If there’s one criticism even the biggest fans of The Amity Affliction will admit, it’s that the regional Queensland oceancore overlords have stagnated a little in recent years. The sound of their last two albums – 2014’s Let The Ocean Take Me and 2016’s This Could Be Heartbreak – is almost indistinguishable, much to the chagrin of those adamant that Amity’s full potential is just a short hop away.
But on their recent Misery LP, the trio has taken much more than a short hop forward; they’ve made a full-on cannonball into the deep end of a dark pop wasteland underpinned by their signature emo-metalcore gruffness. Ambitious? Sure, but as frontman Joel Birch explains, it was crucial in ensuring The Amity Affliction’s longevity.
“It’s easily the best thing we’ve ever done,” he says. “It’s what we’ve needed to do for a while now, but I guess we just weren’t ready, or we were scared – scared of making a departure from what safe music was for us. We’ve always tried to better ourselves with each record, but I think it just was time for a really significant change. I think we’ve done it tastefully, though, and I don’t really think we’ve left Amity fans in the dust. There’s something on there for everyone, and I’m really proud of the album we made – and I can say that with great confidence this time around.”
Amity’s newfound synth-flavouring has been a long time coming. As they made it known at this year’s UNIFY Gathering, the band have strayed from their roots as a balls-to-the-wall breakdown factory. Teaming up with pop producer Matt Squire (whose production credits include Underoath, Panic! At The Disco, Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato) was a gutsy move, too. So it needs to be asked: do Amity still feel at home in the heavy music community that fostered them in their infancy? Or have they grown disillusioned with the culture?
“Yes and no,” Birch says. “I would say that’s a ‘two sides of the coin’ type of argument. I think for us, we’ve outgrown the heavy music scene. Even though we still had our foot in the door with This Could Be Heartbreak, our hearts were sort of moving on.
“I know Dan [Brown, guitar] started writing for this album not long after This Could Be Heartbreak came out, and he wrote, like, 30 songs or something – we had pretty much a whole album in the bag. And then about a year out from that, we just scrapped everything and started again. We recorded ‘Ivy’ around this time last year, in a bus in some forest in Europe. And when we recorded that, we were like, ‘This is it. This is where we’ve gotta be right now – we’ve gotta crack this code.’ And we did – even more drastically on a lot of songs.”
Birch notes Amity’s new vibe as “what everyone needed to hear, and what we needed to write,” but that may be a tad hypocritical. As the longtime screamer points out, listening back on Misery was a taxing process for himself, thanks in no short part to a mental health crisis he found himself in midway through the creative process.
“So I only listened to it for the first time, front to back, about four or five days ago,” Birch admits. “And… It was super traumatic. I got diagnosed with bipolar disorder when we got home from [the first recording sessions], and I actually had a huge mental breakdown while I was recording vocals. I got home from pre-production and lost my passport, so I had to record in Toronto over to Newcastle and I wasn’t allowed into America.
“There was a massive storm brewing as well when I was scheduled to come home, so I got stuck in Toronto and just had a fucking meltdown. It was all very scary for me – I really didn’t know what was going on with my brain and I felt like I was going crazy. I’d spent the year leading up to it writing the lyrics, but I didn’t really look at them or read them. I guess recording what I’d written made me think about it all again, and then I had a meltdown, so… It wasn’t a nice experience, but I think it paid off in the end.”
Driving the main campaign for Misery is a three-part drama short, written and co-directed by Birch, which tells the story of three small town hoodlums with a (justified) bloodthirst for revenge. It’s something Amity have dipped their toes into previously, with the Heartbreak album cycle driven by its own death-themed anthology. But where Misery differs is in its magnitude – it’s not just a simple string of music videos with an interlocking narrative; it’s a dedicated project in its own right, with its own creative architecture and a powerful (and extremely pertinent) moral overtone.
“It has a lot to do with the current climate regarding sexual abuse,” Birch says. “I guess it’s my way of showing where we stand on that as a band, and telling that story through the lens of the ‘classic Australian criminal’. In Australia, we’re all pretty obsessed with criminals for one reason or another – they’ve become these romantic figureheads of our culture, and that archetype is obviously a myth that’s been created somehow. But I thought it was an interesting way to make a statement like that.
“We were also really conscious of finally making a very Australian film clip. Some guy was actually trying to talk shit on us, saying, ‘Oh, it plays out like some late night B-grade Australian crime movie,’ and I was like, ‘No shit! That’s exactly what it’s meant to be.’ So I guess we’ve achieved our goal there. It’s cool. I like it. I like how Australian it is, and I like that we’ve finally been given the chance to create something special like this.”
Misery is out now via Roadrunner/Warner Music, order here.