The Art of the Comeback is a Tricky One.
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Of course, realizing one needs a comeback in the first place might be even trickier. Such admissions are admission of failure on at least one level, be it on a creative or commercial level. The word comeback is only an easy thing to say after years and years out of the spotlight after years and years in the spotlight. After seeing AFI’s tremendous set at this year’s Riot Fest, I hesitate to say the band is need of a comeback, but facts are facts. The band’s last studio album Crash Love
was seen as a bust on a number of levels - they abandoned their dark air and they largely abandoned their energy in hopes of a lighter, poppier sound. When seen from afar, this isn’t that big of a deal - one ‘off’ album isn’t usually enough to really take a band down, but given that it came three years after Decemberunderground
and four years before Burials
, the One Bad Album in a Seven Year Gap problem leaves the band with the unfortunate necessity of a comeback.
AFI is at their best when they take a core idea and run with it. For the early part of their career, they went balls to the wall with their chipmunk hardcore. With Black Sails in the Sunset
, they laid down the foundation of the so-called gothic post-hardcore that would take them to the stratosphere with Sing the Sorrow. Decemberunderground
, though, showed a band that was bored with the machinations of what had come before. Pop and synthesizers fully wriggled their way into the band’s sounds, and they worked well in the icy gloom of that album. On Crash Love, the band took tried to take that poppy sensibility in too many directions, and the album suffered. Thankfully, with Burials
, AFI has finally dove headfirst into the gothic sounds they first started getting serious about oh so long ago.
The doom and gloom manifests itself in Burials
through the twin influences of gothic and industrial music. To their credit, AFI don’t half-ass their attempts at either genre. The industrial-derived songs have the BRAAAAHHHMing ten-ton cloud hanging over songs like “I Hope You Suffer”, and the reverberating, trebled mystique of bands like The Cure and Joy Division. The songs don’t come off as direct ripoffs, though, as each one features facets of the traditional AFI sound. The heavier tracks get the Davey Havok darkness injected through and through, and the wiry guitars and the uptempo kick bring those Cure-ish tracks a spike in the arm. Individually and out of place, the tracks don’t truly feel like they’d link together, but the pacing, sequencing, and the focus on a bleak, despairing atmosphere makes the album feel like a cohesive unit. In fact, Burials
might be the band’s most well thought out album since Black Sails in the Sunset.
But despite all of those earworm hooks in tracks like “17 Crimes” and “Greater than 84”, too much of Burials
is a slog. Even with “I Hope You Suffer” setting the tone early, the tracks that take the greatest influence from industrial music suffer the worst and nearly derail the album at every turn. “The Embrace” alone brings the proceedings to a grinding halt, and “No Resurrection” wastes the goodwill built up by the first three tracks despite a master class in vocals by Davey Havok. The band performs these tracks admirably, but their very nature demands the songs be slow and suffocating, and without their energy, AFI just simply does not live up to their full potential. Thankfully, tracks like the aforementioned number-centric tracks, “Wild”, and the supremely infectious “Heart Stops” feature everything we’ve come to love about AFI. They have give the gut-rush that the band’s best riffs can provide, and Davey Havok’s vocals continue to become more expressive and dramatic. He’s finally inhabiting the role of the over-the-top icon of melancholia that he’s always been destined to be.
is not a complete return to form for AFI, and it’s also not striking out into some wildly different territory for the band. True to their past, the band does change up their style enough to make Burials
its own entity and not just another notch in their belt. Burial
s is finally the album where AFI went whole hog on this eyeliner and candles thing they started fifteen or so years ago, and the style fits them like a glove - the album’s a whole piece that feels incredibly well thought out and immaculately designed. The problem is that part of that design just doesn’t work with the band’s strengths. There’s enough here in Burials
to make the album worthwhile and a massive step up from Crash Lov
e, but there’s not quite enough to bring the band back to the heights they scaled when they were at their best. It’s an interesting (and brave) direction for the band, and it’s to their credit that they didn’t rest on their laurels and put out some sort of cash in on the tenth anniversary of Sing the Sorrow
. AFI will likely never put out the same album twice, but sometimes that means that they might miss the mark.
1. The Sinking Night
2. I Hope You Suffer
3. A Deep Slow Panic
4. No Resurrection
5. 17 Crimes
6. The Conductor
7. Heart Stops
9. The Embrace
11. Greater Than 84
13. The Face Beneath the Waves