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AFI: Sing The SorrowSing The Sorrow (2003)
Universal Music Group
Reviewer Rating: 4.5
Contributed by: jonathanJonathan
(others by this writer | submit your own)
Honestly, I expected as much from the first round of reviews on Punknews.org for AFI’s new release, Sing the Sorrow. The album marks the band’s major label debut after migrating from Nitro Records to Dreamworks after the surprising gold-selling success of 2001’s The Art of Drowning. For most readers and patrons of this site, a major label is sacrilege, an abominating step for any band to take.
I remember I was surprised upon hearing of AFI’s migration to Dreamworks. Even with the post-pop wave of punk-lite that is infecting MTV and mainstream music culture, AFI didn’t seem like a band that would be musically accessible enough, or in that sense, malleable enough to the leagues of the majors. After front man Davey Havok’s late 90s change from the undertaker suit and sunglasses to his now pale-faced, shoulder length hair, Goth get up, maybe executives saw something freakishly marketable. Maybe Goth was coming back. After all, the suits would never fly now anyway—The Hives have that angle.
AFI does have the tats to look seemingly “punk” enough to the casual observer. Any casual listen and one could hear the energy of Havok’s screams, the starkly upbeat pace of the music. And with the natural and gradual progression of AFI’s sound, from more of a straight hardcore sound on Very Proud of Ya and Answer that and Stay Fashionable to a slightly more melodic sound on Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes, to more unique Goth-rock, chanting melodic fusion with the hardcore sound on the later releases, AFI certainly had become more popular, pulling fans from outside the spectrum of the punk and hardcore sphere. Not to mention that AFI’s live performance is probably one of the top in the game in any genre of music.
But a major label? Blasphemy. Who needs to eat when we have punk and hardcore ideals to uphold? A demand for sales and marketing higher than Nitro Records can accommodate? So what. This is punk. It’s not about making money, right?
Regardless of the “scene” ethos, AFI has made the switch to the big leagues, and though many, I’m sure, negative comments and reviews are about to be hurled in the direction of Sing the Sorrow, this reviewer doesn’t see much ground for pessimistic frenzy. I’ve been listening to the album for a little over a month now after receiving an advance press copy in early February.
After a first listen, it immediately set better with me than their last release, The Art of Drowning. And too, I feared the worst. I feared that AFI’s energy would be stripped away, raped by that all too familiar over-produced sound that is the inclination of mainstream rock of recent. I hadn’t been wild with what I had heard on the advance promo videos the band had released of the studio recording sessions, and like my former reviewer, I agree that promo tracks “Now the World” and “Reiver’s Music” were subpar efforts for a band like AFI. They are not on the album.
However, major label biases aside, Sing the Sorrow is decidedly a normal progression for this band. If you’ll recall, with the release of Black Sails in the Sunset in 1999, many fans cried outrage at the change in sound. AFI had softened. There was a definite melody present in many of the songs, and (gasp) Davey flat out sang on “God Called in Sick Today.” Now most who were outraged have either lost interest or adapted to the new sound. The Art of Drowning was mostly more of the same, a very formulaic reconstruction of the work done on Black Sails.
I see Sing the Sorrow as the next step in the sequence to Davey Havok’s gradual quest to fill the shoes of the Misfits and Danzig. Fear not. The new album still sounds like AFI. True, things may be a bit slower at times, a bit more melodic at times, and, well, a bit more Goth-rockish at times, but the hardcore influence is still apparent. Both in energy and at times, chord progression.
The music here is more complex than straight-laced hardcore fair. Jade’s guitar work is still inventive, at times even breaching into 80s esque riffs, sometimes space-rock tinkering. Davey sings more, which for this market is something I expected. Simply, AFI is trying to reach a larger audience. I respect that for what it is. Their sound has not changed anymore so than the drastic difference between Black Sails and Very Proud of Ya. This band has history of change and adaptation. And don’t worry—Davey still screams.
You’ll hear the usual musically abstract crescendoing introduction with chanting vocals in “Miseria Cantare.” On a whole, there is more melody, a slightly lighter touch present. You’ll hear the AFI 6/8 sing along chorus on “Silver and Cold.” Things quiet down occasionally with Davey bringing it down to a whisper. Expect more experimentation musically. “Death of the Seasons” will even throw some electronic pounding bass beats in for a few bars. You can find the tried and true AFI melodic upbeat hardcore on that same track and on “Dancing Through Sunday.” You’ll hear some more radio friendly rock with some chanting AFI melody on “Girl’s Not Grey,” a track already on rotation here in Los Angeles. There is the standard AFI rousing ending with an infectiously melodic cry/scream, “This is my life/This is eternal” on the closing track, “…But Home is Nowhere.” Havok’s lyrics are as dark and curiously ambiguous as they have always been.
Of course, taste is a matter of subjectivity. But I am happy to report that Sing the Sorrow sounds fantastic. The production mix is well done, and the album does not have an overbearing “produced” sound. I don’t find it boring at all. Conversely, I must say that though I expected the worst, I am quite pleased by the album. I know one thing—the music present here is more inventive and harder to play than what AFI gave us last.
The album is probably not going to threaten any of the well-established mainstream rock acts—I would still say that much of it is too offsetting to the casual listener. But if you’re a fan of the AFI, and that Dreamworks label just makes you fume, shut your mouth, open your eyes and realize that this is really where AFI was going anyway. If only all major label bands were this good. To me, AFI is still AFI, and Sing the Sorrow is just the next step after Black Sails in the Sunset. And on another plus, the album has a street price for well under ten dollars—I think Target has it for $5.99 at the time of this writing. Wait—that’s pretty punk right? Who knows anymore. It’s certainly worth the purchase.
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