In a previous blog post, I mentioned AFI was my official introduction to emo rock. But there’s more to it. A small handful of rock bands officially introduced me to the rock genre. AFI, Three Days Grace, Red, and Skillet. Each band is on the heavier end of the rock genre spectrum. 2006 was a pivotal year for my music tastes. In fact, it was quite a drastic transition. Disney Channel pop music to hard rock music. Day and night.
The CW’s Smallville exposed me to many wonderful bands and artist. AFI was one of them. Decemberunderground was released in June 2006. This was the first AFI album I listened to.
(From left to right: Jade Puget, Adam Carson, Hunger Burgan, and Davey Havok)
I’ll provide some basic background about AFI. AFI (A Fire Inside) is a rock band from Ukiah, California who formed in 1991. The band’s member line-up has remained the same since 1998. The band consists of four band members. Davey Havok is the lead vocalist. Jade Puget plays the electric guitar. Hunter Burgan plays the bass guitar. Adam Carson plays the drums. Jade, Hunter, and Adam provide backing vocals as well. Out of all my bias rock bands, AFI is one of the oldest in terms of age of its band members. All four band members are in their early 40s.
They’ve released ten studio albums to date. Answer That and Stay Fashionable, their debut album, was released in August 1995. Very Proud of Ya was released in June 1996. Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes was released in November 1997. Black Sails in the Sunset was released in May 1999. The Art of Drowning was released in September 2000. Sing the Sorrow was released in March 2003. Decemberunderground was released in June 2006. Crash Love was released in September 2009. Burials was released in October 2013. AFI was released in January 2017.
2003’s Sing the Sorrow was their sixth studio album. This album propelled the band into mainstream recognition. This studio album was a drastic departure from the musical style of their previous five albums. Also, their previous five studio albums were released through independent record labels. A major record label. Sing the Sorrow was released through Dreamworks Records label. As a result, their fan base exponentially grew. AFI continued to gain more popularity with their follow-up album, Decemberunderground, in 2006. Sing the Sorrow and Decemberunderground transitioned AFI to emo and post-hardcore genres. Hardcore punk and horror punk elements have been increasingly less prevalent in their music. Some fans did not like this transition at all. This group of people complains AFI sold out and became too mainstream by abandoning their punk rock roots. Unfortunately, you can’t please everyone.
Until a couple years ago, I hadn’t listened to any AFI albums prior to Decemberunderground album. But I diligently kept up with albums they released after 2006. I love how not one AFI album released after 2006 has the same musical style. This proves how the band has matured as musicians over their 25 year music career. Plus, AFI isn’t afraid to experiment with different musical styles. I appreciate it when bands/ artist evolve with each album. Nothing is wrong with nostalgic elements in songs on an album. Yet, it shouldn’t be used too much that it detracts from the band’s growth. There will always disgruntled fans that resist major musical style change with their favorite bands or artists. Typically they don’t like the overall polished sound of albums proceeding Sing the Sorrow. I just ignore these individuals. Instead, I’ll form my own opinion about AFI albums. Critics and dissatisfied fans won’t influence my opinion. Most of the time, I don’t agree with them anyway.
Decemberunderground was my official introduction to AFI. It took me a bit to warm up to this particular music style. Up to this point, I had yet encountered hard rock music incorporating sporadic bursts of screamed vocals. Three Days Grace and Skillet don’t incorporate this aspect into their music. Despite gaining mainstream popularity, AFI wasn’t as popular compared to other “emo” bands of this time like My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, and Panic! at the Disco to name a few. Yet, this band was my introduction to “emo” rock genre.
You never forget the album that introduced you to your favorite band/artists. Out of all their music videos, “Miss Murder” has the highest views with over 12.5 million views for both the short and longer versions. Yet “Love Like Winter” was the first AFI music video I ever saw. Music videos from Decemberunderground album has the most views compared to music videos from their other studio albums. “Miss Murder” (long and short versions) and “Love Like Winter” music videos have total of 34.5 million views to date. Sing The Sorrow music videos only have total of 21.8 million views to date. Despite being my first album, Decemberunderground is not my all-time favorite AFI album.
Crash Love was released in 2009. This album had a very different tone from previous AFI albums. It was slightly more up-beat yet still had dark undercurrents in the songs. It was love at first listen. I didn’t take time for the album to grow on me. Quite surprising. Decemberunderground grew on me after listening to this album at least 5-7 times.
