Afi are the musical incarnation of life. No other band has ever shown such actual growth and eventual maturity. It's as if Afi started off as an infant and grew, over the course of their career thus far, into a deep and brooding intellectual. Just look how far they've come from the Dork
EP. They've also displayed growing pains, as their musical transitions were not always completely perfect. The bratty hardcore excellence of Very Proud of Ya
to the seminal darkness of Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes
could be considered a step in the wrong direction for the group. So too, could their evolution from the sounds on their masterpiece, 2003's Sing the Sorrow
to the recent Decemberunderground
, a decent album in its own right, but not one showcasing a positive metamorphosis into something better. Of course, Afi's lifespan, much like any human's, has also had plenty of constructive turns. The change from their sound on Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes
to that of Black Sails in the Sunset
was the most important development in the band's career. It was the launching point of what Afi was to become, and is considered by many to be their finest hour. Their peak of perfection. However, there was another album released in the interim between the near-legendary Black Sails in the Sunset
and the band's defining moment Sing the Sorrow
. That album is considered by a portion (albeit a smaller one) of Afi's fan base to be their finest hour. Their peak of perfection. That album is known as The Art of Drowning
Released in 2000, a mere year after Black Sails in the Sunset
, it's easy to see why The Art of Drowning
is oftentimes overlooked in favor of its older brother. At this time in Afi's life, fans were still surprised by how much the music had began to change. While it was stills staying true to its hardcore roots, Afi were beginning to steal a page from the horror-punk acts of the 80s, as they crafted rougher songs with boundless depth and meaning. The addition of Jade Puget on guitar and Hunter Burgan on bass (to replace Mark Stopholese and Geoff Kresge respectively) from a period of 1997 to 1998 brought new, refreshing songwriting ideas into the A Fire Inside formula. Gone were the a "I Wanna Get A Mohawk (But My Mom Won't Let Me Get One)" days, to be replaced by something better, something grander. The Art of Drowning
may be considered to be just the dregs of whatever didn't make it onto Black Sails in the Sunset
, but it is much more than that.
Every member of Afi poured their heart and soul into their performance on this record. Front man Davey Havok's best singing (for the time) can be found on this album. He hits all the right notes, knowing when to go all out and when to be conservative. Havok casts a rough demeanor on The Art of Drowning
, one of angst and rancor, essentially one of pure punk rock. However, that's not to say that he makes Afi sound inaccessible, as the exact opposite is true. Havok along with his chorus of backing vocalists become a deep and profound voice for the adolescent Afi, albeit one full of anger and confusion. Jade Puget crafts some of the greatest riffs in punk history on The Art of Drowning
. Pulling a complete arsenal of everything from peaceful clean or palm-muted lines, to furious hardcore-influence breakdowns, to smatterings of guitar solos (still a relatively new concept to Afi's sound). Hunter asserts his position as one of contemporary punk's most talented bassists on The Art of Drowning
, continuing Afi's tradition of highly audible, and completely kickass basslines. Adam Carson, founding member alongside Havok, adds his talent behind the drum kit, pounding the skins with an authoritative air, and further adding to The Art of Drowning
's furious (yet enjoyable) assault on your ears. Combine the spectacular, attitude filled instrumentation with the superbly written lyrics and near-perfect presentation, and you have what was quite possibly the first truly great punk album of the new millennium.
The album begins with Puget's hauntingly atmospheric guitar work, on the appropriately titled "Initiation." A simple, muted lead-in, the introduction quickly thrashes it's way into an all-out sonic attack. While "Initiation" is a relatively inane introductory track when compared to the likes of "Keeping Out Of Direct Sunlight" (Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes
), "Strength Through Wounding" (Black Sails in the Sunset
) or the latter "Miseria Cantare: The Beginning" (Sing the Sorrow
), it accomplished its goal of setting the mood for the album quite well. The uncomfortable feeling that Jade's guitar conveys in the beginning quickly becomes total chaos, basically showing that The Art of Drowning
can be a calm reserved part of nature, but can change into a wild animal in a flash. "Initiation" also, to a more immediate extent, provides the perfect setting to bring out the album's first "real" track.
The Art of Drowning
shows its true colors with "The Lost Souls." The song is a powerful example of what Afi had changed into. The furious guitar and bass lines, coupled with the pounding drums, and Havok and his mad orchestration of backing vocalist's shouted lyrics cast a mood of ferocity that will be exploited throughout most of The Art of Drowning
. Speaking of the lyrics, they are excellent and among the best Afi has written as of this time (the same could be said about nearly every song on this album). Afi agonizingly spit lyrics of pure confusion and mayhem, such as:
"If you can't stand upon the water I will see you on the ocean floor.
