Having little use for AFI’s music past their last proper punk-influenced album The Art of Drowning (2000), which unlike their first few EPs and LPs was definitely not PUNK, and being only mildly interested in their emo phase Sing The Sorrow (2003) album, I really didn’t bat an eye much when Burials (2013) was announced. Decemberunderground (2006) was little more than posh postering, and Crash Love (2009) was a lackluster album that sported a way too radio friendly sound for the band that once unabashedly covered The Misfits’ “Halloween” with glee. Perhaps though, in true melodramatically romantic fashion, distance does make the heart grow fonder as I found myself enjoying Burials way more than I thought I would. The time away (on AFI’s behalf as well as mine) from their punk days has allowed me (and others like me who liked their hardcore punk more than their emo junk) to gain a new appreciation for their “new” sound.
Maybe it’s the autumn nip in the air, the month of October, or the sharp smell of burning leaves, but it’s a perfect time for a new AFI album to drop. They’ve always struck me as an autumnal band anyway, and not just because of the aforementioned “Halloween” cover. Dark but not depressing, heavy but not oppressive, gothic but not goth, AFI always had too much energy to mope along like Morrisey or Bauhaus, but did make plenty of teen girls’ mascara run with melodrama during their heyday years while bashing out hard and fast riffs for the guys (guys who might have had mascara caked to their faces as well). With Burials though, they move beyond being easily classified as creators of music predominantly made for girls to cry themselves to sleep to. Having (sadly) left their runny make up punk days way behind them, but (happily) their teenage melodrama behind them as well (at least for the most part), Burials is a work from a band that can finally, and truly, have their mascara cake and mosh around in it too.
On Burials, AFI flirts with the hard driving punk that Davey Havok and company cut their teeth on. “Greater Than 84” being one example of this. Other tracks like the excellent “No Resurrection” veer towards the hints of hard rock that surfaced on Sing The Sorrow. Thick riffs and slinky bass drive the moderate rocker along. “17 Crimes” channels “Dancing Through Sunday” from Sing The Sorrow, which itself channeled older AFI tracks like “Days of The Phoenix,” which overall is a very good thing. Beats oriented tracks like “The Conductor” channel early 80s goth in the vein of Depeche Mode until the the guitars show up (and show up with a vengeance). It’s a welcome sonic development. While the industrial and electronic elements help to embellish many of the tracks on Burials, this is not a Blaqk Audio album, thank God. Drum, bass, and guitar dominate here. Again, thank God. Even Depeche Mode eventually figured out that well played guitars are pretty cool, no matter how good your synths are.
Burials isn’t a perfect album though. Lead single “I Hope You Suffer” is a pretty insufferable mess. Davey Havok actually delivers some pretty good vocals here though. His intonations here are reminiscent of his hardcore days without going over the top. Unfortunately, the song itself drowns in its own atmospherics. The very next track “A Deep Slow Panic” steers the band partly back on track, but if you’re a casual listener (or a fan of the older, harder stuff) you might feel like the band blew it again. “A Deep Slow Panic” is darker than just about anything on Crash Love, but in reality it would be more at home on that album than here. Listeners who hold on and make it past these two early tracks will be rewarded though. It’s just that you have to make it past these two early tracks.
The best thing about Burials is that Havok finally seems to find his rock voice. He sounds more adult here than he ever did, both sonically and lyrically. When he screams you feel it rather than endure it. When he gets loud you hear it rather than feel it, and when he croons you appreciate it rather than feel uncomfortable with it. Havok’s new found adult voice works wonders on the band’s overall feel and appeal. AFI have graduated from punk to emo to, dare I say it, modern rock, and they do so with confidence and grace. While they might not have reached the winter of their career, they have definitely reached the mature autumn of it, and have finally fully embraced the their full pallet of musical colors with the dignity of veteran rockers.