I think the concept of ranking things is so fun to do. Fellow fans can see how others view things and compare them with their own rankings. I personally love to watch YouTube videos of people ranking movie franchises because they also always don’t follow the release or chronological order. It’s great to see what a person values over what you personally value. This is all to say that this blog post was a long time coming. Inspired by these tier lists and rankings, I decided I wanted to do my own. So, I thought, why not challenge myself and rank albums of my all-time favorite band?
AFI has been my favorite band since I was 13. Plenty of bands have stolen my heart over the years, but never my whole heart. AFI has always held a space in it, and they probably always will. They’re the reason I got into the music I love today. They were my gateway into the punk, emo, metalcore, and alternative scene, among other genres. I think one thing that makes AFI so special to me is their ability to change genres effortlessly. Very seldom do they stay in the same realm. In fact, it’s expected that the latest AFI album will be different from the last. It’s like they’re constantly reinventing themselves and evolving yet always maintaining who they are. This is why ranking these albums is a bit of a challenge. Each album tends to fall into a different subgenre, so how do you compare a 90s punk album to a 2000s emo album? Like many rankings, it all boils down to taste. So, without further preamble, let’s get into the rankings.
Note: I decided to include the two EPs and the self-titled released in 2004 that’s mostly a re-release.
14) AFI (2004)
As I said in my note, this album is almost like a re-release or a greatest hits album. Because of this, I don’t throw it on too much. Sure, it has amazing songs on it, but 11 of the 15 tracks can be found on other albums, so I don’t go back to it often. A band having a greatest hits album isn’t a bad thing, but it can be disappointing for fans itching for new content. I personally don’t seek this release out. This would probably be a forgettable release for me if not for it exclusively having “Who Said You Could Touch Me?” which is an amazing track. This track and “Rolling Balls” were vinyl bonus tracks for the album Very Proud of Ya upon release in 1996, so it was a great way for fans to get a chance to listen to these great songs who couldn’t get their hands on the vinyl. This is especially essential today, now that the album is over 25 years old. Speaking on the track listing, it’s a great collection of songs, but it’s mostly songs I can find elsewhere, so it’s going to stay at the bottom.
13) Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes (SYMAOYE)
The punk days of AFI feel like eons ago when looking at the band’s latest releases. SYMAOYE came out in 1997 and is AFI’s second studio album. While the lyrical content from this era isn’t always groundbreaking, it’s always a fun time. Still, of the three albums I dub as specifically punk in AFI’s discography, SYMAOYE takes my least favorite spot. This isn’t because it’s bad. The other two are just a little better, in my opinion. I don’t find myself seeking this specific album out to listen to often. Still, it does have some amazing tracks including “A Single Second”, “Third Season”, and a song I thought I was edgy listening to in middle school because they curse in it, “Today’s Lesson.” SYMAOYE is a great album to check out if you’re into 90s punk.
12) Very Proud of Ya
Ranking second out of the three albums I consider AFI’s punk era, Very Proud of Ya is a fun album that always makes me think of an old friend who loved the album because their birthday was right around the album’s release date, right down to release year. That opening track “He Who Laughs Last” always gets me hyped up, and I loved the album artwork. This album has two songs I also felt rebellious listening to in middle school (“Cruise Control” and “Crop Tub”) because they dropped the taboo f-bomb. As an adult, they’re damn fun to sing. It’s these two tracks specifically that always makes me laugh when I think back to how scandalous I thought they were back then, and that makes me nostalgic. So, you might be wondering why Very Proud of Ya is ranked where it is. It’s simply because I like other albums more. For a band like AFI where I liked pretty much everything they’ve released, there are still eras I prefer over others. While this album has some gems, I don’t find myself seeking it out to listen to as often as others. But it’s a solid punk album worth checking out, make no mistake.
11) The Missing Man EP
This EP was a surprise when it dropped. This is mostly because, since 2009, AFI has been releasing a new album every four years. It was a cycle I could predict and get an idea of when to expect new music from them. So, when they broke that cycle and decided to drop The Missing Man EP in 2018, just one year after the release of their self-titled (the Blood album), I was thrilled. The Missing Man is 5 tracks of mesmerizing gloom. Every AFI release feels a little different, and while this EP explores new musical avenues, the EP also borrows from their roots, dipping into elements of their punk and emo days but then subverting those expectations by adding something different to them. A standout track for me is definitely “Get Dark.” This one feels the most reminiscent of the sound I’ve come to love from AFI, so it makes sense. While I enjoy this EP, it doesn’t hold a candle to the albums further down on this list. And while it’s enjoyable, it’s not as cohesive as some of their other releases, so it gets ranked 11th.
