California alt-rockers AFI, have been relatively quiet since the release of Burials in 2013. However, the end quarter of 2016 saw the band cryptically teasing fans- causing much speculation and commotion that a long-awaited return was looming. The quartet’s social media was completely blacked out, and a number of promotional videos and sound bytes left the music community putting pieces together in what can only be described as a game of musical Cluedo.
The result was the announcement of AFI’s highly anticipated 10th studio album- AFI (The Blood Album). Recorded in LA, the milestone release was produced by the band’s own guitarist Jade Puget and co-produced by Matt Hyde of the mighty Deftones.
When listening to The Blood Album it is important to acknowledge that AFI are indeed a band that have defied boundaries of genre, and organically progressed over time. The 1995 release Answer That and Stay Fashionable falls into a completely different paradigm when compared to The Blood Album of 2017. With roots within the East Coast hardcore-punk scene, the band developed into a more ‘emo’ sounding outfit within the 2000’s. In more recent years, AFI have flourished into a brooding alt-rock group who really proven themselves through their unique atmospheric layered sound. The Blood Album is a clear return to form for the band, and what is so unique about the record is its locality between ‘old’ and ‘new’ AFI.
Album opener 'Dark Snow' fits closely to the more recent AFI prototype, with its synth-rock sound and catchy chorus, although it feels as if the song gives the wrong ‘first impression’ to the listener. Listeners may fall into the trap of feeling that 'Dark Snow' is the figurehead for the remainder of the album; when in reality, it is not. 'Aurelia' would have been a stronger opener for The Blood Album- the song feels as if it the love-child between Sing the Sorrow and Burials. With a stadium audacity, and a beast of a chorus, the track is laden with guitar and vocal melody that has come to symbolise the sound of AFI in recent years. Similar in style is Snow Cats, which resonates musically with the 2003 single Silver and Cold. Released before the album, Snow Cats gained impressively strong praise as a standalone offering, and with good reason- it is nothing short of impressive, and truly demonstrates that AFI are back on top of their a-game.
As a band, it is easy to listen out for the electronic and new-wave influences within AFI’s music; nowhere is this clearer than within 'Above the Bridge'. With a heavily synthesised chorus that is remnant of new-wave legends Depeche Mode, it is evident that AFI still offer valiant odes to their musical heroes. In a similar vein, is the somber sounding Feed From the Floor, which acts as an impressive amalgamation of The Cure inspired guitar melody underpinned by haunting piano. S'he Speaks the Language' is very similar in its melancholic tone; with its resounding heavy bass-lead and electronic drum sounds of Decemberunderground . This is a personal highlight of the album, and its impassioned gang-vocal towards the end of the song would be a real focal point of any upcoming AFI live show.
The Blood Album is a record that beautifully contradicts itself, this was most apparent within Still a Stranger. From the get-go, it is invigorating; incorporating acoustic and punk-fuelled rhythm and lead guitar, This is accompanied by Adam Carson’s impeccably skilled drumming on the track. There is a real Sing the Sorrow aura to the song, and it sees Havok lend himself to a more ‘heavy’ and ‘aggressive’ type of vocal he is notable for. 'Still a Stranger' heavily associates with the familiar raw and energetic sound of AFI that characterized releases throughout the 2000’s.
This can also be heard within 'White Offerings', which to the ear, sounds like 2017’s answer to The Leaving Song Pt. II. Further punk-rock defiance is demonstrated within So Beneath You, which could be candidate for best song on The Blood Album. From the opening riff, it is exciting and lends itself to a very early AFI sound. The scintillating chorus attacks the listener, as Havok proclaims ‘No there is nothing above, and I don’t serve anyone’. Both 'Hidden Knives' and 'Dumb Kids' also fall into a similar style, Hidden Knives crescendos into the catchiest chorus on the album and Dumb Kids escapes the synthesised over-polishing and production that many AFI songs have unfortunately experienced.
The Blood Album stands as a crossroads between the old and the new and the familiar and unfamiliar. This is AFI’s best release since 2006’s Decemberunderground, leaving a lasting impression on the listener. The record embodies the archetypal AFI, proving that there is still plenty of fuel in the band’s tank. A real achievement for AFI’s landmark 10th studio album.
Review by Kate Harrison