AFI, an unusual hard-rock band, recruited veteran producers Butch Vig and Jerry Finn -- an unusual duo -- to produce its major- label debut, Sing the Sorrow. Vig made his name producing Nirvana's Nevermind and built on his heavy-but-dreamy style with Smashing Pumpkins and Garbage (for whom Vig drums). Conversely, Finn is known for work with Green Day and Blink-182, punks whom you'll never catch frowning, and whose hooks are as sugary as they are snotty. No surprise, then, that AFI, which has a predilection to go dark, feels the freedom to challenge itself, dipping into gothic electro, grunge, and metal balladry without losing the notion that it's creating uplifting pop songs. It's Vig for sound and diversity, Finn for structure and glory.

Examine Sing the Sorrow's opener, "Miseria Cantare -- The Beginning," at once a soundtrack for hell and a football anthem, spine-tingling and catchy as hell. Ominous industrial drums and spooky keyboard effects build as band members, portraying Vikings, chant things like "You are now one of us," and singer Davey Havok wails something about "one dark flame." The band meshes moods even more effectively on "Girl's Not Grey," which on first listen you might swear is a pissed-off Blink-182. Thanks to meticulous planning, AFI launches into nu-metal without falling into nu-metal laziness.

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