AFI – ‘Bodies’

By Tom Walsh

When posed the question as to what studio album number 11 means to a band like AFI, bassist Hunter Burgan presciently responds: “Every album is an opportunity to show people a snapshot of our evolution.” And if there was ever a punk rock band unafraid of evolving, its AFI. They’ve been doing it their whole career.

From the humble beginnings of scrappy two-minute, four-chord punk of the early ’90s where they’d play in the backyards and dive clubs of the Bay Area, they’ve consistently reimagined themselves with each record. Whether it was the raging melodic hardcore punk of ‘The Art of Drowning’, taking on the emo crown on ‘Sing the Sorrow’, donning the mascara for ‘Decemberunderground’ or dabbling in new wave on 2017’s self-titled release, with each record comes a different approach.

Following the teaser EP, ‘The Missing Man’, in 2018, AFI return with their 11th studio album ‘Bodies’, and a whole new batch of motifs. Only a few seconds into ‘Dulceria’ – a grooving, hip-shaking number which seems to give a subtle, knowing nod to ‘The Nephilim’ of years gone by with its walking bassline – and you see this is another in a long line of directions Davey Havok and co. want to pull us in.

There are more dips into electronics and synthesizers with ‘Escape from Los Angeles’ which harkens back to 1980s new wave luminaries like Depeche Mode. A track of this ilk is where AFI and Blaqk Audio (the synth side-project of Havok and guitarist Jade Puget) effortlessly intertwines.

Among the evolution, there is still room for some stone cold classic AFI; ‘Begging For Trouble’ is that instant hit that they can effortlessly summon from their songwriting oeuvre, a solid sub-three minute punk/emo yearning track pumped full of delicious licks, timeless lyrics, and even a string section.

One of the more experimental tracks on the record comes in the form of ‘Back From The Flesh’, an epic gothic anthem. While grandiose in its theme, there is a something of a relief when it’s followed up by the almost indie-tinged ‘Looking Tragic’, in which Havok provides a commentary on the fear culture of today’s world, “Everyone’s looking tragic / looking for the new panic / looking for the new panic in anyone”.

As ‘Bodies’ is marked as being the next phase in the band’s career, there is a sense of needing to pay homage to what’s gone before. Whether intentional or not, the frenzied breakdown of ‘On Your Back’ is reminiscent of the band’s pre-millennium life. There are also more Blaqk Audio influences on show in ‘Death Of The Party’, a track which wouldn’t seem out of place on a Cold Cave setlist.

In Puget’s own words closing track ‘Tied To A Tree’ is an “exemplification of the evolution of the band”, and it does demonstrate this belief. It’s a brooding track which morphs into something more monumental, a haunting acoustic guitar riff balloons into an explosion of sound and takes AFI’s to somewhere they’ve never tread sonically before.

At one point in their career, AFI’s evolution would be one that received backlash from fervent, hardcore fans with a desperate desire for their beloved band to resist changing anything about their sound. The AFI of today is a beast which intrigues and ‘Bodies’ provides another illustration of how a band’s evolution is meant to be done.

TOM WALSH

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