Album Review: AFI – The Art of Drowning (Nitro Records)

To say AFI were big in the late 90’s/early 00’s would be something of an understatement, they were huge! Coming off the back of the very popular Black Sails in the Sunset it would only be a little over a year until the band released what is often considered their most popular album, The Art of Drowning.

For me, AFI’s blend of pop-punk was something that just hit all the right notes as I was growing up and finding my feet in the rock and metal world. The Art of Drowning was a record that I listened to so much in the early 00’s but it wasn’t a quality album from beginning to end.

Like many of the bands during my late-teens AFI fell by the way-side as my taste changed so going back to this album after so long was always going to be an interesting experience. Would a seminal pop-punk record that spoke to a generation hold up in 2016?

The short intro Initiation leads into the pacey little number, The Lost Souls which cements the punk sound that made the band so popular. As intros go it’s the perfect way to start off an album that is tinged with despair and darkness.

In fact, lyrically this might be one of the most sombre AFI albums with a constant undercurrent of hopelessness about the world. The ‘emo’ tagline is often used in a negative way nowadays but AFI embodied that style of music way before the likes of My Chemical Romance had even become a thing.

Ever and a Day is proof of that with an ear-pleasing opening riff. A slower song that highlights the gothic edge that band has, it’s very catchy & is a great showcase of Davey Havok’s voice. It’s got some great use of bass throughout but ends on a flat note.

Sacrifice Theory is a bit too reliant on ‘woo ooh’ vocal moments but the sudden change at the end is incredible. Very exciting to hear and a highlight of the 14 track album.

As I said above the bass is used well throughout and is often the driving force behind a lot of the melodies, improving songs when they were dragging on or just a bit flat. A Story at Three’s slow dark intro disappointingly leads into a similar sounding beat that can be heard throughout the album but the highlight is when the song drops out letting the bass lead, it’s a really pretty moment & really takes your breath away. It’s something of an epic in the end thanks to that.

Track 9 is probably one of the bands most well-known, The Days of the Phoenix as it had its own video and was released as a single. It’s a bland song, uninspiring and a sign of a decline in quality for the remainder of the album.

Songs like Catch a Hot One and the Despair Factor do little to excite & it’s fairly obvious that this album probably should have ended a few songs ago. I mean it’s not all bad, Wester has some good guitar work while 6 to 8 offers something a bit different with a meaty guitar solo at the end.

The last song on the album, Morningstar is 11 minutes long & I know exactly what you’re thinking…an 11 minute AFI song? That’s a hell of an ask but it was intriguing to see just what AFI could do with that amount of time. My head said: 11 minutes of screwing around, fast blasting moments, maybe some spoken word while my heart said an epic finish combining everything good that came before.

Both my head and heart where right in the end as it begins with a great guitar only intro that slips in Havok’s soft vocals nicely. Violins!? The song is something special and it feels like an ending song that is until it abruptly finishes at just over the 3-minute mark! The rest of the song is just silence until there is less than a minute left. It then suddenly flicks back on into a fast brief punk rock piece. Absolutely pointless.

The Art of Drowning is ‘of a time’, there is no escaping that fact. It’s pop-punk style can be both pleasing to the ear and an irritation at times. For every good song on the album there is at least two that are average or worse. That being said I expected to hate most of it so it was a nice surprise to enjoy several of the tracks.

Full Track List:

1. Initiation
2. The Lost Souls
3. Nephilim
4. Ever And A Day
5. Sacrifice Theory
6. Of Greetings And Goodbyes
7. Smile
8. A Story At Three
9. Days Of The Phoenix
10. Catch A Hot One
11. Wester
12. 6 To 8
13. The Despair Factor
14. Morningstar

AFI - The Art of Drowning (Nitro Records)
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