Written by Silas Valentino
It’s been over a decade since their mainstream breakthrough and AFI have held it all together to add yet another disk to their discography. The once emo-meets-gothic outfit has embraced a growth spurt with their 10th album, titled AFI (The Blood Album), and the Ukiah, California-sprung hardcore rockers sound their most mature and refined yet.
They’ve since dropped the theatrics as band members begin to embrace their 40s. The stark-black hair that concealed their pale inner selves has been trimmed and sonically they’ve worked in a New Wave glow into their sound that recalls what The Cure did years prior. AFI appear to be soaking up waves from the black hole sun but the result is rehashed and less convincing than the bands that came before them.
The first statement of the album is opening number “Dark Snow” which comes packaged around the sharp buzz of bass synthesizers and grueling guitar solos. AFI don’t hold back on lathering ideas into the song’s structure. Various dashes of obscure moments appear throughout “Dark Snow” such as a fleeting acoustic guitar jingle or a detour into piano balladry that’s spearheaded by singer Davey Havok’s overly-dubbed vocals, layered into digital harmony. By the opener’s close, the echo of Havok’s enunciated “Ohs” remain.
Havok appears in movies, television shows and Broadway plays outside of his duties as the band’s lead singer. He joined the cast of the Broadway show American Idiot in 2011 and the grandeur of the stage seems to be an influence. Much of AFI (The Blood Album) features Havok’s voice at the center stage and its greatest use is during “Aurelia” where he lowers his vocal range to reflect his matured suffering. “They’re barking in the wrong key/And you sing along” he repeats as he condemns conformity.
Flashes of Green Day appear elsewhere on the album such as the crunchy chord rock of “So Beneath You.” Both bands were pruned in the East Bay Area hardcore punk scene and both bands abandoned the scene for a bigger audience with more mass appeal. “So Beneath You” gives it to you straight with power chords melodies and distorted palm mutes to give an extra edge to the aggression. Similar to other tracks on the album such as “Dark Snow,” the song will make a drastic departure from its core during the final minutes to facilitate a cathartic ending that’ll surely dazzle the scores of dedicated fans who’ve dubbed their cohort the Despair Faction Fan Club.
Being for the benefit of cheap comparison, the carnival ambiance of “Snow Cats” with its cheeky call-and-response verse calls to mind the early work of Panic! At the Disco.
AFI (The Blood Album) isn’t without a surprise, which comes in the bizarrely entertaining pop song “Feed From The Floor.” The song begins in a New Age-y echo chamber of guitar feedback which gradually grows until bursting into a belated hit from 1985. The song hits strides in its soaring guitar melodies and Havok is in full form when he sings: “Eyes gone dry. No more tears/Salt and shame upon my tongue/Dust on dust, drying flowers/We’ve been coming here too long.” His shameless vulnerability is what’s led to a consistent career for both he and his band.
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