When you blink do you only find the misery between the lines?
Then take my hand and walk with me.
Come to me, your sanctuary,
I'll gladly accept the gift that I've been granted.
If you feel fine, then give it just a little time.
I'm sure you'll contract my disease.
Look what you've done to me now,
You've made me perfect.
Look what you've done to me now."
Afi certainly seem to be despairing over what to do in "The Lost Souls." As the song breaks down, Havok calmly spits out "Take my hand, I'll be everything to you. Take my hand, I'll take everything from you."
It's this sheer sense of confusion, the misery that Afi wish to convey, of being with someone even though you feel they hurt you, or you may hurt them, that sets the tone for "The Lost Souls." As the song picks up again, it retreads back to the chorus in typical songwriting fashion. At the very end, we here Havok progressively starting from a whisper to a scream stating "What have you done?"
in a shocked, horrified, and completely disbelieving voice. "The Lost Souls" then abruptly ends. The Art of Drowning
couldn't have began any other way.
Afi's 80s hardcore and horror-punk songwriting influence show themselves prominently for the first time on "The Nephilim." A nephilim is a legendary creature of an unholy order. It 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. Afi convey such Biblical and legendary tales quite well with the lyrics in this song. After the spectacular bass and drum introduction courtesy of Hunter and Carson is joined by Puget's impassioned guitar and the first verse, Havok belts out some of the most iconic lyrics in Afi history for the song's chorus, singing:
"The seasons change without me.
I remain in shadows growing wings.
The spirit song still surrounds me, in refrain, in shadows
"Ever and a Day" is the first song to break away from the hardcore tidings of The Art of Drowning
, is it is slower with more emphasis being placed on song structure. The song begins with one of Afi's best-known Puget riffs, and becomes quiet and moody very quickly. The central theme of this song that Havok mentions are the "Three tears I've saved for you"
, as Afi asks a person to be not only their lover and helper, but also their ultimate destruction. "Ever and a Day" is most likely Afi's regretful take legendary tales such as that of King Arthur's, in which the main character's love interest becomes their eventual undoing. Havok cries out in desperation:
"I'd retrace the steps that lead me here but nothing lives behind
So I lie in this field bathed in the light that loves me,
with nothing left to lose.
Three tears I've saved for you.
Will you be my beloved?
Will you help me to get through?
Will you be my destruction?
Will you help me to be through?"
Songs like "Ever and a Day" are artful precursors to Afi's more emotionally-charged songwriting that would take center stage on subsequent releases Sing the Sorrow
. It retains, however, a core based solely in the roots of punk, making it dissimilar from later Afi songs from the aforementioned albums. "Ever and a Day" was placed perfectly on The Art of Drowning
's track list, providing exactly the kind of relief one might need after the hurricane of the first two songs.
Following the semi-depressing "Ever and a Day" is the return-to-punk-form "Sacrifice Theory." One of the most interesting things about this song is that it clocks in at a mere one minute and fifty eight seconds, and yet, due to the excellent song structure, it easily seems twice as long. Hunter shines yet again on bass, crafting lightning fast bottom end sounds that give the fairly straightforward guitar parts on "Sacrifice Theory" definition. Carson's drumming takes a backseat on this song, allowing Hunter to take the musical spotlight. Still, his work on the kit is still evident enough to round out "Sacrifice Theory." Davey Havok and his backing-up chorus sing some of the most shout-a-long lyrics to be found on The Art of Drowning
, as they deliver the knock-out chorus of:
"Do you want to feel the warmth?
To taste the life, to taste the life
Do you want taste the life?
To taste the life, to taste the life flow?"
The song continues to its breakdown, where Davey makes a tantalizing proposal to his opposite within the context of the song, calmly stating:
"I offer grace,
I offer blood.
I offer everything till my heart is crystal clear.
Let me taste the life flow."
It's moments like this that accentuate Afi's command over their own songwriting. The band crafts imagery with a fierce sense of self-consciousness, without managing to outfox themselves. It's a rare gift for punk groups to be so profound, yet so vicious with their songwriting.
"Of Greetings and Goodbyes" is a song about fear and comfort. That much is clear judging by the lyrics sheet. Talk of "monsters" and "fairy tales" make up the bulk of the writing for "Of Greeting and Goodbyes." Havok sings during the breakdown:
"No need to worry it is just another monster.
No need to fear here in the secret show.
No need to worry I am just another monster.
In you, I'll see me, in the secret show."