Bodies is the latest album released from AFI in June of 2021. Having gained more friends in the last couple of years who also love AFI (thank you, internet), the hype around this album was huge for me. I’ve always been excited about the band’s releases, but this was the first time I got to share that excitement with more than just one person. Beyond that, it came out the day I left for my honeymoon so now it’s associated with an exciting day. I’ve listened to it dozens of times and I love how different this album feels while also comfortingly familiar. AFI does a great job of balancing that. I do love this album, especially “Dulcería” and “No Eyes.” “Dulcería” has a mystifying groove to it that I adore. The reason it’s ranked where it is, is mostly because I didn’t connect to this album emotionally as much as prior releases. It has some interesting directions that feel different and special, but the album just didn’t hit hard enough for it to rank it higher. The songs are always playing in my head, especially “Far Too Near” and I think that’s a sign that it’s an effective album that sticks with you, even if it didn’t hit me as deeply as I expected it would. For fans of the latest era of AFI with less punk and aggression and more alternative directions, this is definitely an album worth checking out.
9) Answer That and Stay Fashionable
This is my favorite album from the band’s punk era. This might be a controversial take given that it seems longtime fans gravitate toward Very Proud of Ya or Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes more. But for me, Answer That and Stay Fashionable is my favorite of the three and to me, feels the most unique of the three. Sonically, it’s similar to the other two punk albums, but lyrically, I find this album fascinating and more memorable. This could also just be my personal preference and bias because it was the one that I listened to most growing up.
I have fond memories of popping this CD in with my friend and cackling at songs like “Cereal Wars” or “I Want to Get a Mohawk (But Mom Won’t Let Me Get One)”. And I’ll never forget the heart attack we had when we thought the final track “High School Football Hero” had ended and didn’t change over the CD, only to find out after 13 minutes of silence, there was 10 seconds of a weird voice chanting, “I know something I won’t tell, I won’t tell, I won’t tell. I know something I won’t-” and then he gets cut off. I only recently learned that this part was sampled from an old Looney Tunes cartoon Injun Trouble/Wagon Wheels. It was the character Sloppy Moe’s catchphrase. Let me tell you, we were so freaked out by this clip, especially since we thought the album had ended. That’s a core memory I associate with this album, and honestly my AFI journey.
The album has all kinds of odd things like this sample at the beginning or end of their songs. The album cover itself is a reference to the film Reservoir Dogs and they sample audio from the movie throughout the album along with clips from The Comic Strip episode "Bad News Tour." Having these parts included, especially not knowing where they were from as a teenager, I found the album so fascinating. I have those clips memorized to the point that they feel like an important part of the songs. I love this album. I do have to acknowledge, however, that it isn’t the most groundbreaking thing they’ve ever released. Still, I have to acknowledge where AFI began, and perhaps that’s why it has also felt so great to me.
Burials was released in 2013 which was also the first year I got to see the band live. For that alone, this album holds a special place in my heart. I’ll never forget hearing songs from the album live knowing that they were brand new. They released about 5 of the 13 tracks as singles before the album dropped, and I really loved “The Conductor.” Since the album hadn’t come out when I saw them live (the show was about a week before the release date), I wasn’t sure what they’d play on the new album. But then they shocked me by playing “The Conductor.” There was nothing like that feeling. The band’s singer Davey Havok has said that this is one of the darker albums from AFI, lyrically and sonically. And I agree. It holds so much anxiety, anger, betrayal, and loss, and that’s what I love about it. “I Hope You Suffer” reminded me of the vocals Davey Havok used in Decemberunderground so that was naturally one of my favorites from Burials. One reason this album is ranked in the middle is partly because – say it with me now- I like other albums more. But it’s also because I have to be in a certain mood to seek it out. And I’m not always in that mood. As the years have passed, it isn’t as popular of an album with me, but I still love it dearly and the entire ambiance of this album.
Fun Fact: The song “17 Crimes” featured in the credits of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones movie that came the same year. And those worlds colliding was mind-blowing to me back then. This era of AFI feels so nostalgic to me.
