ALBUM REVIEW: The Amity Affliction – ‘Not Without My Ghosts’

Artwork for The Amity Affliction’s ‘Not Without My Ghosts’ - a woman in a dirty white dress standing knee-deep in water. She is a screaming as two hands grab her face from behind

The Amity Affliction represent inevitability. They used to be something much worse, as the poster-boys for unctuous, mass-produced metalcore designed to hawk depression to teenagers while being unable to sound enthused by even their own grift. Now though, they’re a band for whom it’s practically impossible to care about. They’re never going to change now, nor do they need to when they’ve proven so successful; even when they’ve happened upon something better like on 2020’s Everyone Loves You… Once You Leave Them, it’s never been through picking up new ideas.

And yes, the pointlessness of thinking that while still endeavouring to cover a new album is not lost. To a degree, it’s what makes The Amity Affliction even more immune to critique than their comrades in metalcore banality. When it’s bound to be a recycling session for every single solitary idea that their discography’s been built on (and that’s eight albums now…), what’s the point? Well…that’s a difficult question to answer, because there probably isn’t one. Maybe it’s simply force of habit at this stage that keeps The Amity Affliction able to rope in a mind that zeroes in on the cynicism in everything they do. Maybe it’s the difficulty to resist an easy target. Or maybe The Amity Affliction have secretly been building up to their magnum opus, to knock everyone for six and wind up as one of the most radical about-faces in metalcore memory.

…okay, no, it’s not that. Not even close.

Not Without My Ghosts instead embodies the cavernous downside of The Amity Affliction’s inevitability. It’s their middle-of-the-road, the kind of album you’d expect from a band whose entire existence is based on going through the motions, and unable to even muster up a big swing and a miss. Its serviceability to the cause is its biggest downfall, built around the overproduced, sluggish template that is this band’s go-to, and feeling every bit of strain from relevance of that sound slipping away from it. So if you want to know why Not Without My Ghosts is worth giving some coverage to—genuinely couldn’t tell you, because this is The Amity Affliction at their most perilously boilerplate.

They might try to say otherwise at first though, when the album launches into Show Me Your God’s flurries of percussion bordering on blast beats at times. It’s the kind of pick-me-up that The Amity Affliction albums tend to lack, only to fall by the wayside most of the time in favour of yet another bout of going through the motions. And it really is going through the motions this time, as nothing has really changed. Joel Birch remains the solitary consistent highlight as a genuinely impactful screamer, who’d have far more leg-room if he were in a band who remotely knew how to accommodate for him. Instead, it’s the same plodding, wishy-washy metalcore slurry, moribund of definition or even half the epic bombast it thinks it has.

Musically, it’s really drilled in now how past it The Amity Affliction are. What might’ve flown at a time when metalcore’s thick coatings of production were the norm certainly doesn’t now—hell, it hasn’t for a good long while—but The Amity Affliction are still sticking to their guns through it all. That would be admirable if this weren’t perhaps the most uninspiring permutation of metal in any of its forms you could put to record, dragged down by overplayed hands of pop and emo saccharine that leeches away the majority of power that it’s more or less Birch providing alone. Especially on the title track where the monochrome pop influence fully takes over, its primary feature is how drained and flaccid it sounds; elsewhere, there’s plenty of other tracks like that, on top of also sounding functionally identical to one another.

But of course, it’s Ahren Stringer who—as always—deals the hardest whack to the temple in terms of The Amity Affliction working even a little. He’s really the crux of this band’s issues with formula and songs bleeding together, not only in a clean vocal performance that refuses to budge from its one drawn-out register, but also how he brings no variety to the table at all. There are no hooks he delivers with any punch or memorable flavour; it’s all the same flavourless drizzle to presumably keep the grandeur going, but failing spectacularly.

Tie that in with the ever-present disconnect between theme and tone that always runs rampant on this band’s work, and Not Without My Ghosts is the same chore as always, definitively now. As always, the caveat applies that there’s no doubt that their speaking on mental health and depression is coming from a real place, but time after time, The Amity Affliction’s delivery of it has no passion or fervour to it. A line like “I am so lost and lonely” on Close To Me shouldn’t be locked into a singsong rhythm after already being flattened by Stringer’s inability to emote at all, but here it is, as this form of real release is as much a chore to deliver as it is to listen to after so many albums. It’s all so stuck in place too, never landing on real catharsis because The Amity Affliction’s style-over-substance mandate doesn’t allow it; the same topics and lyrical cues are continually cycled through—this isn’t even their first album to use the ‘ghosts’ motif in its title!—and you can really feel the drag from it. And on top of it all, The Amity Affliction seem to think it works, or at least has the illusion of being effective enough. While they might credit rapper Louie Knuxx with a posthumous appearance on I See Dead People, it’s really just a couple of repeated sampled lines for what feels more like a surface-level heartstring-tugger than a proper tribute to a deceased friend.

Whereas that would’ve infuriated as one of The Amity Affliction’s marketing-minded ‘emotional’ moments once upon a time, it’s just hard to muster anything towards it now. It, like a lot of what this album is doing, isn’t good, but it’s also neck-deep in a zone of ignorability that it’s hard to care one way or another. They’re never going to change or take meaningful steps to being as serious as they want to be taken, so why expect it? And while that isn’t a free pass, it’s the logical lens that Not Without My Ghosts should be viewed through—a continuation to the catalogue of a band that’s become one of the most staid, uninspired products in the wider sphere of metal, and clearly has no desire to be otherwise. Unless you still somehow can’t get enough of this stuff (which might say more about you than anything else, to be honest), there’s barely a single second of this album you’ll remember as soon as it’s finished spinning. In other words, it’s a new album from The Amity Affliction.

For fans of: We Came As Romans, The Word Alive, Crown The Empire

‘Not Without My Ghosts’ by The Amity Affliction is released on 12th May on Pure Noise Records.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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