“Balancing two bands is a complex task…one shines and the other simmers. Now it’s time for Blaqk Audio to shine.” Well, well, well. Never one to mince words, Jade Puget recently issued the foregoing statement not as a justification, but as a rallying cry. Puget and AFI bandmate Davey Havok are ready to debut Bright Black Heaven—the sophomore offering of their electronic brainchild Blaqk Audio, and as far as they are concerned, September 11th could not arrive soon enough.
Blaqk Audio, for all its artistic spontaneity, however, did not emerge ex nihilo from the AFI ether. Rather, the band’s origin lies in Puget & Havok’s collective penchant for electronic dance music—a taste that, for both musicians, dates to the heyday of the electro-industrial wave: that never-never(again) land of the late 1980s. Bands like Skinny Puppy, Depeche Mode, and Nitzer Ebb were among the first to colonize the musical territory of Puget’s mind; meanwhile, Havok steeped himself in the soundscapes of The Pet Shop Boys, Devo, and Front 242. Their artistic and professional commitment to celebrated multi-platinum rock juggernaut, AFI, however, left Puget & Havok little time to indulge their electronic itch.
“Jade and I never considered Blaqk Audio to be a side project,” Havok reflects. “As with all our artistic creations, we care about it deeply.” Havok is dealing in understatement. Puget and Havok care so deeply for Blaqk Audio, in fact, that they forged a record label—Big Death—for the sole purpose of advancing the Blaqk Audio agenda. “Hopefully some of our electrophilic friends will join us on the roster,” Havok muses, no doubt in earnest. And Havok’s predictions have certainly borne fruit in the past. The relentless work ethic that fueled AFI’s rise to the apex of the modern rock circuit speaks for itself as an endorsement of Blaqk Audio’s potential. Adjectives like boundless come to mind. But we don’t trade in adjectives, do we?
Right. And so much for all of that. The transition between Blaqk Audio’s freshman debut, CexCells, and their recent offering, Bright Black Heaven, has elicited well-deserved buzz among the tastemakers of the industrial underground. Never reluctant to illuminate their artistic impulses, Puget and Havok provide context for this evolution. “Thematically, Bright Black Heaven is an expansion of CexCells’ hedonistic agenda,” notes Havok, his tongue implanted partially in-cheek. “As a producer, I’m constantly evolving as my skill set changes. So there are some marked changes from CexCells on this album,” Puget continues. “But many of the nuances of Davey and I writing electronic music together will sound familiar.”
Proving that in continuity there is success, Bright Black Heaven finds Blaqk Audio working again with Dave Bascombe, mixer of CexCells. Bacombe, who counts Depeche Mode and Erasure among the bands with whom he has collaborated, joins forces on Bright Black Heaven with fellow mixers Lars Stalfors (The Mars Volta), and Michael Patterson (Trent Reznor)—no slouches. Indeed, their multifarious influence and symbiotic collaboration with Puget & Havok is manifest throughout the album. Judge an album by its title. “I feel that the album title perfectly captures the tone of the record,” Havok suggests. “The songs shift from high-energy dance anthems to mid-tempo pop to dramatic ballads that focus on transcendence and escape through the shadowy corners of bliss.” Poets, musicians, salesmen, oh my! Puget bolsters his bandmate’s appraisal. “[That’s] a very apt description of our music. It can be bright and glossy electronic, but it always maintains that undercurrent of darkness that infuses [everything] we do.”
Picking up where CexCells left off, Bright Black Heaven features a dozen well-wrought tracks that defy any stale adages about quality and quantity. Never the twain shall meet, right? Wrong. The kinetic and succinct “Cold War” opens the album, riding along propulsive, urgent synth grooves at once textured and spare enough to accentuate Havok’s confessional lyrics, ending with the damning conclusion: “I’ll never forgive you.” The relentless dynamic of “Cold War” gives way to the controlled—nay, disciplined—dance groove of “Fade to White,” in which the bedrock instrumentation contributes a contemporary sheen to a deliberately vintage electropop aesthetic. Here again, Havok’s exigent lyrics demand attention: “You blush like the ingénue but I have seen you lead so, all that is done tonight, of this we cannot we cannot speak. So don't say another word.”
“Bliss,” another standout and easily the darkest track on the album, lays claim to the symphonic drama one assumes to be the purview solely of film soundtracks. This dramatic flourish finds a lyrical echo. “When you find you are exposed to me,” Havok warns, “cover up everything.” Adding dimension and context to such darkness, Puget and Havok transition through the lithe and reverberant “Bon Voyeurs” into “The Witness”—a showcase for Havok’s immense vocal range and a collage of churning verse and transcendent chorus readymade for the arena. “Who needs forgiveness when we all speak fluent lies,” the song demands. “Here is deliverance. You’re in it.” Instead of platitude, we have plea; instead of complaint, observation.
Is there something for the AFI fan in Blaqk Audio?
Certainly. When prompted to relate his band to the AFI legion, Havok invokes Blaqk Audio’s dynamism and talent for churning out dramatic “big-room” anthems: musical signposts familiar even to the casual AFI fan (if, indeed, there is such a thing). And it seems that we have only seen the beginning of Blaqk Audio.
“We had more than enough songs to release a full length album [as early as] 2010,” Davey confesses. Held back by obligations to a former label, Havok & Puget were forced to delay the Blaqk Audio onslaught; their writing process, however, was not subject to legal impediment, and as such, flourished. The musical current linking Havok and Puget has already revealed itself as a fountainhead of inspiration and momentum. Now rolling, Blaqk Audio gives us no occasion to expect pause.