Sunday, September 16, 2012

Album Review: Blaqk Audio - Bright Black Heaven

Album Rating: C
AFI has always been a fun band to listen to. The mix of aggressive guitars, Davey Havok's interesting vocals, and excellent songwriting makes for catchy, energetic music that's a joy to experience. Songs like "Miss Murder" are what make the band so famous and they display the songwriting talent that the band has developed through years of experience. So, when Blaqk Audio, the darker, ambient electronic project of Havok and guitarist Jade Puget, released their first album CexCells a couple years ago, people everywhere were impressed, if a bit underwhelmed, by the smooth transition from guitars to synthesizers. Havok grabbed the listeners by the hand and led them through dark twists and turns, past thumping drums, and towards the end of a dark tunnel, an end which led right back to the beginning and left the listeners in the dark just like they started. It was a solid album, and the announcement of a second full-length caused people to look forward to the release date, when they could experience the darkness once more.

What's terribly disappointing, then, is how pointless and boring Bright Black Heaven turned out to be. The jagged edge that made CexCells such an interesting listen is gone, replaced for the most part with what feels like a half-hearted attempt at synthpop (look no further than "Everybody's Friends" for a prime example). The synth sounds are no longer ambient and brooding, but rather sound like a throwing together of the worst elements of bands like Depeche Mode and Shiny Toy Guns. To continue the tunnel analogy, it's as if this album instead takes the listener through a haunted house that's not nearly dark enough, so that people passing through the house can see all the machinery and makeup. Basically, the atmosphere that this album creates for the listener feels fake, and it's impossible to be immersed in the music like you could have been on CexCells. The album consistently fails to accomplish the goal Blaqk Audio seems to be trying to accomplish, and the one or two good songs on the album are overshadowed by a mammoth wall of inadequate music. From an unfortunate attempt at retro-sounding pop on opener "Cold War," to an obnoxious bass sound and a grating synth lead ruining even further an already apathetic "Faith Healer," to an irritatingly upbeat instrumentation in "Bon Voyeurs" contrasting harshly with Havok's vocals and destroying whatever faint hope for redemption "Bliss" might have given a listener, the album as a whole can't even achieve mediocracy.

The only real salvaging factor that saves the album from being terrible is "Bliss." It's out of place because it's a very good song, and it reminds us why we liked Blaqk Audio in the first place. It avoids the trap of the annoying synth sounds and cheesiness that plagued the rest of the album, instead using ambient chimes and twisted synths to create an ominous soundscape, as if the power suddenly cut out on the haunted house and the people inside were plunged into the darkness at last, if only for a moment. It's not enough to save the rest of the album, though, and the fact remains that Bright Black Heaven is a lackluster attempt to continue what Blaqk Audio started on their first album. An utter lack of vigor combined with instrumentation makes for an album that's not particularly worth a listen except for the most fervent of AFI and Blaqk Audio supporters.


1. Cold War
2. Fade To White
3. Faith Healer
4. Deconstructing Gods
5. Everybody’s Friends
6. Let’s Be Honest
7. With Your Arms Around You
8. Bliss
9. Bon Voyeurs
10. The Witness
11. Say Red
12. Ill-Lit Ships

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