Review Summary: A strong effort from a surprising side project born of Davey Havok and Jade Puget, giving insight into what might have been for AFI.
Well, this is certainly a pleasant surprise! A straight edge hardcore side project from AFI vocalist Davey Havok and guitarist Jade Puget... huh! The history of AFI is a long and provocative one. Their sound has evolved and deified conventional genres over the twenty plus years they've been around. I'm not going to recite the entire tale for you here, so let's just say that there could be a "Myers-Briggs Type Indicator" for all the different kinds of AFI fans. For reference, I'm the kind of fan that enjoys all of their different sounds and styles. So, how does this new side project "XTRMST" fit in? Well, imagine if you will, an alternate reality. In this reality AFI has just finished their fourth LP, "Black Sails in the Sunset", and are now deciding what direction they should go in next. Now imagine that instead of that direction leading to "Art of Drowning", it led to this...
At first it's hard to believe that these crisp, vibrant screams are those of Davey Havok. While he's been no stranger to these kind of harsh vocals in the past, they've become less and less prominent over the last decade. Not since the 'The Leaving Song Pt. 2' or 'Death of Seasons' of "Sing The Sorrow" have his screams sounded so powerful and gut-wrenching. I cannot compliment the vocals on this EP enough. Not only do they bleed passion but the lyrics remain audible throughout. Something that is not always the case in this genre. While they're not as layered or metaphorical as they have been in the past, Havok's lyrics don't necessarily need to be in this case. The bluntness and almost satirical nature of his words fit this style of music well. It's also worth mentioning the chants present in a couple of these songs. Something very reminiscent of Tiger Army, which is understandable given their past association with AFI.
Jade Puget is on form as well with some truly fantastic guitar work. His superb melodic sense has a tendency to slip into the noise here and it works. The tone is absolutely brilliant and all encompassing of Puget's past work. These songs are as fast and as heavy as they need to be. What they may lack in variety, they gain in consistency. Not everything is as good as it could be however. The percussion and the bass has been programmed in favor of the real thing. While they are programmed exceptionally well in structure they tend lack depth and quality in sound. Future efforts from this project would absolutely benefit from borrowing the other half of AFI or perhaps some fresh faces.
Overall though, this is an excellent EP that seemingly came out of nowhere. The production quality is fantastic and it's nice to see some truly aggressive material from these guys. If nothing else, it's fun to imagine where AFI might have gone and if this is a spiritual representation of that direction. It's hard not to feel like this is Havok and Puget saying "Look, we could do this kind of music if we wanted to". They certainly could and they could do it well if "XTRMST" is any indication.