Release Date: Jan 20, 2017
Record label: Concord
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Hardcore Punk, Punk Revival
AFI's tenth set continues the California quartet's maturity and stylistic evolution. The self-titled album -- also known as "The Blood Album" -- draws from each period of their ever-changing past, offering fans of each stage something to enjoy. Of course, as with every AFI album released after 1999, polarizing commentary is likely to bubble up, lamenting how they just don't sound like they used to, which, as of 2017, is over two decades in the past.
When does a band or artist start being considered a “legacy act,” and is this an insinuating the band’s best days are behind them, or a statement of respect about the greatness of their previous work? For North Californian Horror Punk/Gothic Rock/Post-Hardcore chameleons AFI, the “legacy act” label would be deserved considering the 25 years that have passed since they originally formed in 1991. This doesn’t seem to be the trajectory AFI is taking, though. With their tenth studio album, the somewhat self-titled, AFI (The Blood Album), AFI shows that they can forge their own path through this stage of a musical career—one that neither leans completely on their previous work, nor forsakes it.
Rejoice, for the first good pop record of 2017 is upon us. No, not the latest salvo from The xx, for that, your-mileage-may-vary arguments aside, is suitably torn between light and dark movements and thus doesn’t quite qualify when viewed amidst such neon scrutiny. The tenth album from goth-rock stalwarts AFI, however, positively glistens beneath ultraviolet light.
AFI are back. AFI’s slow metamorphosis from blood ‘n’ guts horror-punks to purveyors of soft, supple melodies finally hits a sweet middle ground on this, their 10th album. Songs like ‘Still A Stranger’ and ‘White Offerings’ nod back to their ‘Sing The Sorrow’-era peak, but it’s in the twisting panic of ‘She Speaks The Language’ and gothic sway of ‘Above The Bridge’ that the quartet grasp a dynamic they’ve been seeking for two records now.
Ten albums for any artist is a commendable milestone, let alone a band that traces its origins to horror punk. (Even the subgenre's progenitors, the Misfits, have only turned out seven in 40 years.) But AFI's evolution, experimentation and embrace of new and changing influences have kept the alt-rock veterans on the world stage, if not necessarily in the spotlight as much recently as they were in the mid-2000s.As if in commemoration of this milestone, the band's self-titled 10th album can, at times, feel a bit like an homage to the past. Songs like "Dumb Kids" and "White Offerings" find the band in a middle ground between the band's gothic, raucous punk days and their more recent pop-structured stadium rock.
Fans were cautiously optimistic when AFI announced AFI (The Blood Album) last October, hoping for music that would reward their loyalty and solidify the band’s standing. Secretly, they realize the likelihood of new material with the influence of 2000’s The Art of Drowning or chart-oblivious fan favorites like “God Called in Sick Today” are slim. Most bands in the second or third decades of their careers make records that are fine, but unmemorable.
Stick around long enough, and once-popular bands will experience a critical reassessment completely independent of their new music. To wit, AFI: their 2003 major-label debut went platinum in 2006 on the strength of teens now old enough to give Sing the Sorrow its due props as some kind of alt-rock masterpiece, one that unified Fuse-punks, emo theater kids, mall-goths, and glam metalheads in a food court flashmob. Tilt your ears a certain way and you can hear Sing the Sorrow’s echoes in contemporaries like Touché Amoré, White Lung, and Deafheaven.
After bands have established career security, their albums tend to feel more labored-over. Part of this phenomenon stems from internal pressures and expectations: Groups feel compelled to one-up (or at least equal) the quality of previous records, or decide to indulge in experiments that by nature are more complex. Plus, early in a career, bands are typically winging it from a creative standpoint; after awhile, acts figure out what they’re doing right (or wrong), and are more deliberate about songcraft and execution.
AFI are back. It’s been almost four years since Davey Havok, Jade Puget, Hunter Burgan and Adam Carson released Burials and have been pursuing other projects and sounds, embracing everything from the straight-edge hardcore XTRMST to the poppy electronica of Blaqk Audio. Fans of the band’s older albums will be pleasantly surprised with AFI (The Blood Album).