AFI – A Retrospective

Originally posted by Ripper on 18/09/2009

The truth is, AFI have been my favourite band since I was 10 years old. Ridiculous? Probably. It was when we first got Sky Digital. I turned onto the music channels and hit MTV2, purely by accident. It was there that I witnessed Davey in all his androgynous glory singing ‘Boy Who Destroyed The World’ and I fell in love. Despite discovering new and exciting music all the time, nothing ever struck me as deeply as AFI did. If it weren’t for AFI, I probably wouldn’t be the person I am today.

That’s not to say that I’m one of those kids who’s all ‘OH MY GOD AFI ARE MY LIIIIFEEEE, WITHOUT AFI I WOULD BE DEAD RIGHT NOW’. Quite the contrary; I know barely anything about the band members themselves (I am a casual follower of Hunter on Twitter because he makes many tweets about coffee), I wasn’t thrilled by the latter two albums, I’m still not a DF member and I don’t even know all the words to the songs. I probably suck as a fan. But let’s ignore that fact for now. I appreciate that AFI make damn good music and that’s why I love them.

AFI have a new album coming out next week. It’s called Crash Love. From what songs and previews I’ve heard, it’s a little beefier than Decemberunderground, and that suits me just fine. Ridiculous title aside, I can predict that it’ll probably be my favourite album this year. Maybe. However, in respect to the fact that this will be AFI’s eighth studio album, I’m writing a brief history of the band and what’s so awesome about them. I know that most people who read this zine will be relatively familiar with AFI. But my mum isn’t, so here goes!

Days of the Devilock

(NB: in reference to titles, I’ll go with Davey’s hairstyle at that point, because it changed so damn much).

AFI started out in 1991 as a punk band from Ukiah, California. Nothing much happened for four years, until their first album, Answer That And Stay Fashionable came out in 1995 on Nitro Records, Dexter Holland’s (of Offspring fame) label, with the lineup of Davey (vocals), Geoff (bass), Mark (guitar) and Adam (drums). ATASF is a wonderful punk offering with some of AFI’s most classic tracks on it. My personal favourite, ‘Cereal Wars’, tells of Davey’s quest to go and find cereal and the difficulties of finding the right brand. Seriously. But it’s songs like this that remind me of AFI being fun, unlike their more serious image now. I mean, come on, on the cover, they all dressed like gangsters! Classy gents. The bass in this album is also mental. It’s not as awesome as Hunter’s, but I imagine that Geoff totally shredded his fingers at how fast some of the songs are. Kudos to Davey as well, for singing without taking a breath because he’s going so fast. I’ll let you fill in with your own innuendo here. Seriously though, it’s one of AFI’s catchiest albums, even if almost all the songs stay the same. I don’t think I know an AFI fan that doesn’t know the words to ‘High School Football Hero’ or ‘I Want A Mohawk (But Mom Won’t Let Me Get One)’. If you enjoy hyped up punk with a bit of a comical edge that are heavier than Blink 182 or the Descendents, then this AFI album is perfect for you. It’s well worth the £15 (!) I paid for it from HMV before I discovered internet shopping.

Recommended tracks: Cereal Wars, The Checkered Demon, Rizzo In The Box, High School Football Hero

A year later, when AFI still released albums at a sensible time, Very Proud Of Ya came out, and well, I won’t lie, it sounded exactly the same as ATASF but with much better production and slightly more distinguishable vocals. And that was totally fine by me. Lyrically, the album is somewhat more serious… until ‘Cruise Control’ comes along with the beauty “I don’t wanna fuck you, don’t wanna fuck you, I don’t wanna fuck you… SO FUCK YOU!” All pisstaking aside though, AFI start to touch on isolation, fear, straight edge and love, instead of cereal, school and mohawks, and it works. VPOY is the teen angst album for people who don’t want to admit they have teen angst. VPOY also marks the beginning of AFI’s move towards hardcore (yes, hardcore), with songs like ‘Aspirin Free’ holding a much heavier and angrier sound. Breakdowns weren’t to come for a while, but the structure was in place. And it was good.

Recommended tracks: Crop Tub, This Secret Ninja, Charles Atlas, Cruise Control

Slicked Back In Black

The first lineup changed happened in 1997, and Geoff left, making way for Hunter Burgan, AFI’s current bassist to shake things up a bit. It’s no coincidence that AFI’s sound shifts a lot for next album, Shut Your Mouth And Open Your Eyes. Things sound a bit more minor, Davey’s lyrics start to become confusing and metaphoric, and dammit, there’s gang vocals! SYMAOYE is potentially my second favourite AFI album, for the fact that it takes a far more hardcore feel, and because it begins to form the basis for my favourite period of AFI’s history, which is the beginning of the definitive line up. The addition of Hunter was one of the best decisions AFI could have made, because he brought such a great change to the lineup. Although AFI worked well as a less serious band, it was here that it was obvious that the band were meant for greater things. Anthems For Insubordinates became A Fire Inside, the guitar even became slightly more sophisticated and hard hitting, and backing vocals work properly for the first time. This album also has my second favourite AFI song on it, ‘Let It Be Broke’, which is potentially the greatest break-up-fuck-you I’ve ever heard.

