AFI (The Blood Album)
(Concord Music Group)
As the age old proverb goes, a rolling stone gathers no moss. In AFI speak, that might be “rollicking cassiterite disobeys asphyxiation.” It’s like Shakespeare, the way that lead singer Davey Havok turns everything morbid and vaguely sexual. The rolling stone phrase holds true to the band as well, as they are deep in a career spanning beyond two decades, with an impressively arrayed catalog of releases. They’ve been all over the punk rock flow chart, with shifts between California-tinged punk and venomous post-hardcore at their base. With infrequent LP releases, it’s always a nail-biter to see where they land on each release.
This is their first album since 2013’s Burials, which saw the band expand on their unhinged loathing through layers of effects and pedals. Returning to the singular self-titled approach (but being referred to as The Blood Album) the brooding theme is established upfront in a flair of theatrics. Their opening track “Dark Snow” finds Havok’s love of assonance filtering death and anguish at every syllable. You could say that a focus on mortality is natural as a musician ages, like Leonard Cohen getting darker and darker over time—but AFI have always reveled in questioning their own existence.
“So Beneath You” digs into this existentialism with the heaviest vitriol. Breaking in with guitars that can remind your ears of 1997’s Shut Your Mouth And Open Your Eyes, Havoc contests a higher power. Set against a battle-ready beat, scathing lyrics challenge the concept of faith, “I won’t kneel, I won’t bow. If you’re there god, strike me down. You won’t. No there is nothing above, and I don’t serve anyone.” Thankfully, it appears no smiting has occurred at the time of this article’s publishing.
In one of their lead singles, “White Offerings” they delve into comfortably familiar, well executed post-hardcore rhythms with ethereal vocal echoes. It’s an anthematic track fit for sing-alongs with massive, drawn-out lyrics that bounce off of one another. The beats and breakdowns crash like waves, taking the listener through a soaring set of emotions. To some, that might sound as though this album returns a bit to their aesthetic in the aughts. Where Burials chartered into deeper, synth angst territory, layering intense emotion with intricate distortion, The Blood Album parses details like a wedding: something old and something new. We find guitarist Jade Puget working with harmonic fret tap solos and metal riff influences reminiscent of 2006’s Decemberunderground. Galloping bass lines hint at their earliest material—especially on “Dumb Kids.” There’s a hardcore, glam, post-punk tornado spinning The Blood Album together. Track to track, it misses its full potential in streamlining one mood. But like that tumbling obsidian, AFI isn’t getting stale, and The Blood Album propels them forward.