REVIEW BY: Melanie Love
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/06/2006
Every band has to hit a crossroads sooner or later, and California goth-punks AFI (A Fire Inside) reached theirs with the release of their fifth album, 2003's Sing The Sorrow, where they signed to a major label, got hooked up with producer Butch Vig and made songs that were not only accessible but catchy, even. Of course, those were moves accompanied by the typical complaints of disenchanted diehards, but regardless, the album managed to retain much of the band's signature, dark, screaming rock sound without sacrificing too much to the mainstream.
But though Sing The Sorrow catapulted by the band to new heights of popularity, it wasn't the success they were anticipating. Which brings us to Decemberunderground; is this going to be the disc that achieves the absolute fame and sales the band were reaching for on Sing The Sorrow?
It looks like it. Decemberunderground debuted at #1 in the US and #2 in the UK and garnered mostly positive critical reviews. The other side of the coin, though, has the band appearing on TRL with the record's first single, "Miss Murder," something that just doesn't mesh even as they move farther and farther from the hardcore goth-punk of their past.
Opening the album is "Prelude 12/21," which sets a dramatic, though almost-upbeat tone with clapping, stomping and strings backed by a militaristic drumbeat. Then, the pace quickly swerves to the frantic "Kill Caustic," which is reminiscent of the band's older sound with lead singer Davey Havok frequently trying out his signature scream accompanied by guitarist Jade Puget's distinctive riffing.
"Miss Murder" has AFI trying out punk-pop in this swinging, radio-friendly rocker, which enters straight into one of the catchiest choruses the band has probably ever produced. But for the most part, this track sounds like it could've just as easily come from My Chemical Romance or even Green Day, definitely not a label you could stick to their previous material.
Decemberunderground even has the band trying out a throwback to the 80s with the synth-laden dance beats of "Love Like Winter" (with the line: "Warn your warmth to turn away / Here it's winter every day" encapsulating this disc's resounding mood) and the new-wave, Depeche Mode-sounding "37mm."
The problem plaguing this release, though, is that it never manages to be as cohesive as Sing The Sorrow; instead, every successful moment is underscored by disappointing aspects, like in "The Missing Frame" with its bland lyrics but masterful, detailed instrumentation that almost invokes U2 (that is, if Bono ever decided to dabble in eyeliner and emo). And where Sorrow triumphed from start to finish, Decemberunderground is resoundingly decent; but then again, even average AFI output puts recent chart-toppers capitalizing on the death-tinged pop-punk fad (My Chemical Romance, Panic At The Disco and Fall Out Boy, to name a few) to shame.