Review: Blaqk Audio – Beneath The Black Palms

As is the case with anything related to Davey Havok, Blaqk Audio succeed by painting a story with their albums. Not explicitly, but it’s a simple task to envision each album through the dark emotional lyrics. Beneath The Black Palms, the band’s fifth full release, is perhaps the hardest one to discern, but it is filled with heated imagery and a sinister interpretation of a love story reminiscent of a twisted version of Erin Morgenstern’s novel The Night Circus. 

You can buy or stream Beneath the Black Palms on Apple Music.

Blaqk Audio always delves into the dark side of relationships – something that Davey Havok and Jade Puget’s main group, the legendary AFI, tend to steer slightly further away from. Where AFI relishes in eloquent rage, Blaqk Audio is flirtatious and sexy. Havok has never steered away from topics of sex, manipulation or longing, but Beneath The Black Palms takes these concepts and weaves them in and out of faint fantasy imagery that explores the dynamic of a couple who are mad for each other, but can’t effectively communicate (“It’s Not Going Well”).

Filled with electronic synth pop and new wave elements, Beneath The Black Palms treads little new ground in terms of sound. Songs range from loud bangers (“Consort”) to slow, moody piano ballads (“1948”). As is tradition with Blaqk Audio, most songs tend to sound a little more similar to each other than probably intentional (as like past albums), but Puget’s orchestration is so expertly done it hardly matters.

Havok retains the clean vocals he has mastered over the last decade, and although he hardly pushes himself in the ways that have made him one of the leading frontmen and singers in the industry, he commands such a powerful new wave presence that he can’t be ignored.

One playful new aspect is that he introduces a much more feminine vocalization in verses opposite a deeper voice for other verses, which shows the perspective of both characters of the relationship (“Burnt Babies Fear the Fire”). This dynamic helps show the mindset of the “characters” while also managing to be ambient, poetic and omnipresent.

The “theme” of Beneath The Black Palms (if there is one at all) is communication. The characters communicate through passion, but seem to keep misunderstanding one another. “Zipper Don’t Work” illustrates that even though their physical relationship is intense, even that isn’t communicating correctly (“I may have poorly planned this, what’s underneath this dress / I wore to end all wars / I’d bare my arm but you’re a violent mess”).

Although there are elements of fantasy, such as in “A Distant Light”, (“On a distant road, somewhere far behind / Where we hid the light that was never, never mine / … / You had hidden spells falling from your hair”) the album explores the lovers attempt time and again to get on the same page, before ending song “It’s Not Going Well” finds them admit their faults (“You said he turns you on though he can’t tell / … / You wrote ‘talk dirty,’ but he can’t spell”).

Beneath The Black Palms delves deep into the idea of a relationship that so badly wants to work, but seems to fail at every turn. But the pain of this is buried beneath layers of intense synth and Havok’s sexy brooding. Although the album doesn’t stand out quite as much as some past albums, it explores a new piece of troubled relationships with intense beats, poetic illusion and sincere command.

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and is full of pot pie and cookie butter.

Most Anticipated of 2017: #2 AFI’s Resurgence

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This may be the busiest year AFI have ever had as a band. Notorious for long delays between albums, there are hints of three possible releases related to the band on the way. Their 10 album, AFI (The Blood Album) is coming out in just a couple of weeks, preceded by two very strong singles and a national tour following not long after. While AFI’s discography is phenomenally strong, the singles indicate one of their best endeavors in several years.

If that weren’t enough, there are at least two side projects on the way: Blaqk Audio have recently announced that there are over 40 songs demoed for their fourth album. Considering that Material released less than a year ago, it seems like Davy Havok and Jade Puget are still riding that wave of creativity to make good on their promise of trying to get new Blaqk Audio releases out quicker.

Additionally, DREAMCAR, the super group of the No Doubt band with Davy Havok on vocals are set to release their debut album this year. There’s no indication of what their collaboration will sound like, but I know enough about Davy Havok to know he wouldn’t be a part of a project he didn’t believe he could make magic happen with. While I don’t know that much about No Doubt personally, people sure seem to like them.

