By Nee-Sa Lossing
AFI doesn’t stand for “A Forever-changing Identity,” but perhaps it should. Though the compound modifier might be cheating a bit, the sentiment describes the group’s transformation from hardcore punks to arena rock gods – and much in between. Their eight-album discography spans nearly two decades, each effort putting a new stylistic layer over the poetic lyrical flair and complex guitar riffs that mark the band’s unmistakable sound.
AFI will release their ninth full-length, Burials, on October 22, and are already teasing fans (who know the group by its true moniker, A Fire Inside) with two new singles: the dark and moody “I Hope You Suffer” and a pop rock ballad, “17 Crimes.” The four years since 2009’s Crash Love has given the band plenty of time to hone their affinity for switching up sub-genres, but with two markedly different lead singles it’s hard to say exactly how Burials will define the evolution of the group.
“This record is of silence, of burials, and the burials that result from that silence,” frontman Davey Havok said in a recent statement. “It’s of betrayal, cruelty, weakness, anxiety, panic – deep and slow – despair, injury and loss. And in this it is shamefully honest and resolutely unforgiving.”
A seemingly anguished Havok confirmed that the record has been in the works for two years, though he, guitarist Jade Puget, drummer Adam Carson and bassist Hunter Burgan remained mum for most of that time. With nary an update or interview, rumors of a breakup were put to rest when they broke their silence earlier this year with a series of cryptic teaser videos, a fresh start with Universal Republic, and, finally, new music.
On Burials, the band teamed up with producer Gil Norton (Foo Fighters and Pixies) and engineer Andrew Scheps (of Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers fame) to help define the dark sound Havok describes. But with such a broad and bleak themes as Havok describes, the group could move in one of many directions. Here’s five of them:
The Rock Opera Phase
Even with eight full-lengths in their discography, AFI still have yet to go where many great rock bands have gone before: The Rock Opera. Green Day made headlines when their rock opera, 2004’s American Idiot, made its way to Broadway as a musical, in which Havok himself starred for a short run as the drug dealing St. Jimmy (of the AI song “St. Jimmy”). The two bands have mirrored each others’ success, starting out together in the Bay Area music scene in the 1990s before hitting it big, so perhaps AFI should take a cue from their old friends when crafting their next full length. The band have become adept storytellers in their cinematic music videos and spoken word tracks, so adding a rock opera to their catalog could be the next natural step.
The “Head Like a Hole” Phase
If “I Hope You Suffer” is any indication, Burials could be taking on a very industrial sound. The single sounds more Nine Inch Nails than pop-punk, and brings in raw, edgy vocals from a heartbroken Havok. While the song is a refreshing departure from Crash Love’s upbeat vibe, it’s actually not the first time we’ve heard this side of them. AFI covered NIN anthem “Head Like a Hole” for the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas soundtrack in 2004, and the song was later re-released as a bonus track on foreign versions of 2006’s Decemberunderground. With hype surrounding NIN’s upcoming Hesitation Marks at an all-time high, it could be wise of AFI to head in a similar direction.
The Youth Crew Phase
Youth Crew bands dominated the New York hardcore scene in the late ’80s, spreading the ideals of their straight edge and vegetarian lifestyles. Minor Threat and Bad Brains are just two examples of punks who found success spreading their optimistic outlook through their high-energy sound. Surprisingly, AFI are no strangers to the hardcore punk scene themselves. Before he was “Lov[ing] Like Winter,” Havok was screaming over mosh pits across northern California in the band’s early days as a hardcore act. However, their 1995 debut, Answer That and Stay Fashionable, was more focused on shock value than guiding fans’ moral compass, with songs like “I Wanna Get A Mohawk (But Mom Won’t Let Me Get One).” In years since, Havok has been an outspoken proponent of his own straight edge lifestyle, and worked with PETA to become a (literal) poster boy against animal cruelty. Burials could be a perfect opportunity for AFI to combine their punk rock roots with Havok’s personal values and bring the Youth Crew movement into 2013.
The “Just Like Heaven” Phase
AFI have covered everyone from Misfits to the Police, but the Cure holds special status for the band. Davey and co. first covered the ’80s legends on an early self-titled EP that included their rendition of “The Hanging Garden” from The Cure’s 1982 album Pornography. It wasn’t until 2004 that AFI revisited the band’s moody new wave vibe when they covered “Just Like Heaven” for an MTV special. They loved playing the 1987 hit so much that they ended up adding it to their Crash Love tour setlist in 2009 and 2010 – their last tour before going to work on Burials. Perhaps the retro Goth inspiration stuck with them in the studio.
The Skrillex-Style Reinvention
Before Skrillex was putting out club bangers under his new pseudonym, he was Sonny Moore, the lead singer of screamo band From First to Last. After leaving the band in 2007, he underwent a serious transformation, hopping on the EDM train to stardom in his solo career. Like Skrillex, Havok and AFI guitarist Jade Puget are capitalizing on their own love of EDM under the name Blaqk Audio. The duo’s side project explores their affinity for and knowledge of electronic music, with Havok citing acts like David Guetta and Aphex Twin as influences. Both Blaqk Audio albums, 2007’s CexCells and 2012’s Bright Black Heaven, found major success on the Billboard Dance/Electronic chart, so why not propel Burials to the top with a little EDM magic, too?