(Dim Mak Records)
The idea is perfect: AFI’s Davey Havok and Jade Puget team up for a throwback straight edge hardcore side project. Fans of AFI have been asking for a return to the band’s hardcore roots for ages, so XTRMST seems to be well-timed. Of course, side projects are so numerous and so aimless at this point, it’s perfectly understandable to assume this is yet another throwaway project, a means for the members to “pour their heart out” (i.e. kill some downtime). Considering the direction AFI has taken recently, it could be easily expected that this release isn’t quite up to snuff. However, one listen to “Social Deathplay” will quell any notions that XTRMST is just another side project.
In fact, XTRMST is definitely two things. First, it’s a horribly difficult name to type. Second, it’s a militantly straight edge album. The world Davey writes about on this debut is startlingly black and white; there is no room for any give and take, and clearly XTRMST feels the same way about vowels as it does about drugs. There’s no room for any impurities. The so-called title track, “Extremist” is a concise reminder of what the straight edge lifestyle is all about, and XTRMST is anything but subtle with its lyrical delivery. While it will likely be a deterrent for most (don’t tell me I can’t enjoy the occasional craft beer!), the fanatical aspect of the lyrics fits in extremely well with the musical accompaniment. It doesn’t hurt that Davey’s vocals are absolutely vicious; it’s great to hear him screaming his lungs out again, and that’s not the nostalgia talking.
In that realm, Jade Puget has written some of the best riffs of his life. His guitar work is disjointed, aggressive, and, at times, progressive. For the majority of its run-time, XTRMST sounds like an unholy mix of The Dillinger Escape Plan and At the Drive-In, with a de-emphasis on melody. Unfortunately, this lack of melody does hinder the album’s lasting value, especially over 14 tracks. That’s really the biggest aspect holding back what is, otherwise, a highly enjoyable release. Songs like “The Breed” and “Humanity” are quite fantastic.
Overall, Davey and Jade have written some of the most vitriolic material of their careers, and there’s little question that they should toast to the album’s success. Break open the sparkling grape juice because these guys should celebrate! As long as you can get over the lyrical aggression, XTRMST offers up a violent, angry post-hardcore release that should please a diverse crowd. (Nicholas Senior)