There are few albums I can remember anticipating as much as The Amity Affliction‘s sophomore effort Youngbloods (2010). My friends and I were stoked its very Bring Me the Horizon-esque lead single, “I Hate Hartly”, and I remember making a special trip to the store on release day to pick it up—one of the last times I would actually purchase a physical copy of an album, let alone from an actual, physical outlet. I remember sitting in the car park and slipping the disc into the player to be greeted by the familiar staccato tones of “Hartly” as I flicked through the CD booklet (remember those?). It’s perhaps a great loss, for both the artist and listener, that moments of excitement like these rarely happen anymore, due to how instantly and easily accessible music has become. The moment, however, ultimately proved a defining moment of disappointment for me. The rest of Youngbloods grew less and less convincing as I drove home, and regular revisits have only confirmed rather than alleviated my reservations.
Nevertheless, Youngbloods wound up being a major success for the Brisbane band, propelling them to the forefront of both the Australian and international scenes. As time wore on, and the band’s music became softer and the band more self-serious it grew more and more apparent that they just weren’t for me anymore. Tomorrow sees the release of their sixth full-length outing, Misery, and—from what we’ve heard of the record so far—I highly doubt it will be doing anything to alleviate that feeling. And so, I find myself asking why I continue to check back in with the band regularly, and am seemingly incapable of ignoring anything new they put out? To answer that question we need to rewind to 2008, and their much-lauded, though now largely forgotten, debut record Severed Ties.
The first thing you’ll notice when comparing Severed Ties to The Amity Affliction’s later output is just how much more energized it feels. By 2008, the Australian hardcore and metalcore scene(s) had become overshadowed by heavier fare, such as Parkway Drive‘s Horizons (2007) and I Killed The Prom Queen‘s Music for the Recently Deceased (2006). As good as those records are, Severed Ties stood apart by offering a more upbeat and notably more punk-influenced alternative. The Amity Affliction weren’t trying to be the fastest, heaviest band around. They simply put their heads together and came up with a selection of songs that were fun to sing along and rock out to. Their debut is as infectious as it is frantic. The darker undercurrents that would come to colour their later records are certainly present. However, they punctuate rather than dominate proceedings; for what sets Severed Ties apart from all other Amity offerings is its overwhelming sense of fun.
The record also perfectly captured its contemporary zeitgeist. The songs are frequently interspersed with samples and references from then-recently released Lonely Island cult comedy classic Hot Rod (2007). The use of movie samples in metalcore songs had become beyond cliche by 2008. Hell, Parkway Drive more or less built their career off having Bruce Willis say “Yippee-ki-yay motherfucker!” in the middle of one of their songs (which itself is named after a line from a movie). Yet their use on Severed Ties is entirely tongue in cheek. The revelation of Frank’s illness is used to surprisingly dramatic effect during the bridge of the album’s striking closer “Stairway to Hell”, which also features a guest spot from I Killed the Prom Queen’s JJ Peters—then first striking it out on his own with Deez Nuts (another band who have only become more and more self-serious). The record also features spots from then-buzzworthy acts Confession, Ironhide, The Getaway Plan and The Daylight Curse; and, of course, there’s the obligatory, “ironic” metalcore cover of a pop-song—this time in the form of Pat Benatar‘s ’80s classic “Love is a Battlefield”. Again, the track has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. Yet it also forms an essential part of the record’s makeup—smartly placed as the penultimate number, rather than merely tacked on at the end—and its lyrical content renders it an appropriate indictment of the scene at the time, as much as the direction the band would take in years to come.
Severed Ties is also defined by its melodicism. While their contemporaries largely let the riffs and the beatdowns do the talking, The Amity Affliction’s sound is built around the vocal interplay of Joel Birch and Ahren Stringer. Both possess a unique timbre, which can be off-putting at first but ultimately wind up being just another element that set the band apart from their competitors. The continued ironing out of each of Birch and Stringer’s idiosyncrasies as their records grow ever more processed is one the band’s greatest losses. Birch, who was once the driving force behind the band has largely taken a backseat position over their last couple of records and has even started to delve into the world of clean vocals here and there. Yet the interaction between him and Stringer is so potent here that any further developments only feel like a setback by comparison. Stringer has also taken over the role of keyboards and programming following the departure of dedicated keyboardist Trad Nathan in 2003. Electronics have simultaneously become more and more a part of the band’s sound. Yet they too, have rarely been used as effectively throughout the band’s catalog as they are here, especially on tracks like “B.D.K.I.A.F.” and “Fruity Lexia”.
I’ve taken more than a few undue swipes at The Amity Affliction during my time as a writer, and little the band have done since Severed Ties (with perhaps the slight exception of 2014’s Let the Ocean Take Me) has excited me the way they once did. Yet, my own personal disappointment only reflects the love I once held for the band and which continues to be inspired every time I revisit the album. (I’m listening to Youngbloods as I write this, and it’s not nearly as bad as I remember. Although that may still only be in comparison to what came after, I certainly don’t begrudge the band their success, and at some point I know I’ll have to let go. That point really should have come a long time ago, and I can hardly expect the band to speak to me the same way they did when I was eighteen. Nevertheless, there’s a vibrancy and deftness to their debut (not to mention a self-awareness) that just doesn’t feel present on their later records. As I grew up and moved on from The Amity Affliction, they moved away from the sound Severed Ties. However, it seems we’ll both forever be chasing the lofty standard it set, and which continues to reverberate to this day.
The Amity afflictions new album, Misery, is out tomorrow via Roadrunner Records. Order and stream it here. Severed Ties is available through UNFD and still rules just as much as it did the day it came out.