After bands have established career security, their albums tend to feel more labored-over. Part of this phenomenon stems from internal pressures and expectations: Groups feel compelled to one-up (or at least equal) the quality of previous records, or decide to indulge in experiments that by nature are more complex. Plus, early in a career, bands are typically winging it from a creative standpoint; after awhile, acts figure out what they’re doing right (or wrong), and are more deliberate about songcraft and execution.
Ambition and self-improvement are certainly not negatives, although one potential downside to being more self-conscious—especially for punk bands—is muted urgency. Thankfully, AFI is the rare exception to the latter rule. Twenty-two years after releasing its debut album, Answer That And Stay Fashionable—and a decade-plus removed from the chart success of Decemberunderground‘s crisp synthpunk—the California quartet sounds refreshed and rejuvenated on its tenth studio album, AFI (The Blood Album).
Guitarist Jade Puget and vocalist Davey Havok have distilled AFI’s strengths (a ferocious, post-hardcore rhythmic backbone; goth-tinctured, post-punky guitars; and Havok’s desperate, dramatic croon) into 14 taut, hook-driven songs. Standout “Hidden Knives” is the kind of new wave-leaning punk gem John Hughes would’ve loved, while “So Beneath You” is a teeth-baring, roiling tune.
Puget also teamed up with Matt Hyde (Deftones, Slayer) to co-produce the record, which was another smart move: Together, the pair ensures that AFI (The Blood Album)‘s arrangements are streamlined, but bolstered by just the right amount of atmospheric texture. Both “Dark Snow” and “Aurelia” feature subtle washes of brittle piano à la Decemberunderground, while “She Speaks The Language” boasts a skittering electronic underbelly, and eerie synths are suspended like low clouds in “Above The Bridge.”
More obviously, AFI (The Blood Album) possesses a distinct British influence throughout. The crisp “Still A Stranger” nods to the sort of tenacious glam-rock Morrissey favored circa Your Arsenal; “Get Hurt” recalls the stinging jangle-punk of early Idlewild; and the chorus of “Feed The Floor” is an uncanny melodic interlocution of a section of Echo & The Bunnymen’s “Bring On The Dancing Horses.”
None of these touchstones are new to longtime fans, of course. But although AFI (The Blood Album) doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it doesn’t need to: The record illustrates that the members of AFI are deeply committed to forward motion, and remain as fired up now as they were 25 years ago.