Friday, January 6, 2017

Album Review: AFI - AFI (The Blood Album)

Back many years ago, when emo was having its day in the sun, I was either just too young or just too old to have ever bought into the fad. While I heard the bits that were on the radio, or on MTV when they actually played music, none of it made much of an impact on me. But if I did have to say what my favorite of the lot was, though it's a bit of a cliche, my answer would be AFI's "Sing The Sorrow". That album shows its age, but it has a handful of the best emo-tinged songs that any of the bands of that time ever came up with. Even though I haven't spun that album in many years, I still find myself humming "Silver & Cold" from time to time. I haven't kept up with what AFI has been doing, since I doubt it would have been what I was looking for, but since they are releasing a new album in the soft opening of the new year, I figured I could be a bit nostalgic and give them a chance.

The opening "Dark Snow" is classic AFI, using the three minutes to layer some textured guitars, a somber mood, and a hook that tries like heck to soar. It doesn't quite get to that level, but it's a solid example of what AFI does well. But the band doesn't sit in their comfort zone throughout the whole of the record. "White Offerings" is an unusual track, one that side-steps their pop leanings for a more aggressive and less hooky tact. I'm not sure it works, but it's certainly the band showing that they aren't just churning out the same thing again and again.

In fact, in several places this album sees Danny Havok being more aggressive than usual, adding more rasp and bite to his delivery, and sanding the sheen off of his melodies. "Still A Stranger" is far more punk in its approach, adding gang vocals, and a barked poetic section, which both give the song a unique character.

But unique is not a synonym for good, and while those tracks have interesting moments, the best material on the album are the songs that call back to AFI's tradition of making emotional punk with heavy hooks. "Snow Cats" and "Hidden Knives" adhere to what you would expect, but they fit into the wheelhouse of what the band is best at. They're propulsive little numbers that hit you with big melodies that you know you're going to find stuck in your head at some point.

The judgment with albums like this come down to the balance between the great and the good. All of the tracks fall into one category or the other, with nothing venturing into poor territory. I find that the majority of the record falls into the category of being good, but not rising above. The highlights are great, and the rest of the album is enjoyable, but the replay value is limited by both the the consistent acceptability of the music and the number of the songs. Any time you have more than a dozen tracks on a record, it becomes harder and harder to fully absorb that many different ideas at once.

But let's boil it down; "The Blood Album", as it will be known, is a good AFI record. It doesn't quite have the sizzle the band had when they were flying high at the top of their popularity, but it's the best thing I've heard from them since "Girl's Not Grey". AFI has kicked the year off to a good start.

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