When daylight forms blinding walls, where do we go? The darkness calls.
Black Sails in the Sunset was my first real introduction to the band. I had heard of them before, thanks to the Third Season video that used to get played on Fuse a lot back in the late 90s, and I liked that song because the chorus was fun to sing along with, and I had also seen the Totalimmortal video once and thought it was just about the coolest thing ever, but I really had no idea who AFI were. Lucky for me, I used to hang out with a kid in middle school whose older brother was a fan, and he was nice enough to burn this album for me, along with Shut Your Mouth and The Art of Drowning, which had been released only a few weeks before. I remember sitting in my room one night after he brought the burned copies to school with him, these plain Memorex CDs with the album titles scribbled in blue sharpie on the front. I honestly had no idea what to expect, except fast and loud.
I had headphones and a walkman CD player which I had to use to listen to this, because I just knew my crazy strict, ultra-conservative religious parents would think it was bad and something I shouldn’t be listening to and take them away from me. So in the middle of the night, after my parents thought I had gone to bed, under the covers with the lights off, I chose to listen to this one, Black Sails, first because I liked the title the most.
I just remember my first reactions being something like, this music is so loud and aggressive, it’s almost frightening, but I like it, I’ve never heard anything like it, I can’t even tell what he’s saying, what is this??? But I couldn’t stop listening and I let it play all the way through, and I remember I had such a splitting headache afterward hahaha. But I found myself wanting to listen to this album all the time, and I did, every night, for weeks, and I became a huge fan almost immediately. I had no lyrics to read so I tried to piece together what Davey was singing about myself. I remember being totally shocked the first time I heard The Last Kiss and thinking that surely I wasn’t hearing those lyrics correctly. I wasn’t even certain what exactly this music was about, but it was way heavier than anything my naive little pre-teen self had ever considered listening to before. I could tell it was dark, and I could tell that whatever Davey was singing about was honest and real. It was music like I’d never experienced it before.
Breathe in the life of the summer’s death as the orange and red breathe their first breath, so welcome as they’re burning through.
When I was old enough to finally purchase this album and the others for myself, is when I realized the full emotional gravity of this band. Black Sails is, to this day, probably the angriest music I have ever heard. It is explosive from beginning to end, even when they slow it down a bit in Clove Smoke Catharsis and God Called in Sick Today. This is a damn near perfect album in my opinion. I became more of a metalhead in my late teens and I still am, but this is still my second most favorite album of all time, outmatched only by Sing the Sorrow and followed very closely by The Art of Drowning. The beauty of Davey’s lyrics cannot be overstated in any of those albums, but here they are so brutally honest in a way that’s almost provocative, and the misanthropic themes are something I’d waited my entire life to hear someone express with the same depth I myself feel. I just remember hearing this album and feeling such a bizarre connection to these four guys who I had never even met, like we were very much alike in a way I can’t explain, and when I felt (still feel) all my life like I’m too strange and freakish that I don’t belong anywhere in this universe because I am nothing like any of the people I know in person, cannot understand them and they cannot understand me, I realized that as lonely and alienated as I feel, and as isolated as I have always been physically, I am not alone. Not truly. There are others who think just like I do, who feel just like I do.
What if I could go to sleep for days, would you count the hours, or would your restlessness consume fading memories of me?
Black Sails in the Sunset has always felt, to me, like a declaration of war against humanity. It’s not just being fed up with other people’s bullshit; it’s more like a realization of how cruel human beings actually are, and a conscious separation from them, a willingness to not be part of them. Black sails in the sunset…it’s like a farewell, but in solitude there is also power and freedom. Davey’s vocal delivery on this album is incredible. I have never heard anyone scream their soul out with utmost conviction like this before or since, and despite the darkness and seriousness of the lyrical content, it never ceases to be somehow uplifting.
The gardens have all been overgrown. I pushed my hand through the thorns just to crush the final rose.
This album has only become more relevant to me as I’ve gotten older. I don’t think I really began to have a real understanding of it until I was about Davey’s age when he penned these lyrics. I don’t believe I truly understood it until I was about 26 years old. I have been alone all my life, and in desperately seeking not to be alone, I remained in a violent sexually exploitative, physically and psychologically abusive relationship for years - and then was promptly abandoned because I’m too crazy and disabled and fucked up to deserve love and all of that had been my fault and I had deserved it all. The entire experience was so dehumanizing that I no longer perceived myself as a human being - if I ever did - and this album was the only thing that taught me to even try to learn how to treat myself like a human being. Because I really had to face it then - it’s not like anyone else ever had or was ever going to. I blasted this album for like two years, non-stop, day and night. It was the only thing that made sense. And really since then I’ve been a lot more okay with my differences and my aloneness…
In an instant, my life just slipped away. I fought for life the whole time you were holding me down. You watched me dying. Holding me down, you brought my rebirth.
In 2019, this album still sounds new and exciting to me, even though I’ve spent probably hundreds of hours with it over the years. There is a timelessness to it, and even though the production isn’t nearly as good as, say, Sing the Sorrow, I think the raw, gritty imperfection just adds to its emotional impact. Everything about it sounds natural and passionate. Davey’s lyrics border on almost a gothic fantasy of sorts, which never fail to elicit strong emotions and sensory experiences for me, in which I feel like I’ve been transported to some sacred past - definitely not the same tedious reality in which I live. The song order is brilliant, instrumentally it’s tight as hell…I mean I don’t really know what else I can say about it. Like I said before, it’s a damn near perfect album. I can’t think of much else that could have possibly made it better.
So here’s to you, Black Sails. I’m looking forward to another 20 years of rocking out to this beautiful racket.