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AFI – Decemberunderground

Trying to peg the appeal of AFI is an exercise in futility. They’re everything and nothing you believe they are. Merely a pop band carving their own Green Day history? Misunderstood party crashers uncomfortable with the increasing fame and labels? AFI sure seems to fool a lot of people with an image that doesn’t accurately define who they are, and the group’s psychotically dedicated fan base only reinforces the misfit, underdog perception.


But Ukiah, California’s finest act is far from unwelcome in the industry.

Even actor-cum-musician Jared Leto is doing his best Davey Havok “Man In Black” impression these days, completing the picture with his own version of AFI’s “The Despair Faction” fan club.

So, what exactly are we to believe about AFI? The short answer is, “Anything you want.” Because as the long-awaited Sing The Sorrow follow-up Decemberunderground proves, AFI will conquer the world in the most unpredictable manner — by being as unpredictable and unconventional as possible.

Consider that AFI had put in a decade of blood, sweat and tears before reaping the high-profile benefits, which is enough time to relegate most bands to the “fan favorite/commercially impotent” ilk. Add to that the fact that AFI has morphed more times than your average chameleon over the course of seven full-length albums. Tangible commercial success almost always escapes these types of acts. All of which is a really long way of saying that AFI is an enigma, and its latest release does nothing to dispel this notion.

Longtime fans will be pleased to find familiar comfort in the disc’s chant-friendly opening “Prelude 12/21,” which is seamlessly followed up with the explosive “Kill Caustic,” a scream-heavy firecracker that gives a nod to old school AFI and its Bay Area metal influences. “Miss Murder” kicks in, keeping the foot firmly planted against the listener’s neck and transcending its tame tendencies with the help of some timely terrorizing transitions.

But not all is rosy with Decemberunderground. The album suffers some fairly glaring mid-album glitches, with a trio of largely forgettable, watered-down tracks that kill what had been some decent momentum. Fortunately, the action resumes quickly with “Affliction,” stumbles momentarily on “The Missing Frame,” and then locks into a steady pace on the closing four tracks.

It’s nearly impossible for any band to live up to severe hype and either meet or exceed those expectations. And while AFI’s Decemberunderground doesn’t set new standards or blow the mind, it’s filled with enough gems and surprises to not only satisfy the AFI contingent but also keep that enigma rep alive and well.


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