By Luigi Sibona
Part of me wants to proclaim this, the 10th studio album by the Californian pop punk vets, to be the final nail in the coffin, the death cry of what AFI once was… part of me wants to herald it in as the triumphant return of the most underrated and underappreciated band of the 90s punk revival.
Neither would be quite apt. This is a solid, catchy as all hell, alt-rock record with liberal splashes of pop punk and post hardcore crooning, and to the unbiased ear, it’s kinda great. The instant comparison is to 2003s ‘Sing The Sorrow’ down to the muted black and red aesthetics of the album sleeve. The comparisons are more than skin deep and ‘The Blood Album’ is certainly the band finest work since that career-defining record.
Having written a whopping sixty songs for the release and trimming it down to a relatively tight 14 tracks (expect a mighty deluxe edition down the road) this could easily be an album of all singles. Every track has the attention-grabbing hook that many a band would hang a release round. The canny pop sensibility on show here is genuinely impressive; it’s no easy feat to consistently generate such hooks at this rate. The term earworm doesn’t do them justice, these are ear-leeches and they latch on and don’t let go.
Lead singles ‘Snow Cats’ and ‘White Offerings’ telegraph the two towers, creatively speaking, of what AFI is all about on ‘The Blood Album’. ‘White Offerings’ is more that of the AFI glory days circa 1999s ‘Black Sails In The Sunset’ with Davey Havok letting off some howling (near) growls. Its probably the heaviest track on the listing but that’s very relative, this a clean slickly produced album thanks to guitarist Jade Puget and Matt Hyde on the decks. Nowhere is this more prevalent than on the silky sound of ‘Snow Cats’, one of the poppiest numbers and that’s saying something. Lines like “am I coy enough? Not boy enough?” can stir apprehensions but when that barnstorming chorus drops, you can’t argue with it.
Much noise has been made around ‘Hidden Knives’ and rightly so, it’s the record’s standout. Implausibly not a single, the track is a total show-stealer. Regardless of genre, find me a bigger hook this year I dare you.
In deeper cuts like ‘Freed From The Floor’ there are some proper powerful refrains that are well earned and infectious. These belting choruses feel big and they feel important. The pop rock ballads are deftly balanced with the bands most straightforward, punky riffing this side of ‘The Art Of Drowning’. If you haven’t been a fan of AFI since they were a no-bullshit punk band, the opening riff of ‘So Beneath You’ or the whoa-heavy chorus of ‘Dumb Kids’ may just get you back on board.
It feels great to say I like an AFI record again without a load of glaring caveats but man do I like this album. For what AFI are now, like it or loathe it, this is rock solid songwriting and one of the best records of the year so far. Who’d have thought it?