Review Summary: Although the instrumentation is impressive, and the pace is fast and raw, The Art Of Drowning is too repetitive and lifeless to be thoroughly enjoyed.
When it comes to a band like AFI, it would seem that there is something for everyone. They are a band with such a lengthy career, with now 7 albums and 5 EPs that have elapsed over almost 2 decades. I can think of no other band that has evolved and morphed it’s sound over the years as much as AFI. Comparing their latest album, Decemberunderground to their first, Answer That And Stay Fashionable, the differences between the two are enormous, you wouldn’t even recognize that it’s the same band on both albums. In the early 90s, AFI were no more than a punk band, through and through. With a thrashy, angry sound speaking of rebellion and angst, AFI had a sound that was raw, yet generic to the time. But nearing the new millennium, two of AFI’s members left the band, and were replaced by Jade Puget and Hunter Burgan, these new members really changed the formula of AFI, and the band began to sought after a different, more mature sound. This different style began on Black Sails In The Sunset, and has continued onto their 2000 release, The Art Of Drowning. Some hail this as their masterpiece and one of the greatest albums of all time. Some, do not.
The Art Of Drowning has bits and pieces of all of the different sounds of AFI. It has the speed and aggression of their previous work, but has the dark mysterious vibe that has lead them to mainstream glory on their later releases, and this mix of sound is the problem. The instrumentation on The Art Of Drowning is very punk-like, with very charging and fast, yet phenomenal bass licks, which tend to lead a good chunk of these songs. This is followed by some decent drumming, but not really noticeable overall. The guitar parts are likely the weakest part of this album, but the genre might be at more fault then Jade Puget. But the ball is really dropped when it comes to guitar on this album. Yes, there is the occasional interesting riff here and there, but its mostly just power chords being played in most of these songs, it really adds nothing captivating to the sound, and makes everything quite repetitive. To be fair though, Jade does mix in a solo here and there, but none are very good, the small solo in 6 to 8 hails in comparison to the likes of Dancing Through Sunday and Death Of Seasons on Sing The Sorrow.
The last part of AFI is of course their front man, Davey Havock who has more ups and downs on this album then a Ferris wheel. My biggest gripe and disappointment in Davey’s delivery is that Davey can sing, and sing well. But he ditches away his talent for yelping and yelling through most of the songs. There is a constant attack of speed and aggression through the course of the album from the instruments, and I can understand that it would require a vocalist that can scream and howl well to suit the mood of the instruments, but unfortunately, Davey simply can’t. He sounds down-right terrible, and what’s a shame is that he can sing terrifically, but I just find it hard to listen to him on many of these songs.
Another big issue that arrives within this album is the fact that there are gang chants in every single song. On every one there is a loud background chant from the other members in the choruses, and it gets irritating to hear, again and again. Now don’t get me wrong, I like the odd gang chant here and there(Turn Soonest To The Sea anyone?) but It would drive anyone nuts to hear it on every song on an album. It really adds more to how repetitive the songs get. The only saving grace is that some of the gang chants are quite good, especially on Wester and The Lost Souls.
The lyrics are trademark AFI, speaking of strange and confusion situations or events. But the huge problem is that these lyrics are completely lifeless on The Art Of Drowning. These dark, abstract lyrics are interesting to read in the lyric book, but the instruments don’t reflect anything that the lyrical passages try to capture. These brilliant words are stuck in this constant prison of charging bass and power chords. The lyrics really fit on AFI’s latest albums because the instruments reflected exactly what the lyrics were capturing. Here the lyrics and instruments are two completely different parts of the music that don’t mix or fit within each other.
The album has so much potential, the opener Initiation really draws you in and allows you to expect greatness throughout the rest of the album, still not to the effect that Miseria Cantare or Prelude 12/21 has on you. The majority of the songs have some good in them, but then are just ruined by the lack of interesting guitar, the generic gang chants thrown in or Davey sub-par yelling. A great example of a good and bad song is A Story At Three. It starts with an excellent, chilling opening riff, followed by the drums and bass leading alongside it. But then at the 45 second mark, all of that is thrown away. Davey starts to yell and groan, and the power chords rein in and then our lovely gang chants show their face in the chorus. But as soon as you think all hope is lost, the guitar cuts out and a remarkable bridge comes into play. The song is slowed down, Davey begins to sing, very well, and the bass plays along with him, with some anthem-like qualities to it. And as soon as that lasts for a minute, it’s back to the boring gang chant chorus ending.
But the worst case of some great potential being lost is at the very end of the album, with my favorite song on The Art Of Downing, which is Morningstar. For once the band tones it down, and plays a wonderful, melancholy ballad that actually breathes some emotion into this lifeless album. Davey is at his finest, leading the song with some sweetly sung passages, with the rest of the band playing gracefully behind him. Even violins begin to play, just adding to the beauty. This wonder lasts for the majority of the song, but then around 2 and half minutes, the song takes a turn for the worse, Davey begins to yelp and the rest of the band ditches the tremendous feeling of the first half of the song, and ends the album in the same cliché way that’s in the course of the whole record. But wait, the album isn’t over yet. After 7 minutes of dead air, we have a boring, immature and completely unnecessary bonus track.
The Art Of Drowning does have some great qualities to it, the instruments are top- notch(to the exception of the guitar, at most times) and this record has some of the best bass performances I’ve ever heard. But this is also one it’s major flaw. The lyrical approach is completely opposite what the instrumental direction is, which leaves both in a mess over-all. A major problem that most albums have is repetitiveness, and this one is no exception. With mostly power chords throughout the songs, bass riffs that are amazing, but are similar to each other, and gang chants in every chorus really makes the songs blend in too much with each other. I can’t help but dislike this album, despite its relative charms. On rare occasion, a few parts in songs show a chilling, abstract side that AFI are known for. But unfortunately, it is just too lost within all of the problems of the album.