7) All Hallows EP
Released in 1999, the All Hallows EP packs a punch in just 4 songs. Its place in this ranking has partly to do with my immense love of the fall season and spooky things. I love the songs. I love the album’s aesthetic. And most of all, I love their cover of Misfits’ song “Halloween.” This might upset some Misfits fans, but I honestly prefer this cover to the original. I think Davey Havok adds a little more grit to the song, and I love the creepy sounds that play for the latter half of the song. You get two minutes of song, and then two minutes of spooky sounds. How more Halloween can you get? I love it. Listening to it now, I feel like the sounds give off Insidious vibes, for fans of that horror movie. This EP falls in the time when they were transitioning out of general punk and leaning more into horror punk. They would continue to evolve from here into goth punk/emo. This EP is great to play any time of the year, but it’s especially great to play in the fall with a flannel and warm cider.
6) Crash Love
Crash Love often gets overlooked/hated on, but I don’t think much of it is warranted. Being the next album released after Decemberunderground (DU), AKA one of the most popular and influential AFI albums of all time, it was doomed to not hold up in comparison. Don’t get me wrong. AFI has released some amazing albums since DU, but they truly captured magic with that album. They also brought in a lot of fans expecting the DU sound from the band moving forward. But longtime fans knew that just isn’t how AFI operates. Every album cycle is a reinvention, a different sound. And some people didn’t like this change, especially those who loved Davey’s screaming vocals from DU. In Crash Love, they’re virtually nonexistent (minus an amazing bonus track from the DU days). Despite these changes and my immense love for DU, I absolutely ate Crash Love up when it came out. This was the first album to come out since I’d become a fan. By the time I discovered the band, DU had come out and had taken the music scene by storm, and me too, of course. But there’s something special about getting to experience a new album from an artist you love for the first time. The anticipation, the teasers, the chance to be part of the band’s history. There’s something so magical about that.
To me, the Crash Love era of AFI feels like a time capsule. A look back into a vastly different time in my life. It was September 2009. I was just starting my freshman year of high school. There was so much new coming into my life and yet I had my love of AFI to carry with me through all those changes. Then to receive a new album to obsess over and experience at such a pivotal time in my life....it was incredible. As you can tell, I’m very sentimental when it comes to this album.
Crash Love was different from anything else AFI had released at the time. Some called it too commercial, but I never thought of it that way. I loved the aesthetic, and I loved the songs, especially the lyrics. I used to play “Darling I Want to Destroy You” on repeat when I was sad, and “Too Shy to Scream” when I needed a confidence boost. I could go on, but we’ll leave it at that. I love this album, and even though it doesn’t crack my top 5, it is absolutely an amazing album worth checking out.
5) Black Sails in the Sunset
Released in 1999, Black Sails in the Sunset is best described in one word: dark. While Havok believed Burials to be their darkest album, I would argue that Black Sails is just as dark, if not darker. While Google lists this album as punk, it doesn’t feel quite the same as the older punk albums. I’ve always classified it as more of a gothic punk sound. This is where I believe their sound shifts from just punk into more of a gothic/emo territory that they became known for in the 2000s. I mean, the opening lyrics – that has now become the fandom’s go-to chant at shows - “Through our bleeding, we are one” already establishes that they aren’t just writing about little brothers who want mohawks or for people to leave them alone. They shift to a more serious tone with this album, and I’ve always found it so bewitching.
When I was first getting into AFI, I naturally - as most kids in the 2000s – wanted every CD they ever made. In middle school, I remember seeing a CD of Black Sails in the Sunset at a Media Play (rip to that gem of a store). I was out shopping with my grandma, who, like my parents, were cautious about my sudden obsession with a “crazy rock band.” We were a Catholic family, for context. Despite knowing this, I begged my grandma to buy me the CD. She asked me if my parents were okay with this band, and if the lyrics were “appropriate.” Like any kid desperate to get what they want, I fibbed and said, “Yes, absolutely.”
I tried hiding the album from my parents because I knew they wouldn’t approve of it, especially with a title like Black Sails in the Sunset. Despite my efforts, my grandma told them about the CD, and they asked to see it to “review the lyrics.” I thought I was doomed as I handed it over. But to my surprise, an hour later, the CD was back in my hands. I couldn’t believe it. To this day, I have no idea how my parents looked at those lyrics and thought, “Oh yes, these are totally fine for a 13-year-old.” Maybe they were just looking for curse words and thought the dark lyrics like, “Blood was seeping, it was seeping from my pores/Who'd believe that it was all my own decision?” would go over my head since they sang so fast. Either way, because of this, Black Sails has always felt sacred to me. Still, I’m not sure how the lyrics in “A Prayer Position” got the parent approval, a song that’s very anti-religion.
