A couple of weeks ago, I took a look at AFI’s evolving sound with Sing The Sorrow. While the band has released the incredible Decemberunderground and Crash Love in the interim years, I wanted to take a look at their latest album, released a decade after Sing The Sorrow, to see just how far the band’s sound had developed. I also couldn’t wait to take the wrapping off this album as I was able to source a reasonably priced vinyl copy of Burials from Sydney’s iconic Red Eye Records.
The vinyl edition comes with the standard lossy MP3 download code for the album, although it did not include the complete album. The songs missing are the two final tracks Anxious and The Face Beneath The Waves. What is bizarre is these songs are not bonus tracks and therefore should have been included in the download. This isn’t necessarily uncommon as I have come across variations in downloaded albums that have been supplied with records in the past. Usually it comes down to licensing agreements, or region specific bonus tracks. Truth be told, with my ever increasing use of TIDAL Hi-Fi, the lossy MP3 codes are of little value to me personally, plus I can always do a higher quality needle drop with my Pro-ject Debut Carbon turntable. Hence, I think in future I may just give away, via Subjective Sounds, the MP3 download codes to readers. Regardless, I would much prefer the record labels give consumers the option to download either the MP3, or a higher quality FLAC or ALAC 16/44 copy that matches the quality of CD. Some record labels do this, but I’m sure most consider the addition of a download code, or CD, to be nothing but a loss leader to encourage the purchase of the record.
Speaking of the record, rather than being presented in a gatefold release, this double album is presented in a slipcase that accommodates both records. While I don’t mind either design decision, gatefolds are just awesome. However, they can be challenging to slip the record in and out at times. Tri-folds are worse, but that is a story for another day. There is also no additional inner liner notes as the record sleeves double as the liner notes. I have mixed feelings on this. Most of the time I prefer archival sleeves and in many cases I purchase them when they are not included. As a result, I can ensure the liner sleeves remain in pristine condition, free of ring wear, seam splits, and additional dust in those precious grooves. Personally, I would recommend all record buyers spend the extra money to get archival sleeves. There are a number of different brands available, but I have always found Mobile Fidelity sleeves to be of the very highest quality. I get mine from Goldmine Records. The reason why I raise this issue, is the record arrived with small seam splits and I need to change out the inner sleeves to prevent further deterioration. It wasn’t the fault of the record label, or Red Eye Records, as it was packed impeccably. It was most likely caused by my reckless mailman who believes it is appropriate to Frisbee throw my records onto the front porch from two meters away. Plus, when the better half works for the postal service, you hear so many horror stories that it is a wonder more parcels are not damaged by Australia Post.
An interesting side note: When I order CDs online, if I order them from Australian companies then they always turn up with a cracked case. Yet, if I import them from the US or UK, they always turn up perfect. It drives me insane, but what can you do?
Despite the above mentioned issues, I am very happy with the vinyl release and The Sinking Night sets the tone for the album with what has almost become a signature introduction style for AFI, where methodical, rhythmic, and atmospheric sounds are mixed with a ballad-styled vocal delivery. It is exceptional!
I Hope You Suffer has such a demonically evil beat. It is moody, broody, but perfect for when you’re angered by the actions of someone of the events of a particular day. I don’t know about you, but I certainly use this style of music to deal with feelings of anger and frustration.
A Deep Slow Panic is almost pop-punk. This evaluation is neither good or bad, but I feel that this song doesn’t present AFI at their best. The magic is lacking and it feels like filler. While I can enjoy the song in the album tracking, I would likely skip over it when listening on TIDAL Hi-Fi.
No Resurrection has magical guitar riffs that simply highlight the song and makes you want to hear more of that incredible twang. It is air guitar worthy, despite the song being a slow rock tune. It is strange to hear AFI slow down this much, especially with their punk background, but it certainly suits their sound and they have been able to capture their origins while also breaking new ground.
17 Crimes is a song that exists for the chorus. Throughout the versus, you just can’t wait to get to that chorus. I’ve experienced this a number of times in the past, but I must say that recently it is the exception, rather than the rule. Maybe it's because a significant amount of modern music is all chorus and the poor verse is minimised. Song writing is arguably not what it used to be. Anyway, 17 Crimes is an excellent song that suits the album and the band’s style.
The Conductor is my favourite track on the album, and it may even be my favourite of all AFI tracks. While No Resurrection had magical guitar riffs, The Conductor takes that statement to a completely new level. The guitar has a rhythm, a soul, and its own chorus. I just love the tuning of it, it is the epitome of an epic rock and roll song. I can only imagine how awesome this song would be when performed live.
Heart Stops begins intriguingly and beautifully, but as it reaches the chorus it is too reminiscent of other alternative music that has come before. This song is really for those of you who enjoy the verse as the chorus reminds me of any number of bad teenage movie soundtracks. AFI can do better than this. It had potential, but the chorus let it down.
Rewind isn’t one of my favourite songs. It is too whiny in vocal delivery for my liking.
The Embrace has a unique bass track, but I would have loved to have heard it with a little more dynamic range as the bass becomes hidden very quickly once the rest of the band kicks into action. The Embrace is also the type of song that slows down during the verse and speeds up during the chorus. It works, but it really is a B-side, or in this case a C side. In fact, all three songs on side C could probably have been left off the album.
Wild is the final song on side C and therefore is included in my previous statement, but I do like elements of this song. The electronic elements present a sonic signature that is reminiscent of a video game soundtrack. Every time I listen to the song, I think it would have made a perfect addition to Adam Sandler’s Pixels film. Bottom line: it is a fun song.
Greater Than 84 has horrid dynamic range. Listen to the symbols and high-hats. They are compressed to hell and back again. When you listen to the introduction you think that this could be as bold in instrumentation as any Dire Straits album, but the ‘loudness wars’ has killed that hope. It is a shame because it is a solid song, but I just don’t enjoy the over compressed sonic quality. I know it is the ‘modern’ sound, but it is exhausting to listen to.
Anxious pays homage to AFI’s origins, especially in vocal style. It is a solid song, but nothing to write home about.
The Face Beneath The Waves closes the album out with a song that is enjoyable but again lacking in dynamic range. It truly could have been an epic end to the album, but compression in the studio just makes you want to put the album away after this song, rather than play the album again. Such a shame!
Overall, Burials is an excellent album and I am incredibly happy that it is part of my collection as the vinyl pressing is superb. That said, the dynamic range is lacklustre at best and destroys the hard work that the band has put in behind the scenes. If I can’t clearly hear the separation between drum beats, guitar licks, bass tracks, and vocals, then something is wrong and I know it isn’t my playback equipment or my ears. I would love nothing more than for AFI and all other bands who have accepted the industry practice of brick walling to turn around and re-issue the full studio originals. Not remaster, just the original master. If what I’m hearing is the original master, then maybe they should just go back and record the album again.