Since their formation in 1991, Ukiah, California’s AFI have embraced an incredible number of styles. Skate-punk, hardcore, goth, post-punk, emo, industrial: they’ve all been touched on over the course of 31 years and 11 studio albums. In the process, the classic line-up of vocalist Davey Havok, guitarist Jade Puget, drummer Adam Carson and bassist Hunter Burgan have amassed one of the most eclectic and consistent back catalogues in music, inspired the likes of Creeper and My Chemical Romance and written some of modern punk's most enduring anthems. AFI don’t really do bad records, in fact, and so it's with this caveat that we present them all from worst to best.
11. Very Proud Of Ya (1996)
The second AFI album is a charmingly rough-and-ready affair, with the band still awkwardly grappling with the skate-punk style that they adopted in their early years. There are some very good songs here; File 13 has some awesome call and response backing vocals, Cult Status features the goth-layered vocals that would come to characterise the band for maybe the first time and Theory Of Revolution is a great impression of a bratty Bad Religion. It’s also the birth of Havok resembling something like the singer he would go on to be. So, no shame on Very Proud Of Ya - it’s just that, overall, this is nothing more than a decent skate-punk album in a catalogue of classics and worldies.
10. Answer That And Stay Fashionable (1995)
See above, basically. The debut AFI album is clearly the result of a young band just delighted to be in the recording studio, and that enthusiasm shines through, which puts Answer That And Stay Fashionable marginally above Very Proud Of Ya. There’s very little of the verve and panache that AFI would go on to excel in as they approached their prime, but this is still a decent, fizzy punk rock album. Songs like The Mother In Me and Your Name Here might be pure NOFX, Pennywise and Rancid worship, but they are loads of fun. Not essential, but an interesting document of the band nonetheless.
9. Crash Love (2009)
In the aftermath of 2006’s Decemberunderground, AFI were a big deal. The follow-up to any massive album is always a choppy bit of water to navigate, and Crash Love is not a bad record, but it is, perhaps, slightly too polished without enough truly memorable songs. Yes, AFI had embraced getting bigger and bolder with each new album, but the choir on Beautiful Thieves tips over a little too close to saccharine and Too Shy to Scream sounds like they’ve nicked an unused cut-off of Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown album (that isn’t a compliment, by the way). A couple of times, though, it all pays off; lead single Medicate might sound a little like AFI by way of Mötley Crüe, but they manage to pull it off thanks to a massive chorus. Overall, Crash Love is just less consistent than the band we were used to.
8. Shut Your Mouth And Open Your Eyes (1997)
Shut Your Mouth And Open Your Eyes is still a punk rock album, but the influence of darker, gothic shades and a heightened, grandiose performance from Havok certainly marks it out as an important transitional record. There are also some underrated, killer songs on the album; second track Three Reasons is incredible, Puget’s rhythmic twisting and turning riff on Let It Be Broke still sounds class today and American Nightmare would base their entire career on the raucous Triple Zero. The true birth of AFI starts here.
7. Decemberunderground (2006)
Commercially speaking, this is the biggest moment in AFI’s career, giving them a US Billboard number one album and single. Artistically speaking? Not so much. If the 'punk police' were livid at AFI signing to a major and softening their sound three years earlier for Sing The Sorrow, then this was never going to win them back round. That’s not to say that Decemberunderground doesn’t have some harsh and heavy moments; Kill Caustic opens the album proper with punk pace and some throat-shredding Havok vocals, Affliction manages to sound like Rancid, The Smiths and Black Flag all at once, and Summer Shudder might have a big pop hook, but it also has a seriously stompy breakdown. Still, the album is certainly prettier and more polished than the band had ever sounded before, and there are some beautiful moments of shimmering quality. In Miss Murder, the band also had one of the most inescapable rock anthems of the 2000s. As a gateway into alternative music, this is great, but AFI have done better.
6. Bodies (2021)
AFI have never shied away from their love of guitar-driven pop music, it’s just that, previously, it was a very different type of pop that they had been embracing. Bodies is the furthest the band have leaned in on 80s new wave, and it really suits them. Dulceria has a big dollop of New Order mixed into the band's gothic punk, Escape From Los Angeles buzzes along like a mascara-drenched The Cars, Back from the Flesh could have been lifted straight from The Cure’s 17 Seconds album and Far Too Near sounds like an angsty, latter-day The Police. It’s as 80s as necking a bottle of Babysham while watching Miami Vice, but AFI pull it off with aplomb.
