AFI thrive under stylistic divergence and forge a new path on ‘Bodies’
AFI certainly know how to rouse suspense—just look back to the effective erasure of vocalist Davey Havok's existence prior to The Missing Man announcement... Still, when whispers of their 11th album began in 2019, nobody suspected that it would take two years to actualize. Of course, we didn't suspect that a pandemic was in the cards either.
If any light existed at the end of the 2020 tunnel, it burned with the prospect of new music and tour announcements. Fortunately for fans, AFI delivered immediately, ringing in the new year with the first official teaser. By the end of February, we had a name: Bodies.
Available today, Bodies marks the band's first full-length release since their self-titled ("Blood") album in 2017. And, true to form, they don't pull their punches. Seamlessly incorporating elements of '80s goth rock and synth-pop into their signature brand of post-punk, AFI dish out somber edge with outright elegance. Short of a few grounding tracks, it's a marked diversion from anything we've previously heard from the resident punk rockers. But that's not to say that die-hard fans of former iterations won't have something to latch onto. Brimming with eclecticism and incredible congruity, the record brandishes distinct potential with each of its 11 tracks.
A remnant of the bygone "Blood Album" era, “Twisted Tongues” kicks off the collection with looming dismality, charging a current that will feed the ambiance and dualities throughout. Preceding a showcase of sonic experimentation, the song epitomizes AFI's long-standing take on punk rock. There's no mistaking the reliable recipe. Adam Carson spurs adrenaline with anthemic drum punches. Hunter Burgan and Jade Puget kindle an incendiary atmosphere with rousing riffs and shreds. Havok sings with leveled clarity—a stark contrast next to the tumultuous vocal style he brought to Sing The Sorrow—that in no way sacrifices range or emotionality.
The fade-out is misleading. “Far Too Near” jumps right back in with sky-high, hook-driven energy that offsets its enigmatic lyrical substance. It fulfills expectations set forth by The Missing Man EP in 2018, albeit only temporarily. “Dulceria” then sweeps us into a captivating realm all its own, delineated by a seductive bassline and 1980s-reminiscent tonality. The swift divergence isn’t entirely unexpected when considering the writing contributions of Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan. Nevertheless, the danceable melody serves as an enticing rabbit hole, transcending far beneath the post-punk displays that bookend it.
Even in parts devoid of Corgan’s artistic input, Bodies presents as remarkably reminiscent of the early alternative foundations from which AFI have historically pulled influence. “On Your Back” and “Escape From Los Angeles” are compelling examples, breeding counterintuitive goth effervescence in a manner best likened to an intersection between Joy Division and the Cure. The latter track is notedly nostalgic, employing synth-laden, new-wave elements that, when paired with the album’s distinct punk underpinnings, breathe new dimensions to the dichotomous themes of the lyrical narrative.
Within a tracklist so broad-ranging in both mood and composition, there exists no obvious pinnacle as we’ve seen with previous standalone hits such as “Miss Murder” or “Girl’s Not Grey.” Perhaps that’s for the better—a collection so rich in nuance deserves not to be overshadowed by any single component. Even so, it’s difficult not to prefer a song such as “Begging For Trouble,” which oozes with familiarity in the context of the band’s latest installments. Drummer Carson seems to share the affinity.
“‘Begging For Trouble’ was greenlit, at least in my mind, the moment I heard the vocals come in,” he explains. “To me, the track is a cornerstone of the new record.”
There’s a safety in this song, a solace in comfortable theatricality that will undoubtedly lend itself to invigorating live performances… One day... In the meantime, there's no shortage of cathartic experiences to enjoy. “Back From The Flesh,” in its subdued but ever-dynamic, brooding glory, demands a solitary stream under the next blood moon. “Looking Tragic,” on the other hand, deserves an exuberant living room dance sesh pulled straight out of a fever dream.
It should come as no surprise that these outwardly antithetical atmospheres fire off in rapid succession. Such well-constructed chaos is the AFI way—just look to the vastly underrated Crash Love for proof. Still, it makes sense that fans may perceive a stylistic rift on the basis of misinterpreted sonic incongruities. To that we say, “Shed your expectations.” And that sentiment goes double for the tail end of the album.
Even on the fiercely spirited heels of “Looking Tragic,” “Death Of The Party” holds its own in terms of dark-laced vitality. Leaning heavily into the darkwave territory through which Havok and Puget often stray, it reads as the missing link between the full band and Blaqk Audio. The commonality, however, is fleeting. With whiplash-inducing force, “No Eyes” will throw you right back into the world of arena-ready guitar licks and soaring vocals. Elaborate, upbeat and brimming with understated poignance, it's a sound all their own—a paragon of three decades’ worth of artistic progression neatly packaged in a three-and-a-half-minute track.
Concluding the album, “Tied To A Tree” departs with an air of obscurity that’s not to go underappreciated. The slow build is well worth the patience it demands, culminating repeatedly in ominous crescendos that echo the stylistic variances prevalent throughout the album. Let it play out and it transitions effortlessly back to the start of the record, closing the circle for a cyclical experience that increases in-depth with each listen.
Make no mistake: Bodies brings with it serious divergences from the AFI we last heard in 2018. But divergence is precisely where they thrive. The record, though far-reaching, is hardly a haphazard attempt to reclaim the spirit of the '80s. Rather, it's a carefully curated exhibition of the band's diverse inclinations. Now 11 albums into their tenure, they refuse to stagnate. Where their creative process leads, they follow with utmost enthusiasm and commitment, favoring self-loyalty over arbitrary confines of genre. The new era is beckoning—will you hear it?
AFI's Bodies is available across all platforms today. Pick up your physical copies and merch items here.