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AFI

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Another in a conveyor-belt of Californian hardcore/punk-pop outfits to emerge from the shadows of GREEN DAY and The OFFSPRING, AFI were at least old enough to have rivalled their aforesaid peers, at a time when skateboard, straight-edge, or emo-punks were all the rage; yes, Chicago’s FALL OUT BOY were too young to gate-crash the party. On the fringes of breaking through to the mainstream for over a decade, while grunge and other metal genres fell by the wayside, seasoned campaigners Davey Havok and Co were more than ready to take on corporate America and the globe on the release of their major-label album, “Sing The Sorrow”.
Formed 1991, in Ukiah, California, high school buddies Davey Havok (vocals), Markus Stopholese (guitar), Adam Carson (drums) and Vic Chalker (bass) – the latter making way for Geoff Kresge within a year – found it hard to combine studies with pop ambitions, although a couple of EPs did surface in 1993. Split with neighbours Loose Change (featuring future AFI recruit Jade Puget), `Dork’ was sold to punters at gigs, while much the same happened for their own `Behind The Times’ platter. However, college commitments led to an inevitable break up; Kresge would duly team up in New Jersey punks, BLANKS 77.
A chance reunion show subsequently went down so well that the AFI crew got back together permanently, relocating to Berkeley where the likes of RANCID and GREEN DAY had cut their teeth at fabled punk venue, Gillman Street. A Tim Armstrong-produced debut set, ANSWER THAT AND STAY FASHIONABLE (1995) {*4}, was delivered for Wingnut Records, but it was a shout-y, stop-me-if-you’ve-heard-this-one-before affair, despite the inclusion of earlier cut, `I Wanna Get A Mohawk (But Mom Won’t Let Me)’.
After spotting the band at a show in Hollywood, Dexter Holland (of The OFFSPRING fame) snapped them up for his Nitro label and proceeded to release their snappy follow-up album, VERY PROUD OF YA (1996) {*4}. Another half-hour set of bulls eye-aimed hardcore followed with SHUT YOUR MOUTH AND OPEN YOUR EYES (1997) {*5}, marked out by fresh bassist Hunter Burgan filling the berth of Geoff, who’d formed Tiger Army. While the band’s acronym had been subject to many and varied interpretations over the years, the official line is that it stood for “A Fire Inside”; conclusive evidence supported with the release of an EP of that title in ‘98.
Judging by the musical contents of album number four, BLACK SAILS IN THE SUNSET (1999) {*6}, that fire was at least partly fuelled by Old Nick himself. Well, not really, but influences from the darker side of punk – The MISFITS, MINOR THREAT, et al – were definitely infiltrating the band’s previously straight-edged sound. Hardcore fans’ suspicions were also raised by the fact that Havok – now backed by a slightly altered line-up of Carson, Burgan and newbie Jade Puget – had taken to wearing make-up and black PVC.
The transformation was even more pronounced on THE ART OF DROWNING (2000) {*7}; Havok’s angst-ridden lyrics mirroring their tortured music. Selling enough copies to crack the Top 200, fists were certainly sent pumping into the clouds for punk anthems `The Days Of The Phoenix’, `Of Greetings And Goodbyes’, `Ever And A Day’, `Wester’ and `The Lost Souls’.
A subsequent deal at Dreamworks meant even more scope for studio experimentation, which the band utilised to the max on SING THE SORROW (2003) {*7}. With Butch Vig and Jerry Finn tweaking the sound into even more of a contemporary mould and the band accommodating luxuries like cello and piano, the record was another sizeable step in AFI’s evolution and a canny move into the Top 5. Havok had also been exorcising his more gothic tendencies in Son Of Sam, a side-project featuring hardcore veterans like Todd Youth, Steve Zing and even Glenn Danzig himself, a combination that released “Songs From The Earth” a few years back.
AFI returned to the fray for Interscope Records in June 2006 with album seven, DECEMBERUNDERGROUND {*7}, proving that perseverance – and a good bit of growling – always paid off in the end: the record topped the American charts, condensing its sub-new romantic and emo-metal into rising-star single `Miss Murder’; others worth a spin were `Love Like Winter’, `Kill Caustic’ and `The Missing Frame’; one step above McFly or Busted was an opinion worth taking into account.
A band that also loved to expound the virtues of the cover version, AFI tried their hand at: `Head Like A Hole’ (NINE INCH NAILS), `Man In A Suitcase’ (The POLICE), `Open Your Eyes’ (Circus Tents), `Values Here’ (DAG NASTY), `Whatever I Do’ (Negative Approach), `The Hanging Garden’ (The CURE), `Halloween’ + `Last Caress’ + `Demonomania’ (The MISFITS), `My Machine’ (GUNS N’ ROSES), `Today’s Lesson’ (Filth) and `Jack The Ripper’ (MORRISSEY).
When side-projects from all and sundry came to fruition in the passing months, it looked like AFI might’ve crashed and burned, but with Havok and Puget’s electro-pop BLAQK AUDIO excursion by way of 2007’s CEXCELLS {*6}, the pair were wearing their DEPECHE MODE or OMD badges firmly on their lapels. Top 20 in America, the clone-like 80s rewind sided with Gahan and Co on almost everything that counted on the set, including `Stiff Kittens’ (in homage to JOY DIVISION, for some reason!?), `The Fear Of Being Out’ and `Cities Of Night’.
Bypassing the unnecessary but fan-friendly I HEARD A VOICE – LIVE FROM LONG BEACH ARENA (2007) {*6}, goth-punks AFI commanded attention once again with their long-awaited Jacknife Lee & Joe McGrath-produced studio set, CRASH LOVE (2009) {*6}. Taking the quartet back to basics, and drawing in styles that absorbed anything from DEPECHE MODE again! (through `Beautiful Thieves’), ADAM ANT (example `Too Shy To Scream’) and The SMITHS `Veronica Sawyer Smokes’), AFI came in for some flak from discerning pundits.
On the back of another Top 50, synth-friendly BLAQK AUDIO outing, BRIGHT BLACK HEAVEN (2012) {*6} – AFI reunited once again for BURIALS (2013) {*7}. Four years in the making and produced by Gil Norton, crooning vegan Havok and his 80s-fixated cohorts sound-tracked a time best forgotten, although the fire inside was stoked by industrial-goth dirges such as `I Hope You Suffer’, the Orwell-ian `Greater Than ‘84’ and the appropriately-titled `Rewind’ – suffer you fans of FOB!
© MC Strong 2004-2006/GRD / rev-up MCS Oct2013

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