If I were to make a list of bands that have successfully pulled off genre transitions, AFI would be very near the top of the list.
Originally conceived as a hardcore punk band, AFI successfully transitioned to a more punk/rock style of music, with hits such as “Girl’s Not Grey” and “Miss Murder.” As a result, their sound has been more palatable and more accessible. Their newest self-titled album, their tenth, is much the same, but it’s also arguably their most consistent album since making the switch.
The group is much as they have been for the past few albums, with energetic guitars, catchy choruses, and Davey Havok’s admittedly whiny vocals rounding out their signature sound. But their signature sound is better. In preparation for this review, I listened through the album four consecutive times, without skipping any songs (and there’s 14 of them), and I didn’t get bored. That’s impressive; it’s a testament to the fact that, as guitarist Jade Puget said, the band started out with 60 songs to ensure that the album was devoid of a single filler track.
There’s not a lot of style diversity here, but there is a level of diversity in tone. While you wont’ find them straying from their core sound, you will find variations on a theme. The opener “Dark Snow” has a alt-rock sound, but with a dark sound that matches the lyrical theme (“They carried me out when the lights when out/I’m over”). “Aurelia,” in contrast, has a more optimistic feel to it, “Hidden Knives” is angry, and “Above The Bridge,” my personal favorite, has a minor key harmonization that brings across a melancholy emotional vibe. The result out of all of this is that you have an album that has a very cohesive and uniform sound, yet is diverse enough, even with 14 tracks, that it never becomes stale.
There’s a certain amount of diversity here lyrically as well, although I have to wonder at times if even Davey knows what he’s singing about. That said, I can appreciate a level of emotional depth that shines through at times. For example, there’s an emotional contemplation of death and loss in “White Offerings,” and a poetic description of being emotionally guarded in “Get Hurt.” If nothing else, AFI does have more to offer than the angsty, immature rebellion of their formative years.
Some of that does still leak through, however. “So Beneath You” takes rebellion to a stance that sounds remarkably like militant atheism, and while I suspect that religion is being used as the metaphor rather than the object, it’s still hardly uplifting (“There is none higher than this blood/And I won’t serve anyone/No there is nothing above/And I don’t serve anyone, anyone”). In like vein, “Pink Eyes” has a sexual undertone, and “Still a Stranger,” the song that seems closest to being directly about romantic relationships, drops an unnecessary harsh profanity.
That’s all to say that, while AFI is, as a whole, a much cleaner act than one might have expected from their earlier days, there are certain elements to be mindful of here. But, those items of concern are relatively few and far between. As a whole, this is better than the vast majority of rock albums I listened to last year. It’s extremely consistent musically, while being diverse enough to keep things interesting, and with few lyrical elements to find problems with. In short, expect it to be one of the best albums of 2017.