I SEE DEAD PEOPLE
A CONVERSATION WITH AHREN STRINGER OF THE AMITY AFFLICTION
The frailty of life has been explored through music since its earliest roots, artists creating bleak portrayals of reality or giving legs to the heaviest emotions so they can walk among us, personified. It creates a connection to the listener that is unmatched as there are many different levels to the concept of death and the aftermath, be it our own or that of others. When combining those two, it forms a miasma of pain that follows us throughout our days while we fight to keep our head above the haze. This very sentiment, the burden of life yet aware of the ones who would be left clawing at your absence, creates the foundation for the album Not Without My Ghosts, the eighth LP from Australian metalcore band The Amity Affliction. Sorrow, misery, and anguish are not new topics for the band, as evident through their discography, but the transparency and weight to the material burrows through a different level for them that bassist Ahren Stringer calls “a release.”
Musically, the one thing that sets Not Without My Ghosts apart from the rest of the band’s offerings is the heightened focus on the heavier side of their music. Living in the throes of what seemed to be an infinite pandemic, with death as tangible as the world around us, led the band to create the EP Somewhere Beyond the Blue in 2021, garnering intense positivity from their fanbase on the direction of their sound. Due to that reaction, they delved further, vocalist Joel Birch tearing down any emotional walls and letting listeners see inside and hear the honesty on living in a climate of loss, of wanting to escape life but being pulled back by the faces of our ghosts (those who will mourn us). “He has been opening himself up with his lyrics the whole time we have been a band,” Stringer comments, “I think it’s actually a little more vulnerable when it comes out and people hear it than while recording it.” And with that vulnerability key to their vision, the band took over the helm of production for the first time to ensure that the foundations were set as they wanted so that the music could properly convey the message. The structure and tone for the record were very clear from the beginning so with the members being behind the board, it allowed for their vision to be clearly traced through the process of concept to post, letting the music go into much heavier territory while maintaining the elements of the core sound to the Amity Affliction. That in itself is a daunting feat, one that without the freedom of authority they had over the record there is a strong chance that it would not have reached the same heights that they strived for and, ultimately, achieved.
There are several variations found on this LP than on previous ones: the tone, the increase in harsh vocals, the features (including a tribute to New Zealand rapper Louie Knoxx), to where without being grounded to the message it could result in either a slog of a process or the entire thing abandoned. Change does not always equal success, even while keeping core elements of the sound throughout, so the final product is key to the concept of “why” as well as the relationship between the members themselves. The lyrics and music are written as separate entities, with Dan Brown (guitarist) and Stringer taking what Birch has written and putting it to music that they feel fits the best. That level of understanding lends itself to an approach that Stringer considered very natural, that despite the new inclusions to the record it posed very few challenges for them, allowing for the despair and finality of “I See Dead People” to become palpable, the emptiness of “Fade Away” to be felt no matter where we may be in our lives during the first listen. Without the above components, the music and lyrics would remain separate, and the weight wouldn’t be much more than a stack of paper, with the whole experience passing through as thin as a ghost.
The totality of this record is based on the pride and precision the band had, Stringer reiterating the fluid nature in the studio and the immense amount of fun they had while creating Not Without My Ghosts. It could certainly be argued that without the band at the seat of production it would not carry the significance that it has. Connection and understanding of experiences is not only integral to The Amity Affliction, but to their fanbase as well. Taking tender care to make sure that the music and lyrics fell together to create a solid whole elevates that sense of “being heard” amongst their fans. Because as meaningful as it is for a band to have listeners be supportive of the anguish they express, the same is true for listeners to have an album that seems to have been listening to them all along, something that makes their fans as dedicated as they are, making every long day in the studio, every bout of writer’s block, all worth it in the end.