XTRMST - XTRMST (Cover Artwork)


XTRMST (2014)

Dim Mak Records

If you're anything like me, you've been waiting for AFI to return to their hardcore roots for years now. While I do enjoy their later records (I'll get my share of hate for this, but I thought Burials was an excellent album, while even Decemberunderground and Crash Love had some value), it's hard (for me at least) to not miss the excellence of Shut Your Mouth through Sing The Sorrow days. Direction and growth is cool, but what I really wanted to hear the most is Davey Havok screaming about demons or some shit over some very Misfits-sounding music. So when Davey Havok and Jade Puget announced that they had a new straight-edge hardcore project XTRMST, I couldn't help but be at least a little bit excited. I felt like the EP they released along with the announcement was lacking a bit, but at least it wasn't Blaqk Audio. It showed promise, and while a couple of those four songs in my opinion still aren't among the best on this album, it was nice to hear heavy hardcore music coming from two of my favorite musicians.

So what exactly is XTRMST? (Besides a really shitty name. I like Extremist a lot better to be honest) Well, first it's not AFI. This album sounds nothing like anything AFI has ever released. If I had to make a comparison, I'd say it sounds like a mix of Refused and something else. I'm not sure how to finish that comparison. I'll admit that the difference initially made me hesitant to buy this album, but I must say that I'm glad I did. I can honestly say this album is heavier and more ferocious than anything AFI has ever released. Even heavier than Shut Your Mouth or Black Sails. Each of these 14 songs is roughly two minutes of pure rage that doesn't come off as faked at any point on this album.

The album opens with the excellent "Words For The Unwanted", and it immediately becomes evident what XTRMST is about: Screams, gorgeous guitar riffs, rapid dynamic shifts, and absolute anger. While lead single "Conformist" is a low point, the album rebounds excellently with "Social Deathplay" and "Merciless". As the album goes on, the anger never wavers, with Davey Havok tearing into just about anybody who abuses any substance, as well as religion. What separates this record from others is the musicianship. Jade shreds his guitar like never before on this record, and there are dynamic and tempo shifts on nearly every song. As a result, this record feels fresh (Why is straight-edge hardcore still a thing?) and is one I predict will have pretty high replay value. While it doesn't reach the peaks of "God Called In Sick Today" or "The Lost Souls", songs like "Dirty Nails", "Exterminate", and "Swallow Your God" certainly will suffice.

In my opinion, this album is worth noting because of the vocal turnaround of Davey Havok. Burials featured Davey sounding better than he has since pre-vocal surgery, with a strong tour to back it up. However, I never expected him to get to the point where he could give a vocal performance like he did here. his voice still doesn't sound as healthy as it did in the 90's, and he has to rely more on screaming than yelling now, but songs like "Humanity" show that he's capable of the yells that helped make Black Sails and The Art Of Drowning so great. Given how bad he sounded when he tried doing that while on tour for Crash Love, this record is definitely a very nice surprise. It will be interesting to see how he holds up during live performances of these songs.

While XTRMST honestly is an excellent record, it's not perfect. The above-mentioned "Conformist" isn't very good, and while the structure of "Juliets" is a great idea, it's not a very good song. "Extremist" in my opinion goes on a little longer than it should. Also, while I myself adhere to the straight-edge lifestyle, I can't say I approve of the lyrics on this album. It doesn't kill the music for me, but I've always thought it was stupid that people who are edge use edge as a reason to attack people who aren't edge. According to Davey and Jade, that's not the message they're trying to give with this album, but it's hard not to get that from these songs. Also, lyrics like "We are the pure" (from "The Way") feel a little too Nazi Germany-like. Oh well, I like the songs.

I think the most interesting thing about this album is the variety it shows Davey and Jade are capable of. As if AFI's musical scope wasn't wide enough, with it's experimentation in post-hardcore, dance, goth, industrial, and of course punk, they decide to go ahead and form Blaqk Audio (Dance, electronic, Skrillex-core or whatever the fuck it's called) and XTRMST (hardcore). If I was unfamiliar with these bands and you were to tell me that the same two guys who made "Faith Healer" also made "Merciless", I'd have a hard time believing you.