Published Jan 18, 2017Ten albums for any artist is a commendable milestone, let alone a band that traces its origins to horror punk. (Even the subgenre's progenitors, the Misfits, have only turned out seven in 40 years.) But AFI's evolution, experimentation and embrace of new and changing influences have kept the alt-rock veterans on the world stage, if not necessarily in the spotlight as much recently as they were in the mid-2000s.
As if in commemoration of this milestone, the band's self-titled 10th album can, at times, feel a bit like an homage to the past. Songs like "Dumb Kids" and "White Offerings" find the band in a middle ground between the band's gothic, raucous punk days and their more recent pop-structured stadium rock. With its choppy guitar riffing and dark, heavy goth-punk sound, "So Beneath You" could almost pass for a cut from 1999's Black Sails in the Sunset, while the brisk waltz of "Snow Cats" harkens back to the Sing the Sorrow hit "Silver and Cold" (though it comes a bit too close to a carbon copy). "Get Hurt" and "Above the Bridge" are among those that lean heavily on eerie harmonization, managing to be both unsettling and alluring at once.
But The Blood Album, as it's also known, also includes some bad habits. It's hard to shake off singer Davey Havok's sterile lyrics, especially when many of the choruses lean heavily on his bold, operatic delivery yet are somewhat squandered on half-cocked one-liners. For a 14-track record, there are some questionable inclusions, too: "Pink Eyes" has good ideas but strings them together haphazardly, and "Hidden Knives," while a strong pop-rock track that would be at home on an early Fall Out Boy album, is entirely mismatched with the album's ghostly tone.
Then there's the question of whether guitarist Jade Puget was the right choice to captain the record's production. While he deserves credit for the album's wintry, overcast atmosphere — making it a more cohesive record than it might otherwise have been — flimsy instrumentals lack the punch to push the heaviest or most climactic sections to their full potential.
AFI's progression throughout the years has been ambitious, if imperfect. But although the pure punks who jumped ship at the turn of the millennium may never return, fans who have stayed loyal will have plenty of reasons, new and old, to like the band's latest. (Concord)