AFI (THE BLOOD ALBUM) by AFI
Genre: Alternative Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Hidden Knives,” “Get Hurt,” “So Beneath You,” “White Offerings”
Having a self-titled album so far into an artist’s career sends sends clear yet contrasting messages. It could be a harbinger of incohesiveness, a series of radically disconnected tracks united only by the artists performing them. With no themes or concepts to name the album after, the band waits until the deadline and simply goes with their own name. However, it could also represent the culmination of all their previous stylistic and sonic experimentation into the musical package the artist now wants to claim as their distinct sound.
AFI has certainly used their ten albums to do a lot of experimentation, but for all the shades of eyeliner they have tried on, they have always been seen as an amalgamation of the most accessible and inoffensive elements of hardcore punk, emo-tinged alternative rock, and gothic post-punk. While such a perception isn’t entirely incorrect, they have one of the most underrated rhythm sections in rock and a knack for strong guitar leads that feel distinctly vintage and new at the same time. Their most recent album, BURIALS, really showcased the former, with a thick atmosphere driven by pounding drums and ominous bass lines, and the latter is thrown to the forefront of their trimmer and more visceral follow-up, or at least visceral by AFI standards.
Even though this record and band have constantly been labeled as punk, their sound has always lacked the rawness and energy needed to be taken seriously as flag-waving anarchists. Lead singer Davey Havok was slightly too nasally to be an authentic punk, and their overall production was too laid out and planned rather than spontaneously off-the-wall. What THE BLOOD ALBUM lacks in guts, however, it makes up for in surprisingly ear-wormy choruses and a clean yet punchy mix layered with background vocals. Havok’s vocals have certainly improved over the years and display much more control than records like SING THE SORROW, where he could slip into a horrible whine like he had slipped on a banana peel. There are times where he falls into gargled incomprehensibility, especially on “Dumb Kids,” but it’s not prevalent enough to be a noticeable problem.
Even after ten records, THE BLOOD ALBUM is perhaps the most energized record AFI has put out in a while, feeling like the work of a man many years younger. It has a lot in common with the youthful alt-rock of a Fountains of Wayne, with tight guitar leads that are focused rather than dumbed down, and a consistent and versatile rhythm section that easily switches from brooding atmosphere on “Feed From The Floor” and “The Wind That Carries Me Away” to the force behind the driving “Pink Eyes” and “Hidden Knives.” While the lyrics and keyboards aren’t anything noteworthy, they fit with the overall aesthetic and help create a mood of genuine angst and distress that never feels too superficial. Even the album’s more punkish songs with rougher guitar tones and vocals, like “So Beneath You” and “White Offerings,” feel more authentic and raw than most of AFI’s attempts at fist-in-the-air anthems against the man.
One of my favorite records last year was Garbage’s STRANGE LITTLE BIRDS, which was given a rather negative review by a peer who cited its angst and darkness as superfluous and vague. For the same reasons people didn’t like that record, people will probably not like THE BLOOD ALBUM. However, I can overlook inauthenticity if I can get engrossed in pleasant melodies and music rather than the inner turmoil of the singer. It’s a little bloated in terms of length and will likely do nothing to convince those who see the band as posers, but AFI sound more focused, alive, and confident in their performances and tunes than ever.