AFI - The Missing Man EP (Album Review)

Thursday, 03 January 2019 Written by Huw Baines

Fans of AFI, and perhaps rock fans in general, have always struggled with a sprawling, multifaceted idea that the writer L.P. Hartley put beautifully in his novel The Go-Between: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."

Across more than two decades, AFI have occupied space as the scrappiest of hardcore bands, a hugely influential goth-punk group and later a glossy synth-rock outfit. But always, with each stylistic left turn, there has been the desire to look over one’s shoulder at what came before. Their recent EP, ‘The Missing Man’, isn’t immune to that impulse—as much as it wants us to remain in the here and now, we can’t help but cruelly dream of those foreign climes.

In part, that’s because short-form releases have a special place in the band’s history. In 1998, their ‘A Fire Inside’ EP introduced bassist Hunter Burgan, completing three quarters of what would become their classic line up, while the following year’s ‘All Hallow’s’ helped solidify the start of the band’s imperial phase by bridging the seminal LPs ‘Black Sails in the Sunset’ and ‘The Art of Drowning’.

‘The Missing Man’, their first EP since 2002’s limited run 10” ‘336’, won’t be remembered on these terms, but it’s an interesting curio from a veteran group who refuse to sit still. Where their self-titled record, released in 2017 and alternately known as ‘The Blood Album’, reaped rewards from a relatively settled stylistic approach, here AFI slingshot between elements of their personality, constructing a muddled, fitfully exciting collection.

Trash Bat, the opener, delivers none of the throwback shlock its title promises, but it is a thrashy, atmospheric track lit up by a big chorus hook from Davey Havok, Burgan’s dancing bass and a typically effective guitar lead from the inventive Jade Puget. Similarly, Break Angels mines a rich seam of hooks over jagged strings, with Havok’s work playing well alongside neatly-timed interjections from drummer Adam Carson.

Elsewhere, things are a little undercooked. Back Into The Sun, Get Dark and the closing title track are not total write-offs, but they are exemplary of what happens when AFI’s experiments miss their target even a little. The former pair are serviceable goth-rock songs dotted with chunky power chords, but The Missing Man is particularly scattershot—aiming for grandiose and landing a few football fields short, next to some A Perfect Circle b-sides. It’s a disappointing conclusion to an EP that initially promised to further flesh out the ideas that might yet define this version of AFI.

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