Despite their song “The Boy Who Destroyed The World” being featured in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, AFI still faced their fair share of “sellout” accusations when they signed to a major label. After the 2000 album release of The Art Of Drowning, the horror punk band gained a much wider profile and ended up signing with major label Dreamworks Records. After years of toiling away with albums on Nitro Records, 2003’s Sing The Sorrow was the band’s big coming-out party – and their introduction to a much wider audience.
Consider the band’s trajectory to date. Buoyed by vocalist Davey Havok, the band’s first few records certainly helped AFI get noticed – but it was 1999’s Black Sails In The Sunset that really solidified the band’s songwriting skills.
Sing The Sorrow was the record that catapulted AFI to a much wider audience, though. The production, helmed by the late Jerry Finn as well as Nevermind producer Butch Vig, was much bigger than anything the band had done before. A streamlined, less punk-influenced sound helped give way to songs with more electronic influences. “Death Of Seasons” is a great example of this sonic evolution: the breakneck speed of AFI’s earlier material is on full display, but so too does it slow down, and also integrates some electronic programming (which AFI would explore much more on Decemberunderground, as well as their Blaqk Audio side project).
The choruses and melodies here are undeniably catchy, but also just as important is Jade Puget’s guitar contributions. Having joined AFI as the band were gaining underground attention, Sing The Sorrow is an album that is indebted to his contributions. Whether it’s his textural guitar work on “The Leaving Song, Part II” or the more furious fretwork on songs like “Bleed Black” and “Death Of Seasons”, Puget is a large part of what makes this album such a diverse listen. Infectious, really.
What helps bridge Sing The Sorrow from the earliest AFI material so well is that the songs know when to slow down – and when to accelerate. “Bleed Black” is a good example of this, as despite the move to a major label, Davey Havok still screams (and yelps) plenty. Yet, the song AFI still wore their Misfits influences on their sleeves, though – if you knew where to listen to them. Speedier tracks like “Dancing Through Sunday” hearken back to the band’s earliest days, with the independent punk edge that endeared them to so many of their earliest fans.
It’s an example of an album with singles that stand out (“Girl’s Not Grey”, why are you so catchy?), but also one that doesn’t drop off on the second half of the album. Sure, songs like “Silver And Cold” will always stick out to the average listener, but the album is one that warrants repeated listens, too. “…But Home Is Nowhere” morphs its way into multiple AFI styles (and is a solid encapsulation of the record itself), while album closer “This Time Imperfect” is an almost 11-minute long finisher that you need to hear to believe.
So yeah, AFI “sold out”, alright – of copies of Sing The Sorrow. It’s basically the perfect bridge between their earlier, punk/hardcore-influenced material, and the band’s later, more alternative rock/post-hardcore direction. In fact, the success of AFI was a big reason that in the years after the album release, you saw bands like My Chemical Romance and The Used (with their second and third albums) get absolutely huge – yet also labeled “emo”.