Fans long to see your favorite bands/ artists in concert. Well, my dream to see AFI in concert came true on October 23, 2009. mtvU’s Ulalume festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Paramore was the headliner band with supporting bands including AFI, Dead by Sunrise, and Kid Cudi. AFI gave incredible live performances in their short setlist. It was same as what you’d hear on their recorded studio album…yet even better. Sadly I only knew half of the songs of the 13 song setlist. These songs came from Crash Love and Decemberunderground albums. The other half of the songs were from Sing the Sorrow album. At this point, I had yet listened to this particular album. Nonetheless, my first time seeing AFI in concert was amazing. It left quite the first impression.
In January 2017, AFI released of their 10th studio album. The Blood album had nostalgic throwback sounds from Sing the Sorrow and Decemberunderground albums. Yet, they introduced a newer modern rock sound into the songs as well. The album has an overall mellower tone compared to previous albums. It’s refreshing. Quite a departure from 2013’s Burials.
I saw AFI for The Blood tour at Ram’s Head Live venue in February 2016. My second time seeing them in concert. Yet, it was my first time seeing AFI as the headliner band. I’ve always wanted to check out this local concert venue. Ram’s Head Live venue certainly lived up to this hype.
AFI nonetheless delivered a kick-ass rock concert. The set list for this concert included few songs off new self-titled album. But the other 16 songs were derived from Sing the Sorrow, Decemberunderground, Burials, Crash Love, The Art of Drowning, All Hallow’s EP, and Black Sails in the Sunset albums. I was aware of what to potentially expect when standing in the general admission “pit” area near the main stage. I got frequently jostled by those standing nearby me. Don’t forget the extremely close quarters. You didn’t have any personal space at all. It made it impossible to pull out my cell phone to take photos or videos. Any photos or videos wouldn’t have turned out well anyway. By immersing myself in the experience, I created long-lasting memories in my head. Overall, I had an awesome concert experience.
So what exactly drew me to AFI? I listen to plenty of alternative rock bands. Compared to other bands I listen to, AFI has an overall heavier tone in their music. Lead singer, Davey, has a baritone vocal range. It is bizarrely fascinating. I hear my fair share of tenor lead singers from my bias bands/artists. But very few have baritone vocal range like Davey Havok. It seems you either love or hate Davey’s vocals. There’s no middle ground. I find this quite fascinating. Obviously, I love Davey’s singing vocals.
Plus, he can easily transition into throaty, high pitched screaming. AFI hasn’t used as much screaming vocals in their music since Decemberunderground. This particular element has become less prominent in seventh to tenth albums. If any singer doesn’t maintain their voice then their vocal cords become very strained over time. Davey had vocal cord surgery in 2006 or 2007 after getting a vocal cyst. This changed his overall singing vocal tone. Plus, it explains why AFI no longer has as much screamed vocals in their music. Yet, I actually love how AFI’s musical style has evolved over the past 10 years.
Most of all, I love the bands I do because they meet three requirements. Beautifully complex layering of instrumental sound, emotionally-charged vocals, and confessional lyrics. This doesn’t mean I’ll always emotionally connect with the lyrics. But it doesn’t change how much I love my bias band or artists.
I’ve been listening to many of my bias rock bands for 5-11 years. Many of them don’t sound have the same musical style as when I first discovered their music. Evolution is important. As much as I love my bands, I don’t want all their albums to have same musical style. Older fans often complain when their favorite bands release new music that doesn’t sound anything like music from the band’s “glory days”. I’ve learned you’ve got to be open-minded. Try not to attach too much sentimental nostalgia. You might actually like the musical direction the band is going in if you. But first you must acknowledge change isn’t necessary bad.
From my personal experience, many of my bias bands have demonstrated their maturation and growth as artists when experimenting with newer styles. There’s a delicate balance of giving fans nostalgic throwback while simultaneously pushing forward with a new musical direction. Based off their most recent album, it seems they’re moving towards an electronica hard rock style. I dig it. Regardless, AFI still beautifully weaves dark and heavy tones into their music. I will continue to support AFI and their future music endeavors along with side projects such as Blaqk Audio and Dreamcar.