AFI Digs Into Darker Musical Territory On Latest Release, 'Burials'
Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 22:10
The California quartet A Fire Inside, better known by their acronym AFI, has been excellent at shape shifting and changing their sound along with their image. They did this without ever worrying if they were going to piss off their fans, which they did a lot. From their first incarnation as a hardcore punk band, with comedic songs like “I Want a Mohawk (But Mom Won’t Let Me Get One),” they raged, as many punk bands do: hard and fast with screaming vocals that you can hardly understand. Their second materialization was that of Goth-punk alternative rock gods with long hair and smudged eyeliner that suited both their more introspective lyrics and sophisticated musicianship. This era produced some of the most critically lauded and commercially successful material of their career, with The New York Times deeming Sing the Sorrow a “mainstream rock masterpiece” and rating it their 10th-best album of 2003, and 2006’s megahit “Miss Murder” winning the band an MTV music video award. With the exception of 2009’s relatively uninspired, Crash Love, AFI has continued their steady climb to punk rock immortality on a ladder that is paved with dark emo dreams.
Lead singer Davey Havok, told the media that this album was “very dark, embarrassingly so because it is what you would expect from them.” The lyrical darkness might be what fans expect, but as far as the music goes, their fans have come to expect the unexpected.
On their new album, Burials, the band veers into uncharted territory musically—metal with touches of the spacious soundscapes of the psychedelic. The album leaves a metallic aftertaste, though not an unpleasant one, because of Adam Carson’s drums, which are the star of the album. They drive every song to rock harder than ever before. On the arresting opener, “The Sinking Night,” they charge forward as a military march, a battle cry. Accompanying the raging drums is a space that has never been present in AFI’s music before. They let the music breathe, giving it space. This allows songs like the first single, “I Hope You Suffer” to have hooks and catchy choruses without being too pop-like. The space in the music is accompanied by eerie wind sounds, which echo the mysterious Led Zeppelin-like promotional videos that the band began to put out a year before the album’s release.
While the space and the nature sounds on the album resist a certain pop aesthetic that seems to permeate even the hardest rocking bands, AFI doesn’t totally reject the pop that they tried, all be it unsuccessfully, on Crash Love. The second single “17 Crimes” and “Deep Slow Panic,” Havok uses vocal melodies that echo the brilliant sing-along of 2003’s “Girl’s Not Grey.” What distances them from the standard pop-rock cut, however, is the fact that their base is punk instead of pop itself.
Not only are Havok’s vocal melodies improved, but so are his voice and lyrics. On this album, he abandons the screaming technique used on songs like “Kiss and Control” that made him one of rock’s most flexible vocalists, but distracted from his brilliant melody. Instead, he opens up and lets it rip. This is particularly evident on the album’s crown jewel, “The Conductor,” where they merge every element that makes the album great: a pop hook, rushing rock, and spacious soundscapes. Havok’s lyrics truly shine on the opener, where he says that “Blackness drips down from both of my hands / The gold in my palm was mistaken for sand.”
While Havok’s lyrics are improved, not as prominent on the album is Jade Puget’s guitar work, which in past albums had been the driving force. On this album, he hangs back and crafts songs instead of guitar parts.
Burials, at its heart, is a break-up album. It is the 21 for people who rock too hard to admit they like Adele. While the album is dark musically and lyrically, the charging sense that rides beneath it never drowns you “beneath the waves.”