Recommended tracks: Let It Be Broke, A Single Second, The New Patron Saints And Angels, Third Season

In 1999, Black Sails In The Sunset (have you noticed AFI have a propensity for long titles yet?) was released, and well… it was completely different to anything they’d ever done before. Why? Because Jade Puget replaced Mark on guitar, Davey went back to singing unintelligibly again and no lyrics made sense for they were all metaphors now. That’s probably not selling AFI to you, but it really should, because this album was awesome. Jade has to be one of the best guitarists in my eyes because everything just fits so perfectly, and he picks this wonderfully dark tone in every song that completely defines AFI’s later material, from the music to the album artwork. Whilst AFI lingered in this ‘horrorpunk’ period, they created a beautiful atmospheric sound which still resonates with me today. Also, some of the best riffs on an AFI album can be found here – the opening to ‘The Prayer Position’ stills sends shivers down my spine.

Recommended tracks: Malleus Maleficarum, The Prayer Position, God Called In Sick Today, Exsanguination.

This carried on through to the EP’s they released – A Fire Inside and All Hallows. A Fire Inside consisted of mostly covers, including a cover of The Cure’s ‘The Hanging Garden’, indicative of their new sound. The Cure influence can be heard throughout several songs on fifth album, The Art Of Drowning, as Davey takes a definite cue from Smith’s haunting vocals, particularly on ‘Morningstar’ and ‘6 to 8’. The Art Of Drowning is my favourite AFI album, and indeed, my favourite album of all time. It’s impossible to say that it was this album in which AFI truly found their sound, because their sound has varied so much from their humble beginnings to their status as rock stars worldwide, but it was where, I feel, they found perfection. From the energy of true opening track ‘The Lost Souls’, to the magnificently poppy single ‘Days Of The Phoenix’ to slow burning ‘Morningstar’, AFI cover a range of emotions and sounds and they do it all perfectly. There is no bad song on this album, which is going to make it ridiculously difficult to pick my favourites in a moment. It’s a culmination of everything AFI were and could be, mixing hardcore, horror and pop punk all in one. And it’s incredible. Lyrically, this is also AFI’s most impressive album. It’s almost impossible for me to pick any one example, but my favourite comes from the chorus for Wester:

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.

It’s ridiculously simple, but to me, invokes images of a secret wonderland in the shadows, which totally sums up the fantasy feel behind all of AFI’s lyrics from Black Sails onwards. And this album also featured Beetlejuice quotes, so major points for that.

Recommended tracks: Boy Who Destroyed The World, Wester, The Nephilim, The Despair Factor

The Art Of Drowning marked an end to AFI’s career on Nitro Records, and as a result, they released a retrospective of singles and previously vinyl only tracks. Despite owning almost every single song on it, I bought it, and was treated to a few gems such as ‘A Winter’s Tale’ and ‘Rolling Balls’, a delightful little ditty about wanting to become a woman. I would actually recommend this to anyone who didn’t know where to start with AFI, as it’s got a great range of their songs on there from ATASF to The Art Of Drowning so you can really get a feel of what AFI have done and where to go from there.

Danzig Tribute 2.0

AFI moved to Interscope Records after a very successful time on the underground circuit, and released Sing The Sorrow in 2003. STS… well, it’s a total change. As in, it doesn’t sound very much like anything AFI have done ever before. I love it still, but it’s my least favourite AFI album. Any element of punk has slowly dissipated, but the melancholic and dark sounds from the last two albums remain, creating an interesting, if not complete, sound. The really interesting thing about STS is not the music, but the
Clandestine Theories, a concept behind the album which was hinted at within the short film Clandestine, which was brought out on a special edition collector’s album. Which is impossible to find for under £200 on eBay. If you start on ‘Bleed Black’ and pay careful attention to the lyrics (and later the speech in the hidden track), the narrative takes you through birth, life, death and resurrection in a spectacularly eerie fashion. It’s pretty awesome. Either way, the album isn’t a bad one, and much better than most other things that also came out in 2003.

Recommended tracks: Dancing Through Sunday, This Time Imperfect, Synesthesia, This Celluloid Dream

Depeche Mode Called, They Lost Their Keyboardist

Three long years later, AFI came out with Decemberunderground, a far better effort than STS was. It was a lot poppier and a bit more sporadic in its sound, but it showed AFI experimenting with different styles as opposed to staying stagnant, which I really appreciated. They played around with new wave in ‘The Missing Frame’, went back to their hardcore roots in ‘Kill Caustic’ and kind of managed to sound slightly like Green Day to half the world in ‘Miss Murder’. DU just sounds great through loud speakers, and you can understand what Davey’s actually singing again! DU saw AFI just go ‘fuck it’ and throw themselves into a variety of different influences, which resulted in an excellent album. Forthcoming Crash Love also seems to take the same cues as DU did, and should be an excellent album.

Liberace?

So, it’s an exciting new era for AFI. Fourteen years and numerous reinventions later, and the band really seem to have found themselves. Davey, however, can’t find a haircut he truly likes, so I leave you with this – a video of all of his hairstyles to date. Enjoy!

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