Recorded after the All Hallows EP, The Art Of Drowning features a horror punk sound which had been explored on the band's preceding release, albeit this time inflected with elements of alternative rock. The album contains many more slower-tempo songs, such as "6 to 8" and "Morningstar," than any of its predecessors. Facets of AFI's brand of hardcore punk are also prominent in the album, which still features the diaphragmatic screams of Davey Havok, gang vocals, and several fast-tempo songs. The album was the last to be self-produced by the band. The 2003 follow-up, Sing the Sorrow, was produced by Butch Vig and Jerry Finn.
The lead single, "The Days of the Phoenix", experienced moderate airplay on modern rock stations, the most notable being KROQ-FM. A music video was released for the song and was shot in a venue in California called 8 Below. It was directed by Marc Webb. "The Days of the Phoenix" was released as an EP in 2001, which peaked at #152 on the UK Singles Chart. "Wester" and "6 to 8" were also released in the form of promotional singles.
When asked about the track "Smile" in an interview, Davey answered,
Hate humanity? Yep, sure do. There's such a lack of responsibility for one's actions in the world, a selfishness, and a great destruction in the way people live their lives. It's all instant gratification, and who cares how my instant gratification affects those around me, or on a small personal level or a global level. The way people treat each other is truly disgusting, and we've created an environment through advances in science and technology that allows for a very septic society to thrive. And we breed and breed, and all the wrong people breed while all the right people don't want to have children because they don't want to place them in this world.
The Art of Drowning also features AFI's first use of electronic music in the beginning of "The Despair Factor". The track eventually inspired the name of the band's official fan club, The Despair Faction.
All tracks recorded during the Art of Drowning sessions unless otherwise noted.
"Battled" is featured as a hidden track on the CD format of the album.
"Dream of Waking" is featured as track 9 on the A-Side of the 12" vinyl edition of the album. It was later released on the Nitro Records Punkzilla compilation. It also appears on the iTunes version of the album.
"A Winter's Tale" was recorded during the Art of Drowning sessions. It was featured on The Days of the Phoenix EP, and later on the AFI compilation.
The inner-edge of the CD case reveals a hidden message: "Battled". This is the name of the hidden track on the CD edition.
"The Despair Factor" contains the lyrics "My whole life is a dark room... one big dark room," which is a line originally spoken by Winona Ryder in the film Beetlejuice.
The official AFI fan club, the Despair Faction, gets its name from the song "The Despair Factor." It contains perks such as exclusive merchandise, a free digital magazine, and a message board community.
The song "Wester" was featured in Winter X Games Snowboarding 2000.
The song "The Days of the Phoenix" refers to the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma, California. Petaluma is near Ukiah, California, where the band originated, and the band played the venue often in their early years.