AFI is a band lucky to own fiercely loyal fans who embrace -- and ultimately expect -- the gradual transformation the band has undergone with each album since 1999's Black Sails in the Sunset. Where many bands get called out for signing to a major label or even just maturing their sound over time, AFI fans have chiefly stayed devoted to their ever-evolving goth-punk heroes. With that in mind, Decemberunderground comes as AFI's follow-up to their ambitious major-label smash Sing the Sorrow. Due to the clever production tricks employed on that album, fans might expect even more intricate arrangements, sound effects, and sonic landscapes to emerge from the wintry packaging of Decemberunderground. To an extent this is true, but it's more that the cloudy gloom permeating their career thus far has lifted, allowing a relatively tighter and lighter overall album to emerge. Take the band's traditional prelude for instance: this time it's infused with stirring strings and an uplifting dance-pop beat that is a far cry from the dark and eerie call-to-arms chants of previous albums. And though "Kill Caustic" (and later "Affliction") brings AFI's earlier hardcore punch, if you thought "Girl's Not Grey" was poppy, check out this record's lead single, "Miss Murder." Despite a slightly ominous undertone, the glam-tinged song is damn near playful and sunny amid bouncy rhythms, vaguely industrial beats, background "hey!"s (courtesy of AFI's fan brotherhood, the Despair Faction), and a bassline that could have been swiped from Green Day. The band further dips its hand into new wave exploits ("37mm"), truly stirring choruses ("Summer Shudder"), stark electro vibrations ("Love Like Winter"), and the customary ballad ("Endlessly, She Said"). AFI even comes as close as they probably ever will to sounding like U2 in "The Missing Frame." Somehow, the guys have managed to combine hardcore instincts with dark emo-coated lyrics, synth shimmies, gothic aesthetics, and electronic beats into a sound that still remains wholly AFI. So maybe that's why fans have stuck by the band over all these years. Even as the guys stretch and flex their songwriting muscles, they never fail to remember where they came from, instead using their past work as the foundation to their essential growth. Decemberunderground may have more fully realized doses of pop and electronic music present, but the core of AFI's sound never strays too far from what listeners have grown to love about them in the first place.
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AllMusic Review by Corey Apar