Goth-punk stalwarts AFI hint at future directions with mixed results on spotty five-track EP
Broadly speaking, reactions to AFI’S 2017 self-titled album fell into two camps. Subtitled ‘The Blood Album’ (presumably because of its repeated lyrical references to the red stuff), some saw it as the completion of a musical arc some 26 years in the making; the opportunity to appreciate the Californians’ journey from the scrappy, hyperactive hardcore merchants of their early days, to purveyors of a more mature, yet occasionally still energetic, strain of glacial goth pop. Others, however, saw it as a valiant, but flawed, attempt to try to please fans of all periods of the band’s creative life, in which they spread themselves too thin and ultimately wound up sounding like a paler version of themselves. It’s all very much a case of horses for courses. But whichever side of the fence you’re on in this debate, you’ll find more of the same to validate your argument on this follow-up five-track EP. Given how final The Blood Album felt at times, first and foremost it’s a relief to find AFI continuing onwards, though refusing to settle in any one spot. Unfortunately, this creative restlessness is also the biggest difficulty here. Opening track Trash Bat could have been on n the last album, such is its familiarity. And while a m it gilds the black lily, with its switches between l r a speedy punk and stuttering rhythms, and is in e p possession of more hooks than a fisherman’s a h spares drawer, there are moments of brilliance c s i throughout its three-minute playing time. m : Such flashes are w sorely missing from a e couple of the subsequent tracks, which can’t i v help but give the impression this release also r e serves as a repository for lesser material. Break t n Angels has all the ingredients we’ve come i to expect from modern-era AFI – chiming guitar lines, incessant drums, a seductive vocal turn from frontman Davey Havok – but it’s strangely unremarkable, which is a word you’d rarely apply to anything to do with this band. ‘Plodding’ could be another one you’d never normally use, but that’s exactly how you’d describe Back Into The Sun, which feels like an experiment in style and tempo too far. It’s an unfortunate mess, basically.
Things take an upswing towards the end of proceedings, while illustrating that some creative gambles pay off better than others. Get Dark sounds like the band trying their hand at desert rock; and while its page-one chorus isn’t going to surprise a card-carrying, long-term fan, the song packs a pleasing amount into its 161 seconds, including one of axeman Jade Puget’s finest-ever guitar solos.
But it’s this release’s closing title-track that potentially says the most here – a drastic shift from the other material, which may hint at potential creative directions in future. Supplemented by dreamy samples, sweeping strings and Davey at his most silver-tongued, it’s hard not to imagine it being a lightersaloft staple of future sets. Admittedly, not all of the five songs on offer here are deserving of the same level of adoration, but given the cult-like devotion of AFI fans, the band may well receive it anyway. These songs all have something in common, too, in that they provide winning evidence of a punk band ageing with grace and style, without dumbing down or selling out. And while this EP is definitely a mixed bag of hits and misses, that’s only really an issue when compared to the sky-high standards AFI have set for themselves over the years. JAMES HICKIE