‘Black Sails In The Sunset’ is very important record for me, as it was my introduction to AFI. They were so much more interesting than all the other punk rock I was listening to at the time, and you could their influences too. My reaction upon hearing it was similar to when I first heard David Bowie as a kid – when you pressed play, it was like escaping to another world…
Here, in my opinion, are their best 10 songs…
A SINGLE SECOND (Shut Your Mouth And Open Your Eyes, 1997)
This record, their third album, marked a change in direction for AFI in terms of sound and lyrical content. Shut Your Mouth And Open Your Eyes has more of a hardcore style than their previous albums and this is where they really began to hit their stride. A Single Second is the album’s standout track. In the verses, Havok’s vocals are furious and visceral, while his lyrics are articulate and dark. In contrast, the chorus has probably one of the best melodic hooks of their career, one of which is sung by Nick 13 of Tiger Army. The line ‘never have I felt so lost’ speaks to every punk rock kid.
THE LAST KISS (Black Sails In The Sunset, 1999)
This 1999 album was the first full-length release to feature what is now the current line-up, with the addition of guitarist Jade Puget and bassist Hunter Burgan. This song’s chorus goes, ‘Do you like what I’m becoming?’, which was very apt considering the progression the band had taken. With the addition of Puget, the band began to sound a lot more fully-formed, while Havok’s lyrics were like dark poetry and far more articulate and emotional than his peers.
SACRIFICE THEORY (The Art Of Drowning, 2000)
This is one of my favourite AFI songs. We actually covered it during our first show, so our bass player Sean [Scott] had to learn that amazing run at the beginning. The Art Of Drowning is an incredible record for so many reasons – the amazing rhythm section and the vocal arrangements really became a focus on this record too. Sacrifice Theory is a really good example of that. The gang vocals swoop and soar, almost duelling with Davey through the verses. The bridge offers a brief respite before thundering back into the call and response of the chorus. This is AFI doing what they do best.
A STORY OF THREE (The Art Of Drowning, 2000)
The lyrics, ‘I hear the morning choir sing to me their elegy’ let your imagination run away. The slow moody intro and the huge middle section are signs of a band who’ve truly mastered the art of moving a listener with the use of tension and atmosphere. This is intelligent punk rock, expertly delivered.
100 WORDS (B-side, 2009)
Jumping ahead here, this is a song originally written for _Sing The Sorrow_ (the band’s major label debut). This song is certainly different to the others discussed in this list so far, but I have to include it as it is a favourite amongst the band. It shows the versatility of this band and the vocal range of Davey Havok. It’s dramatic and epic and has a huge hook in the chorus. It’s perhaps one of the greatest little-known AFI songs.
6 TO 8 (The Art Of Drowning, 2000)
This is the third song in the list from The Art Of Drowning as it shows the band’s versatility. It couldn’t sound further from a punk song at first and builds slowly. A song about touring, this showcases Havok’s incredible range. The ‘woahs’ in the verse – something of an AFI trademark – take the song right back into punk rock territory. The chorus sounds incredibly dramatic, too – you can’t listen to this song and not feel something.
TOTAL IMMORTAL (All Hallows EP, 1999)
Just before The Art Of Drowning, the band released this four-track EP that clocked in at exactly 13 minutes long. Many AFI fans consider the All Hallows as their greatest work, and though I’m not sure that’s true, I would certainly argue that it’s one of the best punk rock EPs of all time. Total Immortal is an incredible song and its chorus is basically stuck in my head on an endless loop. Once again backed by those amazing gang vocals, Davey’s voice is a mixture between a hardcore shout and a Glenn Danzig croon on this EP. It’s fast but melodic – a hardcore punk EP with theatrics.
BLEED BLACK (Sing The Sorrow, 2003)
This is the first song I’ve picked from the band’s major label debut Sing The Sorrow – not because I’m not fond of it (quite the opposite!) but because the band have such a breadth of work and I had to find a way to get the important parts in. This record was produced by Butch Vig and the late Jerry Finn, and I think they really managed to get a huge sounding, big budget record without compromising the artistic elements which made the band so great. There are no songs written for radio here. It’s an incredible piece of work and this song is one of my favourites. I’m especially fond of the line, ‘I know what died that night, it can never be brought back to life’. Bleed Black is much more of an alternative rock song than a punk song, though it still makes use of the familiar gang vocals from their past work. I was always very impressed with how confident their move into a new genre was. I think it really paid off.
REIVER’S MUSIC (336 EP, 2002)
This is one of my favourite AFI songs of all time and appears on an EP named 336. This song has some great ideas. The verses have these unusual pauses and effects and the chorus is one of my favourites across. The gang vocal goes ‘because we are now in dying days’ – that’s epic! What only makes it more grand is the incredible dramatic middle section that follows: ‘I have no desire to leave’, Davey yells before heading back to that massive chorus and a half-time ending. This is the band firing on all cylinders.
GOD CALLED IN SICK TODAY (Black Sails In The Sunset, 1999)
This had to be my number one AFI song. The dramatic conclusion to Black Sails In The Sunset threw everyone off when they first heard it, but was done with so much conviction that it instantly became a classic. Puget’s guitar work and the calibre of his songwriting really shines through here. It’s a masterpiece and would open the doors for the number of different styles the band would toy with in the future. Songs like this remind me why I love punk rock so much, because with a little imagination, anything is possible.
Creeper’s new EP, The Stranger is out now via Roadrunner.