“Black Sails in the Sunset” is most definitely a monumental release in punk rock. So many bands, including Rise Against and Avenged Sevenfold, cite AFI as an influence, and that influence ultimately stems from this record.
By 1999, AFI as a band had been around for eight years and had not received great success as a band despite the punk revival of the mid 90s. In addition, by the release of the Black Sails EP, only half of the original band remained. Their old guitarist, Markus Stopholese, left without much fanfare and was replaced by the lead singer’s, Davey Havok, roommate and good friend Jade Puget. The members of the band were also aging. It would no longer be appropriate to continue to sing about “Cereal Wars” or “Key Lime Pie”. Finally, AFI was never the greatest hardcore punk band – their first two albums (“Answer That and Stay Fashionable” and “Very Proud of Ya”, despite being branded as hardcore punk, musically sounded more like a harder version of pop punk, and their third album “Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes” sounded like a bit of a rush job.
All these factors contributed to the change in AFI’s sound for this release. Gone were the short, sharp songs of their previous releases. The sound of the album is a mixture of the Misfits, Danzig and Minor Threat, but the album retains a unique sound.
“Strength Through Wounding” – 8/10: This song is an excellent opening track. It sounds fantastic when performed live with the chants. However, this song loses two points because it is never performed live anymore.
“Porphyria Cutanea Tarda” – 9/10: Moving swiftly on from the crowd chants of “Strength Through Wounding”, this song is pure hardcore punk. Simple chords, shouted vocals, a partly chanted chorus and a fast and furious drum beat create an amazing atmosphere. This song is especially good when played at full volume with double bass turned on.
“Exsanguination” – 10/10: This song flows nicely from “Porphyria” – it literally sounds like the same song though it is slightly more experimental. There are some interesting effects with the guitar. The chorus is entirely chanted with only the drum and bass playing. This is probably one of my favourite songs on the album.
“Malleus Maleficarum” – 7/10: I’m not too sure about this one. I mean, it is a good song, but I spent $45 ordering this album from the US through HMV Singapore to listen to some punk rock. Instead, this song sounds more like a metalcore song. It does, however, make a nice break from the fast and furious first three tracks.
“Narrative of Soul Against Soul” – 8/10: This is a good song. A very good song. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really suit the album as a whole. It sounds too melodic to fit on this album. Featuring it on “The Art of Drowning” or “The All Hallow’s EP” would have been better.
“Clove Smoke Catharsis” – 9/10: This is the first of two ballads on this album. It is one of my favourite songs, and the lyrics are amazing. The backing vocals of Dexter Holland of the Offspring don’t quite suit the song though. Nick 13 of Tiger Army or Jade Puget would have been more appropriate, but considering that at the time the Offspring were one the most successful bands in the world it might have been an honour to work with him.
“The Prayer Position” – 6/10: I don’t like this song for similar reasons to why I don’t like Malleus Maleficarum, except that this song isn’t half as good. The redeeming factor is the bridge – the soft vocals with the snare drum and simple guitar drone are good, but it doesn’t last for long.
“No Poetic Device” – 8/10: I like this song very much. Like “Exsanguination”, it is more of a progressive song.
“The Last Kiss” – 10/10: It is nowhere near as aggressive as the first few tracks. It is, however, a great melodic hardcore song. The chorus has a call-and-response pattern that suits it very well. It does have somewhat of a weak ending, but that is overshadowed by the rest of the song.
“Weathered Tome” – 9/10: This song is more aggressive than many of the previous songs. It does sound like the end of the album as we move onto the last two tracks.
“At A Glance” – 6/10: This song sounds far too much like other songs on the album and the chorus is just crap. This is, by far, one of the weakest songs of AFI’s independent days.
“God Called in Sick Today” – 10/10: The second of AFI’s ballads on this album, this song features a very good guitar opening. This song, to me, is a classic song. The vocal work is also very good. The song is not punk, but it still is good.
“Midnight Sun” – 8/10: After a tremendously long gap with no way to skip it easily, the next track “Midnight Sun” comes on. It is a hidden track in “God Called in Sick Today” but is more punk. It is not so good as the rest of the album and not a great closer.
In conclusion, “Black Sails in the Sunset” is a fantastic album. You should buy it now.