Regardless of how I got my hands on the album, it absolutely made an impact on me and showed me just how complicated lyrics could look on paper but hold so much more meaning.
4) AFI (The Blood Album)
Of the recent (and by recent, I mean the last 10 years) albums released by AFI, this is absolutely my favorite. It probably has to do with how much it feels like dipping their toes back into the sounds of their Sing the Sorrow era. Released in 2017, the promotion behind this album was so cool. This album is technically self-titled as a nod to it being the band’s 10th studio album, but when interviewed about it, Davey Havok said they ultimately decided to add The Blood Album as a subtitle because of how often blood was present in the lyrics. Fans mostly refer to it as The Blood Album.
Latching onto the blood imagery, AFI released snippets of cryptic audio in the months leading up to the release labeled as blood types. I haven’t touched much on this aspect of the band yet, but longtime fans of AFI know that for a couple of album cycles, they brought a lot of curiosity around their albums by releasing mysteries along with it for fans to solve. Those who solved it would sometimes discover a meeting place that allowed them to meet the band. Their most popular mysteries happened during the Sing the Sorrow, DU time frame, so seeing the band bring back this cryptic aspect to their music was exhilarating for a lot of people, me included, of course.
Speaking about the album itself, I already mentioned it was reminiscent of Sing the Sorrow so that alone had me hooked. Everything about this era from the songs to the music videos to the imagery, it was all so nostalgic, but it also felt so new and fresh. When they released the music video for “White Offerings” I was nearly jumping for joy at the direction they’d taken with this album. This album is full of pleasant surprises. This was also the era I got to see them live for the second time, so I feel very warm about this album and era it came out. Some other stand-out tracks for me are “So Beneath You” and “Pink Eyes.” Fans of the old AFI can find at least one track on this album they’ll jive with, and I think that’s cool.
3) The Art of Drowning
Released just one year after Black Sails, The Art of Drowning is when the band teetered into their melodic hardcore era. The punk roots are still there, but they hold that same sort of darkness that Black Sails had. This is an album that actually became more popular with me over time. I don’t have as much nostalgia pinned to this album, but I still have fond memories of it. I especially remember my friend hating the song “6 to 8” for some reason, and I loved it, so I would bug her all the time singing the opening, “Six figures enter, they’ve come to destroy the world.” I also loved “The Despair Factor” even more so because Havok says an iconic line spoken by Lydia Deetz in Beetlejuice near the beginning of the song. That song is where the band’s fanbase got its name, calling ourselves The Despair Faction. I’ll never forget seeing them play “The Despair Factor” live and when he said, “My whole life is a dark room” the crowd screamed back, “One. Big. Dark. Room.”
I think what I love so much about this album is the entire mood and imagery. The gothic look and feel of this album really resonates with me. This is also an album where Davey Havok goes away from some of the aggressive vocals and gives us softer, whispering vocals that really demonstrate the range we see in later albums. Plus, The Art of Drowning gave us the incredible songs “Days of the Phoenix” and “Wester.” And “Morningstar” is so emotionally gripping, especially that final line, “Am I your anything?” This album hypes me up, and that’s why it falls so high in my ranking. I just feel such kinship with this album. It feels like a dear friend.
If you haven’t listened to The Art of Drowning, I feel it holds a lot of the same energy as The All Hallows EP, and in fact, I often like to play them together.
My goodness, where do I begin with Decemberunderground? This is the album that started everything. This is the album that got me into all the music I listen to today. Hints of this direction can be found in Sing the Sorrow, but longtime fans were still a little shocked by his change in sound. Their punk roots are buried deep in this album. Because of this, I know it’s a hit or miss for fans. But for me personally, this was my introduction to AFI. This is what I knew to be AFI and given the era that I found them; this was their most recent work.
Let me backtrack a bit. I found AFI by chance, perhaps by fate, from a neighbor who had Guitar Hero 3, a game which had “Miss Murder” the top single from Decemberunderground on it (to make things easier, I'm going to abbreviate to DU here on out). After hearing it on Guitar Hero 3, my friend and I were obsessed. We dove straight into the rabbit hole (pun intended given the album’s iconography 😉). We wanted to know anything and everything about them and their music. So, I worked backward, knowing DU and then looking into other albums from the past, falling in love with AFI more and more along the way.
