Review Summary: Two steps back, zero steps forward.
Comparing a band’s latest offering incessantly against the band’s oeuvre is almost always unfair. Every album deserves an attempt to stand on its own, and unrealistic expectations often hamper the experience of hearing new music. But when AFI decided to self title their new record, and model the artwork after their biggest hit Sing The Sorrow,
all bets were off. To make matters worse, AFI (The Blood Album)
is unabashedly similar to all of AFI’s post-The Art of Drowning
output. It has all the brooding post-punk influences of Burials, the hooks of Crash Love,
the aggression often found in Sing The Sorrow,
and more than anything the unevenness of Decemberunderground.
But that’s why it’s impossible not to compare, the homage to past records is all The Blood Album
has going for it - it has no personality of its own. AFI combine elements from their last four albums and churn out a lifeless, personalityless record that is worse than the albums it apes.
The 80s post-punk influences from Burials are largely still intact, but they feel stifled, are less abundant, and often can’t compete with AFI’s desire to make pop-rock. Blood Album
isn’t quite as poppy as Crash Love
or as brooding as Burials,
which results in an extremely uneven sound, with two distinct styles fighting for supremacy. The more accessible bits of the record, like the autotuned “whoas” on “Dark Snow,” and the mind numbing repetitive hooks found on “Dumb Kids” and “Get Hurt” do more damage than good; the sickening accessibility is more annoying than anything. AFI is at its best on tracks like “Above The Bridge,” and “She Speaks The Language” when there’s darkness, moodiness and keyboards, and the music actually reflects the cover of the album. Regarding the more pop rock direction, “Hidden Knives” is the only track of said ilk that that really works, largely due to the exceptional guitar playing that is absent from much of the rest of the record. AFI is at its worst on a track like “So Beneath You,” which sounds so uncomfortably similar to “Kill Caustic” it’s chilling. When it comes to feeling uninspired, the lyrics are perhaps the worst offender - they mostly play out like vocalist Davey Havok composing AFI themed Mad Libs. Get out your “I’m so macabre, but in a romantic way” bingo cards because Davey drops a lot of words and lines like “blood, disbeliever, heart, scream, vilify, boy, distress, given up, romance, buried, broke the skin, no more tears, shadow, flesh on flesh, and our reflections are the same” seemingly at random. The most embarrassing song lyrically has to be “So Beneath You,” an atheist anthem that would have failed to be edgy 20 years ago. Musically and lyrically, The Blood Album
has nil to offer that AFI hasn’t done similarly, but in a much more proficient way.
The biggest fault with The Blood Album
is that there’s zero fresh ideas, and there’s no ambition; saying AFI is on autopilot on this record would be an insult to all the work autopilots do. I listened to Sing The Sorrow
in anticipation for this record, and “Silver and Cold” has been stuck in my head ever since. Nothing on The Blood Album
comes close to that level of memorable; even the lowest moments on the record are bad in a completely forgettable way. To reiterate, comparisons are a bitch, but AFI’s self titled album doesn’t have enough character to be discussed on its own, and rarely does it compare to the catchiness of “17 Crimes,” or the atmosphere of “The Interview,” the boldness of the last track into the hidden track of Sing The Sorrow
- none of AFI’s greatness shines through. The Blood Album
is clearly being marketed as a sort of comeback record/nostalgia trip for the band, but its lack of depth, risk, and general competent songwriting makes for AFI’s least engaging album to date. Even free of comparisons, The Blood Album
isn’t original or interesting enough to engage me - so I’ll guess I’ll just listen to Sing The Sorrow
on repeat until AFI can come up with something better.