With so much aural greatness flooding the airwaves or running through various electronic devices, it sometimes proves to be difficult to branch out and explore other musicians through their works. Once a month, an album released during that month (from any potential year) is reviewed and given an answer of whether or not it’s worth listening to. For this month, I look at AFI’s fifth full-length release, “The Art of Drowning”.
“The Art of Drowning”
Released: September 19, 2000
Genre: Punk Rock
Number of Tracks: 14
While in high school, the New York native turned Californian David Passaro would join three of his friends to form a band later dubbed “A Fire Inside”. Passaro – going by the stage name “Davey Havok” – would see the creation die before reforming with different members and a deeper meaning to his music after spending his college years in UC Berkeley. By the latter half of the 1990s, AFI had released four studio albums, crafted a nice following and helped kick start the beginning of what would become a mainstream punk revolution.
I wasn’t unfamiliar with AFI’s music having become a fan after the release of their sixth album, “Sing the Sorrow”. I bounced around, picking up whatever CD (both LP and EPs) of the band I came across. On one random day my eyes finally fell upon their follow up to the incredible “Black Sails in the Sunset”; deciding it was worth picking up on band-name value alone.
The album starts off hauntingly enough thanks to Jade Puget’s slow guitar strumming. As the song (barely thirty seconds) advances, it feels like an individual has just wandered into the great unknown, unprepared for what was either in front or even behind him/her. Before one can become comfortable with their surroundings, the lights shoot on and a blistering sonic blast of guitar and bass (thanks to Hunter Burgan for the latter) interrupts any peace looking to be found in “The Lost Souls”. Echoing in the background, yet not forgotten are Adam Carson’s drums. And in the middle of it all is Davey Havok singing while almost sounding like Zack De La Rocha from the band Rage Against the Machine. Those aforementioned feelings coming from the album’s second song continues into its third track, “The Nephilim”.
Just when things seem relatively predictable, the tone switches up and “Ever and a Day” slows the show down. Focusing on Puget’s playing and Havok leading the Goth-choir chorus, the atmosphere created during the song is that of fog settling on a wandering soul who’s lost their way without evening knowing the truth. Giving you that moment to “rest” yourself, AFI picks up the pace again and continues to treat the listener with its punk-influenced style featuring fast drumming, ripping guitar riffs and thumping bass lines under the direction of a lamenting Mad Hatter. It’s truly a testament to the skills of each band member as one could focus on a single player/instrument and get mesmerized.
If there’s anything that sounds a little out of the ordinary on the record it’s the ninth track, “Days of the Phoenix”. This tune bordering on pop punk is very approachable for individuals interested in the AFI sound, but comes across as almost a false pretense as almost nothing else on the album sounds like it. Yet, it’s the precursor to the band’s evolution and what would become the style that exposed them to a new group of fans who would follow them like many of the longing, broken characters searching for something once-unattainable during the record. The album doesn’t lose its focus even if it does slow down slightly during the final act, concluding with an up-tempo version of “Initiation” fleshed out and given words. “Morningstar” is as haunting as it is beautifully structured. It starts slow (like the formation of a star), picks up pace (as said star falls to Earth) and ends in a whisper (burning out before the impending collision). All of this is going on while Havok belts out, “Am I your anything?” The song is a personal high point in not only the album, but the band’s entire catalogue. Oh, and don’t cut off the album too soon after “Morningstar” concludes.
You can’t write about an album like this and not look at the concepts provided lyrically. The “dark” heart and soul of “The Art of Drowning” is mostly based on humans dealing with the various struggles they face through their lifetimes. From looking for acceptance in “The Nephilim (“The seasons change without me. I remain in shadows growing wings.”) to being the reason a person isn’t able to grow or enjoy life by being with their significant other during “Ever and a Day” (“Will you help me to get through? Will you be my destruction? Will you help me to be through?”) some of the topics aren’t revolutionary, but still meaningful.
There are some religious overtones gracing several songs including the previously mentioned “The Nephilim” (a nephilim is the offspring of an angel and a human being, and, according to the Bible, all nephilim were condemned to Hell alongside Lucifer and his fallen angels). For the band and its fans, they can relate to a creature born of this world, yet doesn’t belong and is downtrodden due to something out of its control. “Smile” looks at the imperfection of man and God’s lack of rectifying “human blasphemy”. “Drowning’s” lyrical content is varied and profound, but might easily lose its true essence on people unprepared or unwilling to search deeper into what Havok and his crew are saying.
“The Art of Drowning” only suffers from a lack of appreciation. Coming only one year after the band’s highly acclaimed fifth album, AFI’s next attempt at pushing their musical style in another direction got lost in the shuffle between “Black Sails Over Sunset” and “Sing the Sorrow”. Thankfully, this album doesn’t drown in a sea of pretentious, superficial lyrics and stereotypical punk rock sounds. “The Art of Drowning” shines as brightly as the star beneath the stairs. High recommendation for rock fans, individuals interested in new millennium punk, people who like lyrical depth, and/or those simply wanting to headbang and mosh a little bit.
Standout Tracks: “The Nephilim”, “Ever and a Day”, “Of Greetings and Goodbyes”, “The Days of the Phoenix”, “Wester”, “6 to 8”, and “Morningstar”.