This album is a part of me and I love every part of it, from the songs to the music videos to the album aesthetic. It’s all perfect to me. I celebrate the winter solstice by playing “Prelude 12/21” every year, and I have small memories attached to every single of these songs. I love that Jade Puget (guitarist of the band) sings along with Davey in “The Interview.” I love that I can visualize the music videos for “Prelude 12/21-Miss Murder” and “Love Like Winter” down to being able to call out when certain moments happen in the videos. Most of all, I love that lyrically, this album astonishes me even years and years after discovering it. I could go on and on about this album. Perhaps it will get its own blog post one day because I could go into so much more of my personal thoughts and the history behind the album.
Knowing all of this, you might be wondering, why isn’t this your #1? And I’ll tell you that it absolutely hurts my soul to not put DU at #1, but it also hurts my soul not put Sing the Sorrow at #1. I honestly love these albums equally. But for the sake of doing a proper ranking and not taking a cheap way out, I decided one had to take the #2 spot. But know that these two spots are interchangeable. I love both albums with all my heart. Moving on, let’s talk about the not-so-obvious album that took #1...
1) Sing the Sorrow
As I said, for me, my top AFI album can change by the day, but it always seems to be between Sing the Sorrow and DU. Both played such integral roles in my musical journey.
Sing the Sorrow feels so special to me. It’s like DU was my first love and then Sing the Sorrow (or STS for short) is the love I can never get over. I’m not sure if I’m making any sense, but I’m trying to say that they’ve both made an immense impact on me. I get chills every time I start “Miseria Cantare.” It’s as if Art of Drowning is a mood, Sing the Sorrow is an immersive experience in an array of moods. The lyrics are incredibly deep and thought-provoking. The musicality is top-notch. And the originality (in my opinion) is at its best. I haven’t found an album that holds this same energy and feeling as STS. If you know of one, leave it in the comments!
You can throw on any song from this album, and I’m going to sing along with dramatic hand motions, possibly dance moves. Much like DU, I have special memories associated with every song on this album. I remember how I felt singing the opening line to “The Leaving Song Pt. II” when I saw them live for the first time. I remember where I was when I heard “...but home is nowhere” the first time. I remember watching misheard lyric videos, especially for “This Celluloid Dream.” I played “Silver and Cold” when I was sad, “Death of Seasons” when I was pissed, and “Dancing Through Sunday” when I was having a good day. And I could go on and on like that.
This album is at the top of my ranking because it’s so sophisticated with how it draws you in. Maybe that’s my nostalgia and love for the album talking, but I truly feel like this album pulls you in and refuses to let go until it’s finished with you. Until you’ve been given the experience. This album brought the world iconic music videos for “Girl’s Not Grey”, “Silver and Cold”, and “The Leaving Song Pt. II.” This album is when AFI knelt more into the rock category, the start of their dip into metal on DU before going into rock/alternative head-on with Crash Love and albums moving forward. It’s an essential piece of the AFI puzzle. The blueprint. And it’s just. So. Good!! Not a fan of the band and don’t believe me? Give it a listen! I haven’t met many fans who dislike this album, and that’s no accident. In my opinion, it’s a masterpiece. It deserves to be at the top.
I’m sure by this point, you got a better idea of how big of an AFI fan I am. When I say they started everything, I truly mean it. They not only opened me up to so many other types of music, but they were also my gateway into the world of emo and goth in the 2000s. They showed me that it was okay to be different, to dress how you want, to listen to whatever you wanted, even if wasn’t popular. The band members of AFI and are all vegan and straight-edge, and they’re part of the reason why I stayed straight-edge up until my 21st birthday (a fact which I’m sure my parents are grateful for them for). My daydreams to see them live one day is where my love for concerts began. The darkness surrounding the band is probably why I eventually gravitated toward horror. This is all to say that they played a huge part in the person I am today. And I’ll be forever grateful to Guitar Hero 3 for helping me discover them.
It was hard to rank these albums since I love them all in their own special way, but I did it! We made it to the end of the rankings, folks. If you’re an AFI fan, where do your rankings line up? If you’ve never listened to AFI, which album did I make you curious about? Let me know in the comments!
Written by Kristen Petronio