5. Burials (2013)
After the polished and shiny Crash Love, a four-year gap seemed to do a world of good for AFI. Burials is one of the darkest albums the band have ever released, with the opening one–two punch of The Sinking Night and I Hope You Suffer mixing cold, industrial soundscapes, Disintegration-era The Cure and some of the harshest screams Havok had let rip in over a decade. From the pitch-black cover and the hopelessness-evoking titles of the track listing (No Resurrection, A Deep Slow Panic, Anxious) and the more sombre tone of the music, AFI managed to tap back into their gothic roots whilst also remaining as bold and majestic as during the best of their major label years. A real return to form.
4. AFI (2017)
Without question the most underrated album in the AFI back catalogue, their self-titled record (also known as The Blood Album) found the band in A* form. This is an almost perfect amalgam of everything the band had embraced in their entire career to that point, all expertly weaved into one coherent and essential statement. In the buildup to the release of the record there was plenty of talk about the influence of post-punk bands such as Echo And The Bunnymen and Joy Division on the album, and you can certainly hear the bass throb of Peter Hook on Aurelia, the smoky croon of Ian McCulloch on Snow Cats and the innovative strummed attack and relax edtechnique of former PIL and Siouxsie And The Banshees guitarist John McGeoch on Hidden Knives and Above the Bridge. All this whilst still showing their hardcore roots are present on the thrashing White Offerings. If you’ve not checked this album out, then do yourself a favour and get it in your ears now.
3. Black Sails In The Sunset (1999)
The moment that people really sat up and started to take notice of AFI, Black Sails In The Sunset is where it all really comes together for the first time. Havok’s poetic, wailed call of “Through our bleeding, we are one” on the opening Strength Through Wounding genuinely sounded like nothing else the band had managed before, and it set the tone for an album that basically reinvented the horror punk of The Misfits for a new generation. Everywhere you look there are bangers and moments to clench your fists to: the half-time drop during Malleus Maleficarum; the hi-hat and gang vocals driving The Prayer Position for a whole chorus before the rest of the band come tumbling back in; AFI going DC hardcore for two minutes on Weathered Tome. It’s all killer. But closing track God Called in Sick Today is the high watermark of the record; perhaps the best song the band have ever recorded, it showed Havok’s abilities wonderfully and hinted at the heights they were capable of scaling in the future.
2. Sing the Sorrow (2003)
There was something of a backlash when AFI signed to major label Dreamworks and released their sixth album. While cries of "sellouts!", "fake punk!" and, as one fanzine weirdly christened them, “the hardcore Bon Jovi!” were being bandied about by underground aficionados, AFI were writing some of the best songs of their career. Yes, Sing the Sorrow does benefit from the production duo of Jerry Finn and Butch Vig’s nous at making every artist they work with sound skyscraper huge, and the there is definitely a greater number of big, dumb rock hooks on the record, but you cannot argue with the results and the influence of this record decades down the line. The album entered the US Billboard top 200 at number five, selling just shy of 100,000 copies in that country alone in its first week, and with a monster hit like Girls' Not Grey driving it forward, Sing The Sorrow became AFI’s mainstream breakthrough. Well deserved it was, too; grumbling punk rock purists are certainly missing out if they think that The Leaving Song Pt. II, Silver And Cold or This Celluloid Dream aren’t worthy of AFI's legacy. Sing the Sorrow is everything a major label debut should be, and it turned them into stars. A genre classic.
1. The Art Of Drowning (2000)
The reason AFI were signed to a major in the first place was effectively down to the exceptional quality of The Art of Drowning. It's as perfect as modern punk rock gets, all snapping, double-time snares, rough, gritty yet instantly memorable guitar hooks and all the “whoahs” and “yeahs” in the right places. It also has that extra something special that made AFI so loved, be it Havok’s command of dynamics and vocal dexterity on opening track The Lost Souls, the cold, stalking, bleakness of Ever And A Day, the old-school metallic crunch of Scream meeting Havok at his most expressive or the alt-rock, shoegaze drag of A Story At Three.
It’s got the lot, including a song in Days Of The Phoenix that can comfortably go toe to toe with Girl's Not Grey, Miss Murder or whichever other anthem from the band's back catalogue you wish to put in its way. AFI would go on to broaden out their sound, to experiment with many different styles, to sell many more records, to become far more successful and to release some absolutely wonderful albums, but they would never again sound as vital, vibrant, unique or perfectly realised as they do on The Art of Drowning.