Having heard the first few singles from Burials, ‘I Hope You Suffer’ being the first, what was to come from the record itself was inevitable: haunting melodrama with an underlying theatricalness. Thirty seconds into it and the bar has been well and truly set, high in expectations and, in the best way, crushing in mood: “Blackness drips down from both of my hands” goes frontman Davey Havok’s low croon, over the meandering and sparse guitar lines on opening track ‘The Sinking Night’, leave the listener in no doubt about where this record is heading.
Arguably always at the forefront of what one might consider “goth punk”, since 2006’s release Decemberunderground, AFI began to “mature” and have since mastered the art of creating music that is dramatic and somber but at the same time still energetic and grabbing. And on Burials they have carried on this upward (downwards?!) trend, slowing their tempo but upping their game, putting far more thought it would seem into the musical scenery which Havok’s vocals inhabit, ranging from the near-whispers in the verses of ‘A Deep Slow Panic’, to the soaring choruses of ’17 Crimes’, to the punchy snapping of his voice on ‘Wild’. Despite this, Havok’s singing is not necessarily the focal point you might expect it to be; impressive as it may be, it remains simply a constituent part of the musical “mise-en-scene” slipped in between the layers of sparing but effective synths and guitars, and steadfast bass and drums dominating the lower ends.
What is most striking about Burials is how well it demonstrates the band’s ability to shift between moods while keeping consistent. If there is any one thing that AFI have always excelled in, it is being dynamic, particularly in their last few releases which cast off the “punk” bit of “goth punk”. This time round, it is finessed and nuanced in a way that goes above and beyond. Of course, it is hardly a surprise that they can achieve this after being around for going on seventeen years, and that is not to say at all that their previous records have been shit. But at this point, bands can easily stagnate, and rehash everything they’ve ever done before. Thankfully, Burials plays recognisably as the work of AFI, but without making their entire career sound like a skipping record.
Of course, as is the risk of releasing thirteen songs in one go, it is rare that a band can release something that is “all killer, no filler”. A couple of tracks on Burials do fall short, leaving me slightly confused as to where they were going. It’s a bit like when Noel Fielding used to do stand-up; he had all these wacky and great concepts for his humour, bizarre analogies and the like, but ultimately, he never went anywhere with that. Where it differs is that AFI can do what they are trying to do, but for some reason, in a couple of cases, it just doesn’t work out. Then again, that is why they stick out like sore thumbs (fortunately just the two of them) – the record as a whole is absolutely killer. Had they released these songs on their own they might not’ve been so bad, but in the context of a brilliant album, they fall quite devastatingly by the proverbial wayside.
All things considered, given the hype that Burials has received, having been AFI’s first release since 2009, it is safe to say that it is worth the wait. From my perspective, it’s exactly what they were appeared to be trying to do with Crash Love, except this time round they actually achieved it. All the way from beginning to harrowing closer ‘The Face Beneath The Waves’, AFI manage to follow through on the theatrics that a band like themselves promise their fans with a back catalogue such as theirs. If you are already a fan of AFI (that doesn’t write off anything past Black Sails In The Sunset as “NOT PUNK ENOUGH”) then you will love it. If you’re not already, but you like your music gloomy but grand, then you will become one.
Burials was released 22/10/13 on Republic