My first big assignment, AFI (The Blood Album), and I have to admit I’m a little overwhelmed. I started out with the usual research. I mean AFI formed in effing 1991! That’s 26 years of music for those too lazy to do the math. They have fans that live and die with every record, who have followed them since the beginning! Initially, I planned to do my research and try to play myself off as someone deeply versed in AFI’s music and history. But the fans, they’re rabid. They’ll see right through that. So I thought back to when I first heard AFI. And it was pretty far back; that Ice Cream Truck video (“Third Season”). I remember at the time thinking about buying their records, it was just the type of music I dug. Right there with NOFX and Bad Religion. Cali punk with quite a bit of Misfits thrown into the mix, most obviously in Davey Havok’s singing style.
Somehow I never bought that record and never became one of those rabid fans. I tried to catch up. Somewhere around 2000 I downloaded Black Sails in the Sunset and The Art of Drowning. They just didn’t stick. Now I’m a sucker for a pop song, and given that I’d always wanted to get into AFI, Sing the Sorrow definitely made it into my rotation and from then on, I followed them. I listened to their records. I marveled at Davey Havok’s fashion sense and commitment to his aesthetic. He definitely carried the torch with Marilyn Manson to pass on to Chris Motionless. I always respected that. And you can’t deny the hits: “Girl’s Not Grey,” and “Silver and Cold.” I love those tunes. “Miss Murder”? I don’t turn it off when it comes on the radio. The first time I caught them live was at Lollapalooza in 2010, and they brought it. I have to admit I’ve always rooted for them. Some of those rabid fans might have given up, called them sellouts for moving away from So-Cal punk to a more 80s new wave goth sound, but whenever a punk band breaks it big, it resonates with me and I say, “Yeah. That’s right. This is good stuff and people should latch onto it.”
Sorry, this prelude is getting long-winded. You might think I’m stalling. I’m not. It’s just that this is AFI! It’s fucking important to a lot of people. I can’t move on without mentioning Burials. When I heard “17 Crimes,” I immediately bought the album. The one thing you have to say is that AFI has evolved, but they have settled into their skins. If you held on for the ride, you have to be stoked as they are churning out some consistently great records.
AFI (The Blood Album) is no exception. If you are one of those rabid fans, I’m preaching to the choir, you’ve already bought the album. Hopefully on vinyl, of which they released four color variants: one for each blood type (A, B, AB, and O). Ok. Now for the rest of you. If you bailed on AFI because they became the standard-bearer for 80s goth synth-pop, you should probably take a pass on this album as this genre has become the band’s adopted sweetspot, and the sound resonates through about 75% of The Blood Album. Jade Puget manned the boards for this record and he does an amazing job. I’m guessing that he took some things away from working with Gil Norton (producer of Burials) because he has the 80s postpunk sound nailed down. Now don’t get me wrong. AFI can still rock, and for the most part they are a punk band as evidenced by track 9; but it seems these days that they’re more comfortable channeling Bauhaus and Joy Division with haunting synthesizers and disembodied vocals. After many listenings, I have found that each side of this record has a very distinct feel. On Side A (songs 1-7), AFI engages their darker, more somber arrangements, while Side B hearkens back to the old days with more rollicking punk jams.
“Dark Snow” opens the record, straddling the line between rock and synth-pop quite admirably and prepares the listener for what’s to come. “Still a Stranger” resonates with me as it bears the hallmark of Jade Puget’s handywork at the boards, the acoustic guitar, an interesting backbone; they abandoned synth-pop on this one for a more straight-up emo vibe. “Aurelia” and “Hidden Knives” continue with the usual AFI, dark imagery and catchy hooks. The sing along chorus of “Get Hurt” is mesmerizing…. “I can’t let you see / I can’t let you see me sleeping.” WHY NOT!?! Because you’re a damn vampire that turns into a bat!? “Above the Bridge” steps in for a Cure-like turn, then we get “So Beneath You” for the requisite AFI atheistic themes.
“Snow Cats,” the first single off the record, begins my side B. On “Dumb Kids” Davey somehow channels Leonard Graves Phillips from The Dickies as vocal inspiration, I’d put this one up with any purely punk song in the AFI oeuvre (Give me a whole record of this AFI!!) “Feed From the Floor” reminds me of everything appealing about the dark side of new wave: Bauhaus, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, amazing homage to that genre; and somehow they’ve lifted the guitar effect from Icicle Works! The album closes strong with the second single, “White Offerings,” and [another fave] “The Wind that Carries Me Away” (trust me, it will get stuck in your head).
The Quick and Dirty: When I sit down to review an album for Dying Scene, I basically force-feed myself the record until I come up with some opinions on the songs and the album itself. I have to say, having AFI (The Blood Album) on heavy rotation for a couple of weeks has been an absolute joy. At the very least it’s an extremely listenable record: great songs from front to back. It leans heavily toward the 80s Goth/postpunk sound for the most part, but there are some nuggets that hearken back to AFI’s punk rock roots. Another concept that keeps popping up in my mind as I listen to AFI (The Blood Album): that I really want to see these songs live. It’s not often that you go see a band that’s been around 26 years and you think “play the new stuff.”