AFI are a band that, far and away, have one of the most dedicated yet divisive fan bases ever. The band began as a hardcore punk band but have since transitioned through an array of phases and eras reminiscent to careers like David Bowie or Alice Cooper. For those who were present to celebrate the release date, it’s probably pretty weird that AFI’s The Art Of Drowning turns 20 years old this year. In hindsight, the album was a turning point not only for AFI, but underground punk rock as a whole.
On September 19, 2000, AFI released The Art of Drowning, through Nitro Records. The album debuted on the Billboard charts at number 174. The album’s single, “The Days of the Phoenix,” was released and had some moderate mainstream success, garnering the band more TV and radio airplay.
It’s an album that defined a generation’s introduction to punk rock while simultaneously being the final straw for many original fans of the band. It continued to touch base with the horror and hardcore punk genre, but also expanded into styles that were a departure from previous works.
Art of Drowning also features AFI’s first use of electronic music in the beginning of “The Despair Factor,” whose title also eventually inspired the name of the band’s official fan club, The Despair Faction, a fervently loyal online community.
While largely considered to be the leftovers of what didn’t make it onto Black Sails in the Sunset, the album remains a go-to for many fans introducing friends to the band. The album explored more of the dark sides of the band members personality and committed from here on to a more gothic, verbal undertone. The foundation of hardcore and pop punk was just under this new surface, which is what made the album such a line in the sand. From song to song, it seemed like it couldn’t decide whether it wanted to get weird or stay safe.
Vocalist Davey Havok left behind all humor and lyrical quips in exchange for a rougher demeanor, one of angst and aggression. Touching on subjects of pain from depression, old punks felt alienated while thousands of kids felt heard. He sung less about hairstyles and more of anger and confusion.
Jade Puget carved out his place in the timeline of signature guitarists with specific sounds. A complete musical arsenal from clean tone strumming, accented mute notes, or classic palm-muted downstrokes combined with furious hardcore breakdowns and smatterings of guitar solos.
Bassist Hunter Burgan was brought to the front and center with a more crisp but still heavy bass tone and enigmatic approaches to bass lines. Adam Carson, founding member alongside Havok, maintained his steel backbone of guiding the band through a raucous and twisting narrative of new music ventures, reminding us why AFI propel us into reaction with rapid-fire pace.
The Art of Drowning was a moment of growing pains for AFI in terms of growing away from purist fans that had been down since day one, while at the same time serving as a declaration that the band was growing, and you were welcome to stay or go. They have made no apologies for their songwriting, nor should they. The album brought the band unprecedented success in the underground scene, selling in excess of 100,000 copies.
A now-infamous spoken phrase from the music video for “He Who Laughs Last” off of the band’s first album Answer That and Stay Fashionable, is an homage to the 1990 Scorsese film, Goodfellas; “As far back as I could remember, I always wanted to be in a hardcore band.”
Havok and company had done that, and now it was time to move onto something different. It’s impossible to appease fans forever, and the band knew that. Following the album’s success, the band would sign to DreamWorks and release their first major label album Sing The Sorrow, an even more amazing and divisive record.
The band continues to expand their sound and seemingly gain and lose legions of fans in the process. If the point of making music is pure, honest artistic expression with a hope of garnering a reaction, AFI continue to succeed in spades.
Find out more at AFI’s website.