Sing the Sorrow, their DreamWorks debut, isn't the wholesale departure from AFI's roots that some longtime fans griped about. It is merely the next step on a path that began with 1999's Black Sails in Sunset, the first album to feature guitarist Jade Puget. Assuming the role of principal songwriter, Puget wrapped vocalist Davey Havok's gothic tendencies in songs that put a finer point on the aggressive hardcore of AFI's earlier material, and massaged hooks from a morass of crashing rhythm, punk rock riffs, and Havok's opaque lyrics. The backing of DreamWorks meant that AFI could now hire major-league production to tweak what Puget had started. And they did. Work on AFI's major-label bow began in August of 2002 at L.A.'s Cello Studios, with Butch Vig (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins) and Jerry Finn (Green Day, Rancid) at the helm. Emerging in early 2003 with Sing the Sorrow, it's clear the molting process AFI began with Black Sails in Sunset is complete. Vig and Finn kept the band's nucleus of pummeling California hardcore but stretched the songs lengthwise to incorporate greater lyrical introspection for Havok and even more attention to melody than on previous efforts. Oscillating between churning verses and intersecting solos and riffs, "The Great Disappointment" is like junior-varsity Fugazi, while the heroic emo chord changes of "This Celluloid Dream" transform Havok's preening wail into a sensitive croon, and single "Girls Not Grey" is a car-radio singalong of pure genius. It's true that the anthemic backing vocal choruses of material like "Girls Not Grey" and "Bleed Black" make the songs more pop than hardcore or even Havok's beloved goth. And the distorted synth and drum programming on "Silver and Cold" and "Death of Seasons" is a cheeky production trick that isn't very successful when married to the songs' upbeat choruses. But neither the producers nor the band went overboard. Just when the strings, piano, and rainstorm effects threaten to turn Sing the Sorrow into a My Dying Bride album, there is a burst of hardcore like "Dancing Through Sunday" to recall California pioneers of the genre like Dead Kennedys or SST transplants Hüsker Dü. Whatever factions of the band's longterm fans might think of their major-label affiliation, Sing the Sorrow represents a coalescing of the band's sound. And that's fine with AFI. "People have always either hated us or loved us," guitarist Puget told MTV.com, "And the reactions tend to be pretty extreme on both sides, but the hatred is just as cool because people are actually reacting. It's either, 'F*ck those guys,' or 'I f*ckin' love AFI. They rock.'"
AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus