Dark Matter

He thought he'd be writing books for a living, not riffs.

Then he got sick.

And from one dark cloud grew an even bigger one.

"Since I was very young, I always wanted to be an author. Even up through college, that was sort of my goal," says Jade Puget, guitarist for autumnal punks AFI. "But when I was in high school, I got mono, so I was home for like two months and I got a guitar for the first time. That was the beginning of me being a musician and wanting to play. It was sort of a lucky happenstance."

Still, good fortune isn't normally associated with these dudes. Thematically speaking, their tunes register like a series of rainy October days, lovelorn and dislocated, colored gray by cauterized emotion.

"There is nothing to me," frontman Davey Havok sings on the misleadingly titled "Okay, I Feel Better Now," from the band's latest album, "Crash Love." "There is nothing, though there was a time I felt elation."

You'd scarcely know it, though, judging from Havok's collected works. He's an exposed nerve throbbing with eyeliner-black sentiment.

"Davey's one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, but when it comes to a creative outlet, lyrically or musically, there is a huge dark side to what we want to do," Puget says. "Listening to music throughout my life, I've always found the darker, disturbing or sort of dirge-y music that other people might see as depressing as uplifting. I like to inject that into our music."

And he does.

That's AFI's forte.

No matter how downcast the band's repertoire may be, it seldom sounds as sullen as its subject matter. Sonically, AFI doesn't wallow in misery, they exorcise it. As such, their tunes are like pressure valves, letting off so much emotional steam.

This rings especially true on "Crash Love," a stirring, massive-sounding rock record.

Over the years, AFI has evolved from a straight-ahead, fast and furious punk rock band to a group that has steadily mined '80s depressives such as The Cure and Joy Division more and more, with Havok relying less on his hair-on-fire shriek in favor of a higher register croon, while the band has become increasingly pop savvy, blanketing a metallic guitar crunch in big, bright hooks and touches of electronic beats.

But whereas the digital flourish reached a high point on the band's 2006 disc, "Decemberunderground," "Crash Love" reverses that trajectory.

It's a much more stripped down, guitar-driven record with Puget's playing more in-your-face and muscular on songs such as "Too Shy Too Scream," which storms by on staccato riffing reminiscent of Marilyn Manson's "Beautiful People," and "Cold Hands," where Puget wields his instrument like a blowtorch.

"I really let the guitar take a backseat on 'Decemberunderground,' " he says. "A lot of the programming I did was just as prevalent. There was so much electronics on that record, that in order to do something different, we'd either have to do more electronics, which I don't think would be the right way to go, or do less. We opted for the latter."

The end result is one of the band's most invigorated sounding records. It's as if its members picked their scabs, only to bleed Red Bull.

But as has been the case with its most recent handful of discs, the band continues to sharpen at least a few new edges to its sound from album to album. This time around, AFI comes with some of their most unabashedly poppy material yet, especially the blithe "Veronica Sawyer Smokes," a ringing shot of sunshine.

If Havok's lyrics are often posited on mood swings, Puget seems out to ensure that the band's sound is a pendulum of its own.

"There really aren't very many boundaries on what we think we can do," he says. "If we ever reach the point where we sort of discovered what our sound is, then I think there will be no reason to go any further."

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.