Entering their 26th year of existence, one could forgive post-hardcore/goth-punk crossover pioneers AFI for resting on their laurels, content with playing out the rest of their career via a series of lucrative greatest hits and retrospective tours before eventually retiring to their black painted mansions to drift away into the endless night.
Contentedness it would seem however is next to deadliness for the four gentlemen of AFI, so three years on from the atmospheric detour Burials, Davey Havok and co return to more immediate and aggressive sounds with their tenth studio record AFI.
AFI opens with the darkwave influenced ‘Dark Snow’, a slow-burner that displays Jade Puget’s, instrumental and production versatility as he deftly blends synths, guitars and brooding bass around Davey’s signature vocal inflections, creating a track that is somewhat reminiscent of Burials, yet holds a subtle hint that something different is to come. That something different comes immediately in the form of ‘Still a Stranger’ a track that begins with a brief acoustic fake-out before revealing itself as a punchy rocker with instantly memorable riffs and soaring melodies. It’s the first of many instances on AFI where AFI sound like the band that millions of teens fell in love with throughout the early-mid 00’s.
Recent single ‘Aurelia’ follows and its pop-tinged goth melodrama would have been perfectly in place on 2006’s Decemberunderground, with Hunter’s typically unorthodox bass work providing a great counterpoint to Havok’s inspired vocals. As the razor sharp guitars and punky vocal inflections of fourth track ‘Hidden Knives’ hit your ears it becomes apparent that the decision to self-title the record wasn’t a lazy one, it was a fitting one, because AFI sounds like a carefully curated mash-up of every record the band has released since Black Sails in the Sunset.
In lesser bands this would come off as an uninspired rehash or a cynical cash-in, but whether it’s owing to the diversity of AFI’s back catalogue or the purity of their intentions, AFI sounds surprisingly and definitively fresh.
Whether they’re channelling Sing the Sorrow on the likes of ‘White Offerings’ and ‘Snowcats’, or The Art of Drowning on the thrillingly urgent and impassioned ‘So Beneath You’, or Black Sails in The Sunset on the intro to ‘Pink Eyes’ or even engaging in an obvious homage to The Cure on the fantastic ‘Above The Bridge, AFI sound nothing short of sincere and alive here.
Puget has done an incredible job of getting the best performances out of every member of his band here (including himself) allowing for their individual flourishes to shine through. Adam Carson’s signature beats keep everything in place, keeping things sounding polished and coherent, an achievement considering how varied the records sonic palette is. Perhaps the crowning glory of this record is Havok’s performance. Whether soaring high in a chorus, snarling away in a verse, screaming (yes really) to accentuate a bridge or softly crooning away, he nails every moment. As with most AFI records since they stopped singing about wanting to have mohawks, I have very little clue as to what he is singing about, but whatever it is it sounds heartfelt and pure.
At 14 tracks long, I’d be lying if I said every track hit it out of the ballpark (‘She Speaks The Language’ could have been left for Blaqk Audio for example) but there’s enough on offer that even the pickiest of AFI fans should rejoice, no matter what era their fandom hails from (well…maybe not those who think the band peaked with Very Proud of Ya).
This is AFI circa 2017, I don’t know where it fits in, but wherever it is, I’ll happily be there.
‘AFI’ is out today. Grab a copy here.
Listen: AFI — ‘Aurelia’