AFI: Electric Ballroom, London: Thursday May 28

AFI: Electric Ballroom, London: Thursday May 28

Doom rockers’ lethargic return could leave the Faction in despair

AFI – A Fire Inside – make up one of the more heartwarming tales of misery and degradation in recent years. Returning to reclaim their throne of doom after three years away, they’re starting their UK attack as a big enough band in a small enough venue to make this feel like an event (no mean feat with Arctic Monkeys playing a pub on the opposite end of town).

So why doesn’t this feel more exciting? The booming, chamber-thud of opening music ‘Miseria Cantare – The Beginning’ conjures up the same atmosphere as before, more grandiloquent and serious than the kids who have come since. And there couldn’t be a better opening volley than ‘The Leaving Song’ and ‘Dancing Through Sunday’, both explosive choruses hoisted up high on, er, pirate ships. Davey Havok’s preening feline routine is, if anything, sleeker than ever. No, you can’t fault the performance; you rarely can from a US rocker hardened from touring that landmass.But the default setting for rock bands in search of a new groove seems to be ‘sub Trent Reznor’ and seventh album

‘Decemberunderground’ comes with plenty of sinister electro undercurrents (plus a baffling bonus version of NIN’s ‘Head Like A Hole’), but it doesn’t sit right from a band whose major strength has been to keep hold of their ferrel hardcore heritage. It’s like somewhere along the line they stopped wanting to be Black Flag and now want to be Depeche Mode – and they know it too, choosing only to debut a handful of new songs – like effortless, elasticated single ‘Miss Murder’ or the bloody ‘Kill Caustic’. Which all makes for the same visceral, big, bad-blooded, acrobatic kind of act of worship that you’d always expect from an AFI show… it just seems like the same AFI show we saw three years ago – even down to the cover of The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’. Thing is, all rock shows – let alone ones by bands with their own Faction – depend on a very basic exchange of energy: you can only give what you get, and tonight The Sorrow just isn’t as high in the air as it was last time. Maybe it’s that, in those three years, Despair Faction have grown up and moved on, and the new generation worship Gerard and Pete. The result is half recruitment drive for The Despair Faction, half re-application for their own jobs. Either way, this felt like a drill routine for a fire that still has further to spread.

Dan Martin