Review Summary: Decemberunderground has incredible and brilliant moments that are overshadowed by the overly-criticized poor moments, making this record somewhat underrated and unfairly hated.
There are many bands and musicians out there who are constantly changing their sound and their tone. They will release an incredible album that the majority of the human population will fall in love with, and it brings their music to universal acclaim. One might say the logical thing to do after something like that happening would be to continue creating music with the same vibe, the same sound, the same tone and the same feel. It worked once, why not keep it? And so bands and musicians who decide to change up their sound often get destroyed by critics and even devoted older fans.
But music is an incredible thing. There are so many ways to create music and so many emotions it can convey. That’s why I find it irrational to continue creating music with the same vibe, the same sound, the same tone and the same feel. It worked once, sure, but why not explore? Why not expand your horizons as a musician, reach out to new territory and see what you can create? Why not expand your discography to cover a vast range of emotions and themes? Bands that do this are incredible to me, and AFI are certainly among them. Unfortunately, the group is also one of the most criticized bands that do this. Their 2003 masterpiece Sing The Sorrow
won over so many people’s hearts and pushed AFI into their biggest era of success. To follow Sing The Sorrow
, they released Decemberunderground
creates a place for the listener. Frontman Davey Havok says about the record, “Decemberunderground
is a time and a place. It is where the cold can huddle together in darkness and isolation. It is a community of those detached and disillusioned who flee to love, like winter, in the recesses below the rest of the world.” The album is for those who are at a point in their life when they feel so isolated from others and even their own self that the only people who can bring them back are others who feel that same type of isolation as well. It’s an album form those who strive to find love in any shape and form and run away with it, leaving everyone and everything else behind.
The minute-and-a-half introduction to the record, “Prelude 12/21”, does a great job of introducing the overall timbre of Decemberunderground. It’s mysterious yet rhythmic, and it’s catchy yet subtle and simple. It often gets compared to Sing The Sorrow
’s introduction “Miseria Cantare – The Beginning” and is usually disapproved of in doing so, the reason being that “Miseria Cantare” does a much better job at being mysterious and epic. This bothers me, because what people tend to shove away and forget is that these two records are vastly different. They’re not supposed to be the same.
Prefer the sound of Sing The Sorrow
all you want, but don’t use that preference to diminish the value of Decemberunderground
. They’re different albums and they’re different sounds, and “Prelude 12/21” serves its purpose to the record greatly and doesn’t try to be anything more. Havok sings, “This is what I brought you / This you can keep / This is what I brought / You may forget me / I promise to depart / Just promise one thing / Kiss my eyes and lay me to sleep”. This wraps up exactly why a person would feel the type of isolation Decemberundergound
is about. A person brings love to someone. They bring everything they have and offer it to them, but the someone rejects it. The person accepts this, but loses their self in the process.
Right after the listener gets placed into the mindset and feeling of being in a place like Decemberunderground through “Prelude 12/21”, they immediately get hit with “Kill Caustic”. This transition gets a lot of hate, but it’s quite brilliant when placed in context. A person has just faced rejection in “Prelude 12/21” after offering everything they have, and now they’re angry. The opening guitar in “Kill Caustic” is piercing and obnoxious, and it’s exactly what the anger would feel like towards somebody who rejected your most real and honest efforts. Lyrically, it begins with “So I’m feeling much worse now / You’re better, you’re better / Your designer drug won’t work / Won’t work for me / Connect to a three-volt / I hope your battery dies / How could you run / On such, on such voltage?”. This sums up pretty well the whole point of the song, which is that the person is angry, confused and simply does not understand how someone could do this to them.
Through all of the simplicity that Decemberunderground
conveys, it’s a very in depth record in actuality. It could be interpreted as touching on religion quite a bit within “The Interview” and “Miss Murder”. Both of these describe the connection, or lack thereof, between a man and his faith. “The Interview” lyrically begins with Havok melodically shouting from a distance, “Forever waiting for disaster / What David calls servant and master”. “Miss Murder” features a bridge with the lyrics “What's the hook, the twist, within this verbose mystery? / I would gladly bet my life upon it / That the ghost you love, your ray of light will fizzle out / Without hope / We're the empty set, just flowing through, wrapped in skin / Ever-searching for what we were promised / Reaching for that golden ring we'd never let go / But who would ever let us put our filthy hands upon it?”.
Both of these examples showcase why a person would be in Decemberunderground because of religion. They’re supposed to feel connected to a God; something they can’t see or hear. The person searches and searches for this great companionship they’ve been promised, but they are left isolated, losing their self and what they believed in the process. What they find out is that the entire time they patiently waited and searched, they were only waiting for disaster.
has its many ups and its many downs. The two lead singles, “Miss Murder” and “Love Like Winter” both seem to be aiming for a catchy yet intriguing and hypnotizing sensation, but it doesn’t seem to fit in context of the album, so the feeling falls short. “37mm” features many more electronic sounds than any other track on the record, but the feel actually fits very well if the melodies are listened to over the somewhat distracting background effects and rhythms.
Havok’s screams throughout the entire record are much different than most screams from any other AFI record or from any other band. They are very exclusive to this man and this album, and it takes some getting used to. They seem to work best within “Kiss and Control” and “Endlessly, She Said”. The arrangement of both of these tracks and the way they’re mixed into the sounds allows Havok’s screams to provide what I believe they’re intended to do, especially on “Kiss and Control”. Where there is both the normal gang shouts on the lyrics “City lights, like rain” as well as Havok’s screams, a greatly crafted emphasis is put in the phrase that pushes it exactly where it needs to be for the listener. However, there are many tracks where the screams simply don’t work as well as they want to. “Affliction” and “Kill Caustic” are prime examples of this. They’re held out too long, they’re too loud, and they’re too obnoxious. It’s a shame too because otherwise, these tracks are both very solid. The instrumental tag on the end of “Affliction” is one of the best moments of the record. It really gets across the emotions that make up Decemberunderground
and sort of acts as an interlude between the first and second half.
There are so many underrated moments in Decemberunderground
, including the entire track “The Killing Lights”. When the drums kick in at the beginning it’s really easy to enjoy, and every single vocal part is incredibly constructed. The chorus especially is catchy without really trying to be, and the verses are intriguing without really having a reason to be. The bridge of “The Killing Lights” is probably one of the most fun sections of the record, specifically when Havok whisper-sings “When they cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, cut you up / Cut, cut, cut, cut, they remember”, and then the listener is immediately hit with, in my opinion, the most underrated part of Decemberunderground
; Jade Puget’s ten second guitar solo. Another seriously underrated moment is the bridge of “The Missing Frame”, which arguably drives the feel and tone of Decemberunderground
into the listener’s mind with greater success than most of the other sections on the record.
It’s easy to find reasons to hate this record. It can seem to be overdramatic and be wrapped up in a self-loathing sense of mind. But for those people who understand how it is to be in a place like Decemberunderground, it comes across quite fantastically. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy it without being in that place in your life, but when you’re not, it is much easier to disprove of it and criticize it if you try to connect with its purpose and its mindset. For those who are disappointed by Decemberunderground
musically, I encourage multiple listens. Listen to the layers; listen to the subtle inclusions and vague musical quotes. There are so many great uses of emotion and musical imagery on this record, and if listened to properly can make for an incredible and rewarding experience.
Kiss and Control
The Killing Lights
Endlessly, She Said