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AFI has come a long way in 11 years. It's a given that the band has considerably matured and has turned a new leaf, but few bands experience the rate of change the AFI has had. Starting as an underground hardcore band playing alongside hardcore legends like Sick of it All, no one could see AFI sounding and looking the way they do now. They've moved from humor to sorrow and darkness, from a normal look to a misfits-esque presence, and from an indie label to a major label. While AFI will get it's inevitable criticism from fans of their hardcore punk music, the question at hand is whether AFI's change is for the better, or not. One thing AFI has done is changed around formulas from record to record. This means that the band is rarely boring at all, and each album is a new experience. For the most part, AFI has succeeded in making each of their releases great punk/rock albums, but will a major label prove too much change for them? The answer lies within their latest album Sing the Sorrow.
Sing the Sorrow is an appropriate title for the album, since AFI does mostly that. The album is almost the opposite of albums like Black Sails in the Sunset and The Art of Drowning. There are about 2 or 3 full hardcore punk songs, but most are mid-tempo chuggers, both powerful and melodic.
As with most AFI albums, an intro song is used. This is "Miseria Cantare," which while not really being much of a song, runs at just under 3 minutes. The vocals and chanting are powerfully melodic, and a good sign of things to come. Otherwise, the track itself is pretty pointless, but still interesting nonetheless.
The real music begins with "The Leaving Song, Pt. 2". The song begins with a muffled, dulled screaming from Havok. One of the major differences of the album from earlier ones is that frontman Davey Havok's voice is alot less raw and more controlled. It's a mixed bag, with more melody but less rage and emotion. "The Leaving Song Pt. 2" starts with melodic, mellow verses, but picks up in the chorus with some shouting and some really high pitched screaming from Havok. The powerful drum beat and slashing yet eerily calming guitars carry the song as it twists through anger, desperation, and depression. The range of music of and singing really make this a diverse and interesting song, and another good sign of things to come. While it's not the best, it's definitely a good song.
"Bleed Black," one of the harder songs on the album, follows up. The song kicks off with some strumming and another powerful drumbeat that really pounds into the song. "Bleed Black" is considerably harder hitting than "The Leaving Song Pt. 2," and the guitars no longer have a calming feeling and instead rip through. The chorus in typical AFI fashion is the best part of the song, featuring extremely catchy multi-layered vocals. After repetition of the song formula, AFI then heads to new territory, utilizing an acoustic guitar very nicely. Almost like an AFI take on a Western....and then the crashing electric guitars take back the song, until a lullabye like acoustic guitar ends this unique and interesting section of the song. It returns to the normal formula and is stronger than before, but this section of the song really shows AFI's experimentation.
One of the harder songs on the album is followed by one of the mellower ones, and one that could really define the album. "Silver and Cold" starts off with low vocals which pick up and hit their climax in the chorus. The sense of pure melody really makes this song, and it would be a great choice for a second single. The vocals are nearly perfect on the song, going from low and depressed to high and mighty. The lyrics are also perfect here, flowing like poetry. While it does stick to a formula and doesn't change around like in "Bleed Black," it still is one of the best songs on the album, and quite melodic. Hardcore fans may be dissapointed with this one, but newer fans and longtime fans will enjoy the mellower side of AFI.
AFI proceeds to the kick down the door with the fastest and one of the hardest songs on the album, "Dancing Through Sunday," proving they can still do hardcore punk. Almost with a swinging feeling, the song never lets up, and keeps the fists flying in the air. In fact, it's one of the rare instances where AFI uses a guitar solo. Fast, furious, and much like the older AFI, this AFI rocking at their best. It's impossible not to want to sing along with the heavy yet melodic chorus, and start jumping around with the neat guitar solo. Another great song.
By now, everyone knows the next song up,"Girls Not Grey". Whatever the title means...but the song represents the perfect medium between their rock and pop elements. The guitars really take charge in this song, and are propelled yet again by the heavy pounding of the drums. Davey Havok's vocals are fast and unrelenting, yet focused and emotional, again showing why he is one of the best singers in rock today. "Girls Not Grey" has a lot in common with their last single, "Days of the Pheonix," being both polished and raw at the same time. The catchiest song on the album, "Girls Not Grey" is the midpoint of AFI's music, and proves a great mix.
If "Dancing Through Sunday" qualify as hardcore AFI, then maybe "Death of Seasons" should work. Featuring the only screaming on the album, the song has a melodic chorus and hardcore verses, but gets stuck between the bad use of sound effects, one thing AFI has never been good at. This time they try incorporating a violin into the music, but it fails to evoke any kind of feeling. Other songs are plagued by this, wasting extra minutes with useless sound effects that do nothing to the song.
"The Great Dissapointment" starts this way, but finishes nicely. Starting with a rumbling bassline, the song is mellow but with an ultra-melodic chorus. The guitars once again rip through the song, and the drums get the full use of the bass drums in on this song. The verses are forgettable, but AFI once again does what they do best and make one of their best choruses on the album, simple, yet effective.
"Paper Airplanes (Makeshift Wings)" is another powerful song with verses as catchy as many of their choruses, and while at this point their harder songs feel somewhat overdone, the song is still great to listen to, featuring more strong riffs. The vocals are once again put to great effect, especially right after the slowdown point in the song. The song has a consistent pace and sound, but is fast enough to avoid being boring or repetetive.
"This Celluloid Dream" features some of the catchiest hooks on the album, especially within the chorus. The start/stop riff of the guitars also adds a nice effect to the song. Following up is "The Leaving Song," with an almost country-western riff carrying the song. While it starts off in a unique manner, it quickly does get tiring, until it enters an area where it almost sounds like "Morningstar". The song is a great reminder of it in fact, and fans of that song will love this number.
Closing the album is the song "...but Home is Nowhere," which also catchy, but is worn out by this point in the album. Still, it is a strong song to close the album despite being preceded by similiar songs.
Is Sing the Sorrow AFI's best album? Not really. It's definitely one of their better albums, but it lacks the distinctive edge of other albums. While being both catchy and sometimes raw and powerful, it seems too melodramatic and depressing to finish off as a great album. While they definitely have changed their style up nicely, they seem to have lost the edge they had when on Nitro Records. The muffled, dull sound of their new studio recording give little life to their songs, and even the great ones suffer a bit. While it's great while listening to them, it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth when it's done. A rawer, less polished recording would have done wonders. However, Sing the Sorrow is still a very good album, and definitely one of their stronger releases. It includes some of their best songs to date, and for nearly half the price of other major label releases, it's a great buy. While fans of their hardcore material may want to stay away from this one, the mainstream rock audience will really like this one. It definitely adds a nice spin to the monotonous, boring tone of rock, and adds some punk to the flavor as well. If your looking for a good album to buy, then go for AFI. It's not a groundbreaker, but it's definitely one of the better releases out now.
V P is a Contributing Writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.