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AFI – Burials (Vinyl) Review

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AFI – Burials (Vinyl) Review

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. 

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AFI – Sing The Sorrow (CD)

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AFI – Sing The Sorrow (CD)

AFI is an incredibly unique band. To pigeonhole them would be a grave injustice as their music spans punk rock and alternative rock genres. In essence, they are an exceptional rock and roll band that have continually refined their sound from serious punk rock, to a more mainstream rock approach. Some bands fail miserably when they shift their style, but AFI is certainly not one of them. Each album continues to be better than the one before; reminding me somewhat of Avenged Sevenfold.

Sing The Sorrow was released in 2003 and was arguably their largest shift in style when compared to their previous five albums. While I do have their previous albums in my collection, and enjoy them, their post-2003 work is exceptional and if you’re not punk inclined, you will likely prefer this latter body of work. That said, their punk style is still present within the music, it is just minimised.

My only disappointment with Sing The Sorrow is the low dynamic range of 06 out of 20. Yes, you can hear that it is overly compressed. A number of minor elements are just screaming to be heard, yet they sound so muted and distant that one would wonder why they are even included. Despite this, Sing The Sorrow is still a thoroughly enjoyable album and the low dynamic range doesn’t prevent me from enjoying it, but I would love to hear a remaster with a dynamic range closer to the original recording, if that exists.

The artwork and presentation is superb. Every millimetre of the liner notes booklet has been used. Even the graphic on the back of the CD case represents a reflective look at where the band have come from and where they are now. The window into another world, that is the size of the CD center spindle hole, showcases their fourth studio album Black Sails In The Sunset. It is the little details like this that can’t be overlooked and is still the reason to collect albums on CD or vinyl. The specific edition I have is the UK release with two bonus tracks [cat: 450 448-2(A)].

As regular readers would note, I’m not generally interested in lyrics and song meanings. I enjoy music without knowing the specific meaning. That said, I love vocals as an instrument. Davey Havok’s vocal range is exceptional as he not only has a great punk style, but he can hold some pretty serious notes. His occasional spoken word lyrical style is also nothing short of hypnotic.

The album starts with Miseria Cantare - The Beginning. Miseria Cantare meaning Sing The Sorrow. The song starts off with atmospheric noise and a deep beat with vocal overtures. It is exceptionally complex and lovely to listen to. It truly sets the scene for the rest of the album.

The Leaving Song Pt. 2 appears second in the track listing, but you may be wondering where Pt. 1 is. Well, that is located later in the album at track 11. The opening guitar work before the song begins, and then throughout and before the chorus, is beautiful.

Bleed Black is truly reminiscent of a slowed down punk song. If punk music gives you the same amount of notes, in half the time, then this 4m 15sec track could quite easily fit the average two-minute punk song length. That said, the song shifts in the final minute to be closer to an acoustic rock song, before speeding up for the finale. It is simply captivating and my mind and body don’t know how to digest it, but it works.

Silver And Cold is a beautiful song that begins with rain and piano keys, before proceeding into the rock track. It is mellow for AFI, but simply incredible. It is one of those songs where I change my views on lyrics as I want to understand the message and sing along.

Dancing Through Sunday is punk infused and a welcome addition to the album. It shows AFI still has it, but isn’t afraid to expand beyond their origins.

Girl’s Not Grey really needs additional dynamic range. The poor drummer sounds like he has a single drum that offers no depth or tonality. In-fact, the song is a musical muddiness that is monotone in presentation. Yet, you can tell there is more to the song, it just isn’t on this release. Such a shame!

Death Of Seasons is a song with an awesome beat, that even goes into dance territory, and exhibits some beautiful guitar and vocal work.

The Great Disappointment thankfully isn’t a disappointment. Instrument separation is present and the soundstage is nicely placed across the stereo field. When I suggest that vocals are akin to an instrument, this song highlights what I’m referring to. Davey’s vocals are beautiful and are perfectly suited to the song and style of music.

Paper Airplanes (Makeshift Wings) isn’t one of my favourite tracks. There is nothing wrong with it, I just don’t gel with the song. The cymbal work on the drums is just too compressed for my liking and I find the vocals are too whiny. It really sounds distorted! A little more spit and polish and I believe this song could have been exceptional. Additional detail may well be in the studio master, but we may never know.

This Celluloid Dream is most certainly a rock and roll track, but sporadically merged with punk. It works and the vocals appear as the lead instrument, or driving force, in this song.

The Leaving Song has an amazing vocal and (I think) acoustic guitar tune. It is punk length, but it is most certainly a ballad. It would have to be one of my favourite songs from the album.

…But Home Is Nowhere is an okay song. It is neither good or bad, but I truly don’t know what to say about it other than it fits into the track listing of the album. I can only think that it is too similar to the other songs and therefore doesn’t have a unique quality to explore.

Synthesthesia is the first UK exclusive track, followed by Now The World. Both UK exclusives are perfectly acceptable and are two songs that I feel work well within the tracking of the album. These songs were also available as a download for US audiences, from a link provided with the original album. That said, the site that was delivering the download is no longer operational and thus you will need to pick up the UK edition to get these additional songs.

The final unlisted, and therefore hidden, track is This Time Imperfect. It is a ten-minute epic that is exceptional and is my favourite song from the album. It is AFI at their very best! On the CD release, you will need to listen to Now The World before the hidden track will play, as it not a separate track. Whereas, on TIDAL Hi-Fi, you can listen to the track independent of the album.

Sing The Sorrow is an album of change. It is not a farewell to punk, but an evolution of sound that appeals to a greater audience while showing a new level of maturity and musicianship amongst the band. It is truly disappointing that much of the album is noticeably brickwalled, but that shouldn’t deter your interest in the album. It is worthy of any rock and roll, or punk rock collection. 

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