When does a band or artist start being considered a “legacy act,” and is this an insinuating the band’s best days are behind them, or a statement of respect about the greatness of their previous work? For North Californian Horror Punk/Gothic Rock/Post-Hardcore chameleons AFI, the “legacy act” label would be deserved considering the 25 years that have passed since they originally formed in 1991. This doesn’t seem to be the trajectory AFI is taking, though. With their tenth studio album, the somewhat self-titled, AFI (The Blood Album), AFI shows that they can forge their own path through this stage of a musical career—one that neither leans completely on their previous work, nor forsakes it.
If anything is evident on AFI (The Blood Album), it is that AFI has not lost their ability to craft the kind of gloomy yet infectious hooks that helped them crossover to mainstream, Platinum album sales levels of success on 2003’s Sing the Sorrow (which, for the sake of full transparency, I should mention remains one of my favorite albums of all time), and 2006’s DECEMBERUNDERGROUND.
The choruses throughout The Blood Album are the boisterous and loud offerings that I have come to expect from AFI since I first heard them on the soundtrack for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3. In fact, among the first eleven songs on the album, there is not a single one that is hard to imagine crowds fervently singing along to live, especially songs like 'Dark Snow', 'Still A Stranger', 'Hidden Knives' and 'Snow Cats'.
I can’t say that AFI (The Blood Album) is a return to the magic of Sing the Sorrow, or even DECEMBERUNDERGROUND, because that simply is not the case. What I can say, though, is that it is an incredibly solid album, especially for a band this far into an already prolific career, and is a definite step up from their last two studio efforts, 2009's Crash Love and 2013's Burials. This album managed to pleasantly surprise me on more than one occasion (which I would consider a pretty serious accomplishment considering how many hours of my life have been spent listening to AFI’s music).
Trying to unravel the idea of AFI, 25 years and 10 studio albums into their career is unquestionably challenging, but I see it as a natural part of the band’s trajectory. For better or worse, at no point in their career has AFI been a band that could be accused of being predictable or stagnant. AFI (The Blood Album) manages to pull in different pieces of AFI’s evolution as a band, with plenty of the gothic horror from Sing the Sorrow mixed with the huge hooks, electronic injections, and pop sensibilities found throughout DECEMBERUNDERGROUND, and even a reminder of their early punk days showing up on the song 'Dumb Kids'.
The place on AFI (The Blood Album) where AFI’s age starts to show negatively is toward the end of the album. While the majority of the album feels fresh and worthy of repeat listens, at fourteen songs, the shine starts to fade toward the end. Specifically, the final three tracks, 'White Offerings', 'She Speaks The Language', and 'The Wind That Carries Me Away' feel more like B-sides tacked onto the end of a deluxe edition of an otherwise strong album. For the first two of these songs, it is because they feel like more of the same that the other songs on the album already did better; the choruses don’t have the same infectious quality, and the verses are gloomy but not overly memorable. For 'The Wind That Carries Me Away', however, it is because the song simply doesn’t feel like it belongs with the rest of the album (and also lacks the personality of earlier parts of the album). The blues-injected groove that starts the song off is not only disjointed from the rest of the album, but is fairly uninspired all around. While these songs do nothing to discredit the strength of earlier ones, they do diminish the strength and cohesion of the album as a whole, and it is impossible for me to say the album wouldn’t be better if they had just been left as B-sides instead of being included.
After 25 years, ten studio albums, twelve EPs, a live album, and two platinum-certified albums, one of which reached number one on the Billboard charts, nobody would be able to blame AFI for coasting a bit at this point of their career—to lean into the status of “legacy act.” However, with AFI (The Blood Album), they show that they are not content to settle for this. Instead, they are proving that they are still able to push their sound in new ways without forgetting what has drawn fans to them over the years. While AFI (The Blood Album) may not have the mainstream crossover potential that the band enjoyed a decade ago with Sing the Sorrow and DECEMBERUNDERGROUND, it is still a highly enjoyable album that both diehard fans and anyone looking for massive rock hooks alike should enjoy, despite faltering a bit toward the end.