THE criticism The Amity Affliction received from their passionate fan base following the release of their albums Misery (2018) and Everyone Loves You... Once You Leave Them (2020) was acutely felt within the band.
Misery, in particular, saw the Queensland post-hardcore heavyweights explore more melodic and textured sounds. Frontman Joel Birch sung clean vocals and synths and programmed beats were added to their usual distorted guitar onslaught.
Tracks like the synth-pop moment, Feels Like I'm Dying, had some fans questioning whether they were listening to their beloved band dying. Reviews from critics were just as scathing.
"We did Misery because we felt like it. It was met with equal parts adulation and hatred," Birch says with a wry laugh.
"As a musician that's something that never gets easy unfortunately, the lack of filter on the public vitriol that you get to experience when you put out music.
"It was different for us as it was still close to our heart, and I still think it's good."
Recording these songs and listening back it was like 'f--k you, listen to this', because it's heavy.- Joel Birch, The Amity Affliction
Asked if the heightened nature of the criticism was due to the devotion The Amity Affliction's fans have for their older material, Birch doesn't hide his hurt.
"I listen to bands, obviously, and have bands where I'm so obsessed with one album that honestly there's nothing they could ever do which would be good to me," he says.
"I just don't go on the internet and tell people."
After touring Misery and Everyone Loves You... Once You Leave Them Birch says he and his bandmates Ahren Stringer (bass, clean vocals), Dan Brown (guitar) and Joe Longobardi (drums) realised it's the heaviest moments on stage that make them the happiest. And their fans, too.
"It's so much more fun," Birch says. "It's more dynamic and our crowd is dynamic.
"Our crowd aren't much of a stand-and-listen crowd, they've always been very loud and very rowdy.
"It feels like it's the music we should give them, because it's what we like to get back from them as well. It's very much a give and take."
That spirit was taken into the studio when The Amity Affliction recorded their eighth album Not Without My Ghosts, released in May. It was hailed as a return to the heavy sound they harnessed on their ARIA No.1 albums Chasing Ghosts (2012) and Let The Ocean Take Me (2014).
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't," Birch says, when asked if the criticism of Misery spurred the band in the studio.
"Recording these songs and listening back it was like, 'f--k you, listen to this', because it's heavy."
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Ever since The Amity Affliction exploded onto the post-hardcore scene with their 2008 debut album Severed Ties, Birch's lyrics have been dissected and critiqued for meaning.
The lyrics have often explored his violent childhood, his battles with substance abuse, suicidal ideation and his bi-polar diagnosis.
Birch says he's become a more honest lyricist.
He admits there were times when felt overly conscious about how his words would be interpreted by his audience and the responsibility shackled him.
"After [the album] Let The Ocean Take Me I felt I was limiting the way in which I could express myself, as I was trying to put positive spins on things that didn't feel positive," he says.
"It felt like every song had to have a story kind of thing. A beginning, a middle and a conclusion, whereas the way I feel has no conclusion, it's an ongoing situation I deal with.
"As is the same for anyone with mental illness. For me, I'm never going to wake up and feel better, unfortunately.
"It felt somewhat forced and disingenuous. On Misery, it's called that because it's what I was going through. I was feeling really f--ked and I decided to write about it and I felt way better."
After steering back to their heavier roots, Birch ensures that is the path forward for The Amity Affliction. It's the music that makes their fans, and most importantly, the band itself, happiest.
"The music industry sucks and it can really suck the joy out of things, so if we're not making sure we're putting the joy into the main part of it, which is performing, than it seems a bit pointless," he says. "Continuing to find the joy in performing is very important. Probably the most important part."
The Amity Affliction play Wests, Tamworth (January 4); C.EX, Coffs Harbour (January 5); UC Refectory, Canberra (January 11); Waves, Wollongong (January 12); Bar On The Hill, Newcastle (January 13); Panthers, Penrith (January 14); Beer Deluxe, Albury (January 18) with special guests Alpha Wolf, Terminal Sleep and Run.
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