This is the first song where Puget breaks from the normalcy of his guitar playing, and employs some different sounds and techniques. Hunter's bass work is admirable, particularly during the song's breakdown. Carson keeps the drumming steady and quiet, mixing in plenty of crashing cymbals. When all is said and done "Of Greetings and Goodbyes" is one of the most polished songs on The Art of Drowning
Afi gets back to the no bullshi
t hardcore with "Smile." This is essentially a song of Afi vs. God, as they speak of His errors in creating "the human blasphemy." Havok speaks of ending the world, screaming:
"Look upon your bleak creation,
but is it truly me that's to be the human blasphemy?
I'll set the world on fire and,
in burning light I'll write my first love song and I will feel warmth.
Hide your eyes in heaven, in the lies.
Believe. Relieve. I'll end the world tonight."
The instrumentation in "Smile" reflects the song's attitude: it gets right to the point. Furious guitar riffs escape Puget's fingers, as he rips and squeals his way into hardcore heaven. For a change of pace, Hunter's bass playing takes a backseat to the primal rage of Adam Carson's drumming. Carson seemingly beats his kit to hell on "Smile," and that can actually be a very, very good thing.
"A Story at Three" is essentially another story within a song, only slightly more developed than its predecessors. A chorus in which Afi's backing vocalists claim to be the "wakeful, wry and watchful" to which Havok gives the reply "deathless ones." The song continues much as any other track on The Art of Drowning
, reaching the breakdown, where Havok's true vocal range is showcases, as he switches from soft singing to high-pitched scream in an instant:
"I hear the morning choir sing to me their elegy.
They sing to me their elegy. Requiem."
The next song, "Days of the Phoenix," is one (if not the) most popular songs from this era of Afi's music. Eschewing the typical songwriting thus far on The Art of Drowning
, "Days of the Phoenix" has a pop-punk vibe to it, making it the most approachable of any song on this album. Puget's intro riff is classic Afi, and as soon as Havok's voice breaks in, singing "I remember when I was told a story of crushed velvet, candle wax, and dried up flowers…,"
you can tell you're in for one hell of a ride. Carson and Hunter keep a steady beat going throughout, right up to the point where Havok begins a piece of whispered spoken word:
"The girl on the wall always waited for me
and she was always smiling.
The teenage dead boys, the teenage dead girls...
and everyone was dancing.
Nothing could touch us then,
no one could change us then, and everyone was dancing.
Nothing could hurt us then, no one could see us then,
and everyone was dancing.
Everyone was dancing."
One of the most interesting things to note about "Days of Phoenix" is its accompanying music video, where a drastically changed Afi was shown in a new setting, totally alien to the band or it's fans. "Days of Phoenix" is the crux of Afi's most radical change- the missing link between The Art of Drowning
and Sing the Sorrow
. For that fact (as well as many others), it is essential listening for a new Afi fan seeking some sort of connection to the band's colorful past.
"Dream of Waking" is an Afi rarity that was only included on the 12 inch vinyl pressing of The Art of Drowning
by Nitro Records. It's actually rather unfortunate that it was cut from the Compact Disc version of the album, as it's an excellent, powerful song. The guitar work on "Dream of Waking" is especially heavy when compared to the rest of the album, as are the rumbling bass and drum fills. Interestingly enough, though, while it's among the most technically proficient songs, it's rather lacking in the lyrical department. Still, there are a few memorable parts produced by the song's breakdown, in which Havok resigns himself to a new master, telling the would-be conqueror how to dominate him. He sings:
'Binded by my hands, bind my legs, bind my eyes,
bind my mouth, bind everything.
Opened up, and for the taking,
just one touch and I'll be yours.
Open up, wide for the breaking
just one touch and I'll be yours."
The next song, "Catch a Hot One" has yet another sent of shout-a-long worthy lyrics. Havok screams right into a ripping bassline from Hunter:
"Let's tap your heart so we can paint the walls
and see if anybody likes the tone or the pain.
The hungry eyes waiting for life flash, now they're gonna see it.
Open your veins so we can make a pool and bathe
and see if anyone complains of the stain.
Let's strip you down so we can see you old scars.
Now you're gonna feel it.
Show me how to shine now."
Afi's chorus line then breaks into the question "Have you ever turned to dust?"
, Havok responds with the command "Now show me how to shine!"
. The dueling sense of the lyrics is reflected well in the vocals. "Catch a Hot One" is relatively simple musically (which hardly makes it a bad track, as it's still quite excellent), and aside from some fantastic Hunter bass work, nothing will really jump out and grab you. Still, this is probably one hell of a song to mosh to.
