When AFI signed to a major label and released Sing The Sorrow back in 2003, it’s fair to say not all their long-time fans went with them. However, to the rest of their devotees and more than a million new ones, AFI finally had the budget and the opportunity to realise the epic ambitions they had hinted at on the All Hallow’s EP and The Art Of Drowning album.
If Sing The Sorrow felt and sounded like a left turn, then Decemberunderground is a complete excursion – a trip down uncharted paths that, although familiarly forged with hardcore punk, dark misery and anthemy, are also strewn with synths, electronic effects and lashings of pop melody.
If that sounds radical, well it is, and I’d be lying if I said Decemberunderground didn’t throw this AFI admirer at first, second or even third listen.
However, the reward of persistence in this instance is to come to appreciate a vibrant, versatile and valiant piece of work that once again sets AFI apart in sound from, well, pretty much any other band.
Decemberunderground covers ground that few could ever have expected it to. Whilst the old, hardcore AFI is represented by Kill Caustic and Affliction – both of which are fast, furious but full of tunefulness – a new electronic extreme manifests itself in the Depeche Mode-isms of 37mm. Close your eyes, forget it’s AFI, enjoy it and feel the earth move with the closing, booming bass.
This experimentation with electronica finds its way into other parts of Decemberunderground, with the synthed intro to the hugely chorused Summer Shudder; the vaguely industrial Love Like Winter (another stunning melody); and the effects-laden Kiss And Control, which switches from deceptively quiet verse to loud, fist-shaking chorus in an explosion of elation.
Elsewhere, there’s no standing still in genres or convention, as recent single Miss Murder rocks and struts in a made-for-alternative-dancefloors kinda way; The Killing Lights takes AFI’s Cure worship to deeper but clearly fun levels; and The Interview and Endlessly, She Said are at turns ambient, reflective yet edgy.
If you’re lucky enough to have a copy with the two bonus tracks on it, then live favourite Rabbits Are Roadkill On Rt 37 will provide Sing The Sorrow-style football terrace chants while Head Like Is A Hole is a surprisingly hard and rush-producing version of the Nine Inch Nails classic.
In fact, on reflection, there’s nothing weak here, and such quality control should ensure that AFI again garner far more new acolytes than those they lose for pursuing such a broad musical spectrum. One thing’s for sure – that “Fire Inside” is burning as powerfully as ever.