Written by: TL on 20/11/2013 20:55:56

While it's a trope applied to almost every band that got popular ever, whenever you talk about AFI there really is no way around talking about the old and the new stuff. Starting out as a ragged punk band all the way back in 95, I'm sure purists will debate on which album the band changed, but with 03's "Sing The Sorrow" and 06's "Decemberunderground" at least they left no doubt possible that trawling the underground punk rock scene was no longer for them: They wanted to graduate to the big leagues, and while you can question the quality of especially the latter of the two releases, the California quartet's ambition was rewarded, as they became a frontpage band and a banner holder for horror-tinged bands in all of rocks murky subgenres.

It was sort of a surprise then, when 09's "Crash Love" seemed less about treading the big rock waters and more about assembling a highly nuanced and playful collection of songs, and the album went underappreciated by many that year, making it sound a bit like a self-indulgent sound of departure for the band. Which is why the new album "Burials" is a bit of a surprise to me, partly because I wasn't even sure the band would produce another record, but mainly because it sounds the way it does: Fans of "Sing The Sorrow" and "Decemberunderground" rejoice because apparently, there's more where that came from.

What "Burials" is, first and foremost - through and through - is a twelve track offering of "big rock" songs, none of which could escape that label no matter how fully AFI's desolate, goth-ish tone permeates them. While screams and bursts of anger in iconic frontman Davey Havok's voice can be heard, the songs are closer to Alice Cooper than they are to The Misfits. One listen to "I Hope You Suffer", the first song that was revealed from the album, should cement this: Preluded by an epic intro that's customary for the band now, the synths of the verse lumber forward like a Jaeger robot from "Pacific Rim" and while the chorus soars atop guitarist Jade Pudget's consistently cool guitar melodies, the lyrics are ridiculously heavy-handed. Havok's anger towards someone who abandoned him is so bitter and over the top that the song almost collapses under its own weight, yet despite that it is inescapably catchy. The problem is that as soon as you flip your mind on, it's hard not to think that it's a mall version of Nine Inch Nails.

All is not lost however, because by track five the album has already turned right around and delivered two highlights worth making note of in "A Deep Slow Panic" and "17 Crimes". Both driven by Adam Carson's characteristic pop-punk drum beats, it's fair to wonder if this is one of those cases where a band masks shortcomings simply by going up-tempo, but I don't even care since it works this well. "A Deep Slow Panic" is vintage AFI as Havok applies a creepy romantic tone to its unsettling subject matter, and while Pudget's guitar and Hunter Burgan's bass recall the previous album's highlight "End Transmission" in how they intertwine, Havok plants the sort of urgent chorus in you that you'll wake up hearing in your head in the morning. As for "17 Crimes" it is a single with the biggest, fattest, capital S you can imagine, and by the time the chorus comes around and certifies that yes, it is indeed worthy of its irresistable verse, it becomes no wonder that nobody bothered to pen more than two lines worth of a bridge nor a very elegant ending, because the payload has already been delivered. This ode to adolescence is one of those rare cuts that's pretty much all chorus and gets away with it, striking me as possibly the most immediately catchy thing I've heard since the squadron of battering rams that Mallory Knox sent charging at the radiowaves earlier this year with their "Signals".

Despite the fact that a later fast song like "Wild" has some fun electronic elements ingrained however, the rest of "Burials" is decent but no better, nor worse. And while Havok's lyrics will remain too melodramatic for some, his circling around themes of betrayal and abandonment is at least relatively coherent and relateable, even when the band inflates it to an all-encompassing format. Because that's what "new AFI" is: They're the band that takes real world emotions and places them in an epic atmosphere of dark fantasy, and to their credit, no other band really does it entirely similar to how they do it, which is partly the case because this far into their career they simply draw on too many influences and too much experience for many other bands to muster.

If "Burials" has problems however, those are that these influences are hard to notice because they're crystalised in overly predictable songstructures that fly by you so smoothly you barely notice, and that flatly, the slow songs simply aren't as good as the ones the band built their reputation on. The production might be state of the art and Havok's vocalwork may very well be at an all time best, but while "Burials" nails some fast songs, none of its mellower cuts stand up to a "Silver And Cold", a "Leaving Song" or a "Morningstar". I don't mean to say that the obviously front-loaded album turns all bad past its midsection, it just doesn't have the same impact then, also partly because the production is so fully realised that anything that might have lent the later cuts some personality is blended in where it would have stood out on previous albums. Overall then, "Burials" is a few hits in an overall decent setting, though clearly an album primarily for those that became fans of big-rock AFI.


Download: 17 Crimes, A Deep Slow Panic, I Hope You Suffer
For The Fans Of: The Misfits and Billy Idol, Poison and Alice Cooper, Aiden and Kill Hannah, Placebo and The Cure, Nine Inch Nails and all of the above in a mix that sounds like none of them.

Release Date 22.10.2013

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