Album Review: AFI’s “Burials”

Alanna Weissman

Anyone who’s read even a few of my articles probably knows about my deep and enduring love for my longtime favorite band, the California-based AFI. Needless to say, the release of ninth studio album “Burials” on October 22 was very exciting for me, and I’ve been waiting a long time both to hear the album and to write this review.

In the days leading up to the album release, “Burials” was often described as having a “brutal” sound and received reviews running the gamut from wildly adoring to needlessly cruel. Even the band’s live presence seemed different; when I saw them about two weeks prior to the album release, the energy was much higher and the on-stage antics more dramatic than before, and the band members had traded the shiny gold clothes and instruments of their last tour for grungier, darker numbers. This made me nervous. One of the things I so loved about AFI’s last album, 2009’s “Crash Love,” was its departure from the band’s previous work; with all of AFI’s members nearing their fortieth birthdays, it was refreshing to see them growing musically as opposed to stubbornly, childishly clinging to the hard-rocking glory days of their youth (indeed, AFI’s members are now veterans of the rock scene, with the band having been active for longer than I’ve been alive). Upon listening to “Burials,” though, I was pleased to find out that my fears were unfounded. The album may be a bit heavier than the subdued “Crash Love,” but it pales in comparison to most of AFI’s previous work, including 2006’s massively successful “Decemberunderground.”

Most of the tracks on the fifty-minute “Burials” sound like what you would get if System of a Down’s tonality met Radiohead’s musicality. Smartly, the album has AFI capitalizing on their most characteristic features: frontman Davey Havok’s impressive range and distinctive glammish vocals; drummer Adam Carson’s three-beat drumming; and sole guitarist Jade Puget’s skillful riffs, which serve to complement his bandmates’ musicianship, rather than overwhelm it. There are a few poppy crowd-pleasers thrown in – “Heart Stops,” “17 Crimes” and “Greater Than 84” are the three that stand out – but there are plenty of tracks longtime fans will adore, most notably “Wild,” which harks back to AFI’s breakout album, 2000’s “The Art of Drowning.” It’s hard to pick a favorite track, but third single “The Conductor” won me over with its layered, complex sound and thoughtful lyrics, with the ironically uptempo “A Deep Slow Panic” coming in at a close second. If you want a taste of the album’s general feel, you can’t do much better than to listen to first single “I Hope You Suffer,” which is much-cited in reviews and encompasses the darker sound and general feel of “Burials”; the rumbling, tonal track notably includes an f-bomb, a telling signal about the album’s mood, since profanity is unusually rare in AFI songs – essentially, it’s the hard-rock answer to Alanis Morissette’s ubiquitous “You Oughta Know.” I won’t go as far as to say “Burials” is AFI’s best album – despite what some reviewers have claimed, it’s no “Sing the Sorrow” or “Decemberunderground” – but it’s definitely solid; my biggest gripe is that a good two-thirds of the songs, while enjoyable to listen to, aren’t particularly memorable, which is, for me at least, significantly uncharacteristic for the band. Given the subject matter (primarily failed relationships), bitterness of the lyrics and punchy, growling vocals, however, “Burials” makes for one heck of a

bad-breakup album.

Generally speaking, I will immediately lose interest in a band the minute all their music starts to sound the same, so the fact that I still love AFI nearly a decade after first hearing 2003’s “Sing the Sorrow” is telling. More importantly, though, “Burials” – which I’ve listened to in full probably a dozen or so times in the past week – has reassured me that I’ll have many more years of enjoyment to come. Despite my half-joking assertion that AFI could play nursery rhymes or John Cage’s “4’33” and I’d still be satisfied, deep down I wanted to hear something that wouldn’t be disappointing and that I could enjoy as an objective and knowledgeable listener, rather than just blindly appreciate as a devoted fan, and, happily, my favorite band has once again come through with “Burials.” While AFI of course has its distinguishing features – primarily Havok’s soaring vocals, which are so distinctive as to be unmistakable – each album has the band experimenting musically and, thankfully, maturing; while the punk days of the 1990s were good ones for the band, they are learning from and building upon their previous endeavors, rather than trying to repeat them. Definitely give “Burials” fifty minutes of your time: if you’re an old fan you’ll love the band’s evolving sound, and if you’re a new listener you’ll get to hear something that is probably unlike anything you’ve ever heard before.

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