At this point, AFI are too big and well-loved to have an outright failure on their hands, but if anything can equate to that in modern times, it’d be last year’s The Blood Album. Sure, it’s easy to see what they were going for, doubling down on the vampiric poise for something a lot more supple and understated, but over time it’s an album that’s endured less and less, ending up as almost completely forgettable now apart from maybe one or two choice cuts. Thus, it makes sense that The Missing Man stands as the total opposite of that album even from face value – five songs clocking in at just fifteen minutes is a good start, and with the preview tracks looking to return to their fast-paced, scrappy punk roots, this could be what’s needed to save AFI from the wobbly period they’ve been having lately.
And indeed, The Missing Man definitely feels like a step back towards the greatness that AFI have exhibited many times before. Even if it can feel a little bit too basic to really slot among their classic material – undoubtedly a casualty that comes when the main property of a release is course correction – but as an easily-digestible package that remains fairly fat-free and concise throughout, this is a pretty enjoyable listen. Primarily, that’s down to how AFI have rediscovered the balance in their sound and how comparatively well it works; as an opener, Trash Bat positively explodes into life, feeling like a full-blown throwback to their earlier punk material (albeit a lot more polished) in a way that actually negates the feeling of truncation that’s so prevalent on its own.
Really, The Missing Man’s biggest strength comes in how AFI have realised the importance of modulation once again; none of these songs are outright classics or among their best material, but there’s a sense of flow and ease to its progression that really works. Just take the mid-paced, mid-2000s post-hardcore of Back Into The Sun or the ominous swirl of the title track which could’ve easily slotted into the ethereal sway of The Blood Album, and how their restraint feels earned and justified when placed alongside tracks like Trash Bat and Get Dark. It may sound incredibly simple, but given how much AFI eschewed that train of thought on their last album, to see it back and working in the capacity that it is is, frankly, something of a relief.
And that’s all that needed to happen on this EP, really. The length alone is enough to highlight how, compared to some of the albums that preceded it, this isn’t a groundbreaking edition to AFI’s canon, but the fact it represents a band who’ve been in the lurch for a little while now finding some solid ground once again is definitely a good thing. And it’s true that The Missing Man likely won’t stay around long in the public consciousness, even for AFI fans, but for a short blast that goes back to what made a great band as great as they can be, this will undoubtedly suffice.
For fans of: Alkaline Trio, The Ataris, Thursday
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Missing Man’ by AFI is out now on Ex Noctem Nacimur.