"Wester" is something of a forlorn love song, with a decidedly Afi twist to it. It's relatively follows the songwriting formula that's found throughout The Art of Drowning
. As usual, Davey Havok does a wonderful job bring the lyrics to life alongside his back-up vocalists. Carson's drumming takes center stage, Puget's riff chug, and Hunter keeps it all together. "Wester" is similar to its predecessor "Catch a Hot One" in that it has no actual musical highlights, and is mostly based solely on the lyrics (and like "Catch a Hot One", it is still a great song despite). Havok and company sing:
"I can feel you waiting for me as the sun retreats to the hills
Below the blanket of a burning sky, wrap myself within.
Embraced by dead leaves as the rain leaves trails of black down
And I creep through the twilight to that
hidden place beyond the lonely.
I'll meet you tonight in the whispers when no one's around.
Nothing can stop us now.
Tonight in the whispers where we won't be found.
Nothing can stop us now."
If The Art of Drowning
contains any songwriting masterpieces, then one of them would have to be "6 to 8." From the brilliant guitar and bass work, to the subtle yet effective drumming, "6 to 8" is one of the most musically varied and unique songs to be found on this album. Havok's voice is calm and collected throughout, as he exudes a sense of command over a hopeless case (as evidenced by the lyrics). The song refers mostly to certain parts of the Biblical book of Revelations, and tells the story of a regretful person wondering about what types of friends he meet, what the night will bring, and how he will act when the time comes for the world to end. The character in the song is driven by the fire of another, which draws back to Afi's full name, A Fire Inside. To convey such a story, the lyrics on "6 to 8" are of extremely high quality. For the first verse and bridge, Havok sings:
"Six figures enter, they've come to destroy the world.
They've called together this storm almost every night.
And I awake in another place.
A familiar voice with a stranger's face speaks,
(I awake in another place)
more unheard words.
What new friends will the day bring?
One for one thousand acquainted.
What new hope will the night bring?
When it all comes down you just throw the bones."
On The Art of Drowning
in its entirety, there is a no more enthralling or deep song then "6 to 8." Not only is it an achievement for Afi on their journey through adolescence, it's also an achievement for punk music in general.
"The Despair Factor" is actually a special song, as the official Afi fan club, The Despair Faction, based their name off of it. It's special for a variety of other reasons as well. For one thing, Adam Carson performs the best drumming on the album on "The Despair Factor." The song begins fast and hits you hard, until it stops suddenly for Havok to assert "My whole life is a dark room. One. Big. Dark. Room."
After this, the track picks up again until the breakdown, where it completely changes. It's this type of variation that makes "The Despair Factor" a must-listen for any Afi fan. During the transitional interim, Havok whispers to screams:
"Somehow I ended up here in between,
Where there is always the comfort,
Of knowing I'll never be seen.
When I fall
When I fall
I wait for just one touch,
And I fall"
"Morningstar" is the (apparent) final track on The Art of Drowning
. It's the softest, most melodic track on the album, and the first of many songs in which Afi would speak of stars falling from the sky. The subtle orchestrations in the background alongside the top-notch songwriting are yet another prelude of what was to come on Sing the Sorrow
. On "Morningstar," Davey sings:
"I saw a star beneath the stairs
Glowing through the melting walls
Who will be the first to begin their fall?
Or will we become one?
Am I the star beneath the stairs?
Am I the ghost upon the stage?
Am I your anything?"
However, after the ambience that ends "Morningstar," we find ourselves with "Battled," The Art of Drowning
's hidden track. From the brisk pace and short length (it clocks in a one minute five seconds), to the profanity in the vocals, "Battled" is the end of Afi's days as an awkward teenager. It's almost as if the band wished to say to their fans "So long guys, it's been a good fight. We're never going to sound like this again, but what we're going to do next is going to be incredible." In the minute of glory that is "Battled," Davey Havok and his chorus of fiery punks sing their anthem of change, screaming:
"I can't think and I can't speak!
My mind is not my own!
Feeling like my will is weak!
Cannot find the strength to go on!
I've battled! I'm fucking battled man!
I've battled! I've battled yeah!
I've battled! I'm fucking battled man!
I've battled! I can't think and I can't speak!"
Well, now that we're done with that terribly serious (and ridiculously long) review, allow me to break character. The Art of Drowning
is a classic in every sense of the word. There isn't a bad song on here, and all of the are of exceedingly high quality. Lyrically, it's one of the best punk albums I've ever heard. Musically, it's also extremely impressive, showcasing elements that would fully be taken advantage of in Afi's next album Sing the Sorrow
. I can't imagine anyone who likes punk music not liking this album. I can't imagine anyone who likes Afi not liking this album. It's not only purely punk rock, it's pure A Fire Inside. I can't give too many albums in my collection a higher recommendation than The Art of Drowning
. Give it a listen sometime, and prepare to be floored.