The career of California death-punk quartet AFI can be broken into two pretty distinct chapters. There’s the AFI that existed from 1995-2002, during which time they released five albums of fairly traditional (if increasingly idiosyncratic) pop-punk-ish hardcore on Nitro Records, the label run by the Offspring’s Dexter Holland. Then there’s the AFI of 2003 onward, during which time they jumped to a major label and radically redefined their sound, incorporating electronic elements, goth dynamics, and obscenely lush production.
The dividing line is Sing The Sorrow, released in 2003 on Interscope, an obvious swing-for-the-fences move on the scale you’d expect from a major-label debut produced by Jerry Finn (Blink-182’s Enema Of The State) and Butch Vig (um, Nevermind). A lot of old fans jumped off at that point, but as far as I’m concerned, Sing The Sorrow is pretty clearly a classic, and I don’t even know if it has any obvious peers (it kinda falls someplace between Mellon Collie and Deja Entendu, but I wouldn’t actually compare it to either of those albums). It was flawless in 2003 and it remains flawless today. I probably wouldn’t care at all about AFI if it weren’t for Sing The Sorrow. The fact that I still love the band today should give you some idea of the regard in which I hold that album.
That was the peak, and it would’ve been just about impossible to replicate. The three albums that followed Sing The Sorrow — 2006’s Decemberunderground, 2009’s Crash Love, and 2013’s Burials — took AFI further and further from their hardcore origins. There’s good stuff on all those albums, and even a handful of great stuff, but front to back, they feel a bit minor in the shadow of the band’s masterpiece.
But it’s been 14 years (!) since Sing The Sorrow, and that shadow is now pretty far behind AFI rather than above them. AFI’s forthcoming self-titled 10th LP (subtitled The Blood Album) represents a number of changes for the band. It’s their first release on Concord Records, and their first produced by guitarist Jade Puget (with assistance from Matt Hyde, who also produced Slayer’s God Hates Us All and Deftones’ Gore, among others). The album’s cover art returns to the color scheme on Sing The Sorrow’s sleeve — it almost looks like a companion piece, really — and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. The Blood Album is the best thing AFI have done since Sing The Sorrow, and it reaches for the same dizzying heights where that LP lived.
Very often, it gets there. Lead single “Snow Cats” is one of my favorite songs in AFI’s catalog, while second and third singles “White Offerings” and “Aurelia,” respectively, showcase the two extremes of the band’s sound: The former is terse and violent; the latter is spacious and mournful. Now we’ve got one more for ya before the LP drops: “Get Hurt” leans toward Rush-ian arena prog (or major-label-era Voivod, if that reference means anything to you), especially in frontman Davey Havok’s nasally timbre, and REALLY especially when the vocal harmonies come in. It’s great. The whole album is great. I dunno if it’s another classic, but it definitely feels like the start of a new chapter, and I’m hooked. Listen.
AFI (The Blood Album) is out 1/20 via Concord. Pre-order it on iTunes here. Also, the band is going out on tour through the end of February; here are the dates:
01/20 – Los Angeles, CA @ Troubadour
01/21 – Oakland, CA @ Fox Theater
01/23 – Portland, OR @ Roseland Theater
01/24 – Vancouver, BC @ Commodore Ballroom
01/25 – Seattle, WA @ The Showbox
01/27 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The Depot
01/28 – Englewood, CO @ Gothic Theatre
01/30 – Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
01/31 – Chicago, IL @ Riviera Theater
02/01 – Toronto, ON @ Danforth Music Hall
02/03 – New York, NY @ Terminal 5
02/04 – Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club
02/06 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
02/07 – Washington DC @ 9:30 Club
02/08 – Baltimore, MD @ Rams Head Live
02/10 – Orlando, FL @ The Plaza Live
02/11 – Atlanta, GA @ Buckhead Theatre
02/13 – Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall
02/14 – Austin, TX @ Emo’s
02/15 – Dallas, TX @ South Side Music Hall
02/17 – Tempe, AZ @ The Marquee
02/18 – Las Vegas, NV @ The Joint
02/20 – San Diego, CA @ Observatory North Park
02/21 – San Diego, CA @ Observatory North Park
02/22 – San Diego, CA @ Observatory North Park
02/24 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Wiltern
02/25 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Wiltern