Music review: AFI – “Burials”

AFI, who have been around the music scene since 1991, seem to be trying to top the recently released Cults album “Static” as 2013’s most bitter breakup album.

Davey Havok, singer of AFI, spends the entirety of his band’s latest album, “Burials,” dissecting every minute flaw and imperfection of his last relationship, and, for the most part, it’s an exhilarating and emotional ride that sees AFI make their long-awaited return from their five-year absence.

Despite re-embracing the gothic leanings they had last fully employed on 2006’s “Decemberunderground,” and nearly all but avoided on 2009’s “Crash Love,” AFI, for the most part, sounds surprisingly fresh on their new album.

The opening track, the cinematic “The Sinking Night,” is a slow-boil epic but, truth be told, is not nearly as attention-grabbing as previous AFI opening tracks “Miseria Cantare – The Beginning” or “Prelude 12/21.” However, it sets the mood for the dark journey of “Burials” well enough.

The first single, “I Hope You Suffer,” begins with menacingly heavy drums, bass guitar and piano. Digital drum beats and effects fade in and out of the song like whispers. The use of electronic music is refreshingly minimal, and used only to accentuate the mood of the track – in some ways it sounds similar to the work Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross created for the soundtracks to “The Social Network” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

Havok makes no bones about his displeasure about the demise of his relationship, nor does he seem to take any responsibility for its end, when he sings, “I’ve seen my darkest days / You gave each one to me” before angrily screaming, repeatedly, “I hope you do / I hope you suffer.”

The odd thing about “Burials” is that the album is never able to maintain the anger and deliberately slow paced atmosphere that are found within the first two tracks.

After “I Hope You Suffer,” “Burials” begins to shed its ire and hits a more comfortable groove of gothic rock and post-hardcore.

“A Deep Slow Panic” is largely a power anthem that hits all the right thematic notes for the album, as well as lifting “Burials” off of the ground with some exuberant energy before, in one of the few missteps of the album, the fiery upbeat vibe is nearly extinguished by the following track – the morose “No Resurrection.”

“Burials” regains its composure with “The Conductor” – a moody Depeche Mode-inspired song that is highlighted by guitarist Jade Puget’s riffing.

“Heart Stops” is a candidate for best song of the album, with its catchy-as-hell singalong chorus – and it’s a blast to hear Havok do his best Patrick Miller from Minimal Man impersonation on the song’s verses.

The barn-burners “Rewind” and “Wild” come next, and the band seems to be having so much fun that one wonders, “Why isn’t this the album AFI made?” Their return to their darker sound, only found on a handful of tracks, was the band clearly trying to placate its older fan base and, honestly, it’s just not very engaging.

“Burials” works best when the lyrics are dark, but the music fast-paced and full of urgency. Odd song placements – like having the dull “The Embrace” nearly kill the high-energy momentum the album worked hard to build – make for an often frustrating listen.

With one or two tracks trimmed from “Burials,” AFI would have delivered a much more cohesive and powerful album. However, when “Burials” is good, it’s damn good, and not many bands who have been around for over 20 years can say they still rock with such youthful passion.

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