Through the Fire Inside: AFI in 5 songs
by Kelly Kling
Kelly is an Austin-based freelance journalist and our resident AFI expert.
AFI, an acronym for “A Fire Inside,” has been my favorite band for nearly 15 years. There’s nothing I love more than a group whose sound ebbs and flows with the times, and for 30 years AFI’s music has done just that. Since their initial formation as a punk band in 1991, AFI has experimented with all kinds of sounds within the palette of rock-n-roll through their impressive discography of ten studio albums and dozens of EPs and singles.
The band is notorious for teasing fans on social media with small sound bites, eerie video clips, and vague messaging that hints at new music on the horizon, which they started doing at the beginning of the year. Much to my delight, AFI is set to release their 11th studio album, Bodies, this June. It will be their first full-length release since their self-titled album, AFI (The Blood Album), came out in 2017. Every album comes with a new sound all its own, and just as importantly, a new hairstyle for the band’s beloved front-man, Davey Havok.
Now, allow me to break my AFI journey down into five seminal songs and shed some light on what’s to come with the release of Bodies.
“I Wanna Get a Mohawk (But Mom Won’t Let Me Get One)”
AFI was formed in Ukiah, California in 1991. Just two of the original band members remain: lead singer Davey Havok and drummer Adam Carson. These two, along with guitarist Jade Puget, and bassist Hunter Burgan made up the ensemble until 1998. The band’s first full-length studio album, Answer That and Stay Fashionable, contains one of my personal favorite punk anthems. The very title of this song embodies teenage rebellion.
I may or may not have been an angsty tween when I started listening to AFI, so “Mohawk” definitely spoke to me. However, I actually worked my way backwards to their early punk rock days from their later glam/emo period. The band reached their commercial prime in the mid-aughts with the release of their seventh studio album, Decemberunderground (2006), which reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and has been certified platinum. “Miss Murder” became the band’s most successful single (and my favorite music video of all time).
“Silver and Cold”
AFI’s best-selling album to date is their 2003 release, Sing the Sorrow. It achieved platinum status, although it didn’t reach #1 on the Billboard charts. Sorrow has the angsty sound and melodramatic vibe of the AFI I love the most (today anyway). This album gave us young emo kids a show-stopping, anthemic post-hardcore single, “Silver and Cold,” which reached #7 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart.
“Days of the Phoenix”
Among AFI fans, there is much debate about which albums truly represent the band at their best. Personally, I consider The Art of Drowning through Decemberunderground (2004 – 2006) the band’s ultimate sweet spot. The Art of Drowning, released in 2000 (just two days after my 7th birthday), combines upbeat punk elements with the lyricism I’ve come to expect from AFI. It’s also home to some fan-favorite singles, such as “Days of the Phoenix.” In fact, “Phoenix” was voted AFI’s #1 single by fans (including myself) in the singles bracket hosted by band news outlet @AFIHeadquarters on the major social media platforms.
And, if that’s not enough to convince you of my TAOD fan love, the album’s artwork inspired the tattoo I got last year to commemorate the album’s 20th anniversary – and the end of 2020.
“The Last Kiss”
Black Sails in the Sunset is a special album because it was the first to feature the band’s current lineup. My personal favorite track is “The Last Kiss.” In comparison to their older albums, it alludes to the slight mellowing that was to come on TAOD, but maintains the brash punk rock energy that I love. In my opinion, Black Sails in the Sunset serves as a transition from their early raunchy punk to the ever-changing and evolving rock band we know today.
BONUS ALERT: New record dropping soon!
“Begging for Trouble”
In true AFI fashion, they’ve come through with a glam rock vibe right when fans need them the most – after surviving 2020. Though the uncertainty of last year has definitely carried over into this year, it’s really nice to have something to look forward to. One thing’s for certain: I’m in love with several of the singles that have been released from Bodies, particularly “Begging for Trouble.” Bodies will drop on June 11 on Rise Records.
People always ask me which AFI album is my favorite, which is basically like asking me which of my dogs is my favorite. But if I must choose, it’s a tie between The Art of Drowning and Decemberunderground, both of which have provided inspiration for me… and my tattoo. If the early singles released from their forthcoming album are any indication, Bodies just might make it to the top of my list. I can’t wait to hear what’s in store – and to eventually see them live for my seventh time. Here’s hoping.