but this one has to be his most haunting. He sounds eerie and sinister as he sings lines like “Say your prayers” and keeps mentioning eyes without a face, which is a reference to the French movie of the same name. The song also showed how Idol didn’t always have to be the punk rebel to win hearts over. He knew how to slow things down, yet still rock out. All it takes is a killer from long time collaborator Steve Stevens to make it kick ass.

Bullet For My Valentine

“No Way Out”

Fans complained Bullet’s last album wasn’t brutal enough and for this track the band gives the people what they want . As I previously pointed out in a review, the song isn’t the strongest from the band, but it’s a helluva lot better than Temper Temper and the rushed “Raising Hell.” The best is when the song comes alive during the start with the aggressive, noisy guitars and Matt Tuck screaming at the top of his lungs “No way out!” Though it didn’t blow my mind when I first heard, I’m liking it more and more as I hear it. Let’s hope the rest of the new album is even better.

“4 Words (To Choke Upon)”

That killer opening riff that sounds a tad bit like the Michael Myers theme and the roar of Matt singing “That’s right, one more time!” kicked off the band’s second single with a bang. This is the first track the band wrote after the break up of Jeff Killed John and is a response to those who doubted they were going to be successful, which is why the “look at me now” line makes so much sense. This is a classic Bullet track with everything  that makes the band kick ass: in your face intense music, blazing guitar solos, and harsh vocals mixed with the melodic. It’s no wonder I fell in love with the band as soon as I heard it.

Queens of the Stone Age

“Smooth Sailing”

Queens of the Stone Age came back from a six year absence with a number one album. While every track on the LP is killer, this single is definitely a highlight. The band sets aside hard rock for groovy riffs, a drunken shuffle, and killer riffs. It’s the most upbeat track on the record, giving you a break from all the dark, grim stuff happening otherwise. Once you hear the song you can’t help but start shaking your hips. It has that feel good, party vibe, which they tried to capture in the video. Homme lets loose with his sweet falsetto making the song that much better.

“Go With the Flow”

QOTSA have a ton of amazing singles, but the fast paced chugging riff and heavy hitting drums won me over. Homme sounds hypnotic as he sings “I can go with the flow/do you believe it in your head” while bursts of squealing guitar appear throughout the track. With such a memorable chorus, the song manages to be catchy making it one of their most accessible tracks. But it still kicks a lot of ass and shows how insanely talented the band is.

Muse

“Dead Inside”

Muse took the electronic/synth elements from their previous album and mashed it with their hard rock sound for this stellar track. Bellamy announces the song by singing “Dead inside!” while Dom Howard provides the heavy metallic drumbeat. From there, Bellamy goes on to sing about someone who’s lost hope and is left vulnerable for mind control. It sounds pretty dark, but Bellamy manages to make it sound sensual with his chilling falsetto vocals he peppers the track with. It’s a great return to the band’s much missed rock sound, but it also manages to sound different thanks to a blending of styles.

“Knights of Cydonia”

This is the song that shows why Muse are such a force. Insane and raw guitar riffs, out of this world vocals, and a call to arms. Since its release, this is the song the band have become known for and it’s a huge fan favorite. Again, it’s a great example of Bellamy’s high pitched vocal range, which he uses to full effect on this track. There’s also the epic bridge which screams “No one’s gonna take me alive,” that makes you ready to go into battle. When you hear people talking about how unbelievably talented and over the top the band are, this is what they’re talking about.

AFI

“A Deep Slow Panic”

It’s been thee years since AFI released their ninth album, yet this single came out last year. While it’s not one of the strongest songs from the LP, it’s still pretty solid. It seems to have more of the upbeat, lighter tone that was found on Crash Love instead of the intense, hardcore punk they’re loved for. Davey Havok sounds soft as he sings “I haven’t left here for days/My panic keeps me awake/As he unwinds/Inside” while Jade Puget’s bright riffs swirl around him. It’s one of those songs that grows on you the more you hear it.

“Leaving Song Pt. 2”

This track from their breakout LP Sing the Sorrow, doesn’t show the extreme punk sound the band had when they first started, but it’s clearly still present here. Everything that makes an AFI song is here: gang vocals, aggressive guitars, gothic elements, and dark lyrics. The song is intense and in your face, especially during the chorus where the music and the vocals are punched up. The best part is the end when Davey Havok lets out a blood curdling scream ending the song.

Marilyn Manson

“The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles”

Manson returned this year with his most critically acclaimed album of his later career. Ever since the mid 2000s, Manson’s been finding new ways to stay scary and shocking with lackluster results. Though 2012’s Born Villain was a strong effort, it’s this LP where the rocker finds a style that works for where he’s at in his life. This track shows the slow burning, blues tinged music Manson has a knack for making now. While it’s not the best song on the album, it’s still a damn good one.

“The Dope Show”

Manson’s 1998 LP is still considered his best. With a dash of David Bowie and a glam rock direction, Manson crafted what many would call his masterpiece and this song was at the forefront. Not only did it introduce fans to the band’s new sound, but it confused the hell out of the world when the rocker appeared with boobs. It remains one of the most shocking and talked about moments of the 90s. The song itself has this deep, sexy groove matched with a drunken shuffle that makes you feel good and woozy all at once. Years later, it remains one of his best songs.

Madonna

“Bitch, I’m Madonna”

Madonna knows she’s the baddest bitch and she brags about it in her latest single. Featuring Nicki Minaj, the track is an upbeat club banger mixing some electronic with a but of rump shaker music. While it does sounds like the Queen of Pop is trying a little too hard to keep up with the younger musicians, the let loose, party vibe of the track is too infectious to ignore. Soon enough you’ll find yourself claiming “Bitch, I’m Madonna” with the singer herself.

“Vogue”

This is classic Madonna all the way. This is when the singer was at the peak of her career, yet still before the baffling Sex book. Based on and dedicated to the underground voguing scene found in New York gay clubs, the song is about dancing and looking pretty while doing it. There’s even a short section dedicated to the glamorous stars of the classic Hollywood era, such as Bette Davis and Grace Kelly. With a hint of disco and a whole lot of attitude, it’s still a song Madonna fans cherish to this day.

The Art of Drowning – AFI

AFI_-_The_Art_of_Drowning_coverRelease Year: 2000

Rating: 8/10

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.