Either way, the prospects of more than one project from a group of artists known to taking their time is something in and of itself to be excited for.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.

Review: XTRMST – XTRMST

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Three seconds after the song “Conformist” ended, my friend in the backseat felt the immediate need to defend himself. The line “Inhale, Hold it in. Inhale, hold it in / Let the deterioration begin” hit him hard as he held an e-cigarette. “I don’t smoke to be cool,” he said sadly before trailing off with, “I just…” and the conversation ended there.

Davy Havok and Jade Puget have touched every musical genre available to them, from punk rock, to metal, to electronica and arguably pop punk. But XTRMST is something else entirely. It’s an album that will make the listener as uncomfortable listening as they are bobbing their heads. It’s possibly the only band I can think of that not only attacks the listener, but challenges them directly on their lifestyle choices.

XTRMST is a straight-edge (no alcohol, no drugs, no meaningless sex) hardcore band. It sounds simple, but it’s a complex union that is without a doubt the most controversial album the Havok/Puget collaborations have released. On the one hand, it’s more in line with what fans of older AFI have been clamoring for: an extraordinarily dark album in line with Black Sails and Sing The Sorrow. On the other, there is little of Puget’s hypnotic guitar melodies, or Davy’s poetic rage. This is a record that aims directly for the face, ruthlessly attacking for thirty-one minutes.

XTRMST is designed from the ground up to cause a reaction, so much so that even the most diehard fans of the duo may have difficulty enjoying it. Musically, the album is a violent vortex of hard power chords and dark melody cut with rough breakdowns and twistedly haunted squeals (“Words For the Unwanted”).

Jade’s guitar work is either the most technical of his career or the most sloppy depending on who is listening. There is little of the melody and precision that his work in AFI is known for, replaced instead with deep and dark searing riffs that sweep the album. His musicianship straddles the line between perfection (“Swallow Your God”) and amateurism so much so that it sometimes borders on ‘noise rock’. “Merciless” is one of the most melodic songs on the record, jumping between Chiodos-esque guitar riffs to a chorus that plays a counterbalance to Havok’s building vocals.

While the drums and bass are appropriate, they aren’t quite up to par for what one would expect of Puget. However, the distinct sound of the album allows for the instruments to work. The bass keeps pace with the guitar work, and often finds its way to the forefront, but the drumming sounds like an amateur punk band turning hardcore. The beats are simple and sharp, combining with crashing cymbals before giving way to savagely fast attacks. It definitely does the job, but it might be the weakest aspect of the album.

While the music is almost inaccessible to anyone not into this subgenre, the lyrical themes are even more vicious. Davy Havok is relentless in his attacks on concepts taken for granted within pop music. There is no hiding behind poetic verse or imagery; he’s blunt and angry. Each song is an aggressive question about the listener’s lifestyle choices and way of life. Mixed with the piercing screams (the hardest he’s ever screamed, by the way), it’s almost uncomfortable to listen to.

Any fan of AFI knows of Davy and Jade’s straight-edge lifestyle, and for all of the dark lyricism in AFI’s 20 year career, this is the most vicious. Opening track, “Words For The Unwated” starts with Davy attacking faux straight-edge lifestyles, as he screams, “You’re not one of us, don’t speak of us… You never used to be, if not now you never were / Yet you marched with the pure and still besmear our name / No, you will never be true to anything”.

“Conformist”, the album’s lead single, more or less calls out the punk culture in general of being a machine of conformity, pointing to straight-edge as a true subculture to be looked up to. In direct opposition to most of the album, the first few lines are delivered in cynical spoken word; “Oh you’re so wild / You think you’re so wild but your counter culture falls straight in line”. Havok jumps straight into throat shredding screams of, “You want resistance? Then look to mine”.

In true Davy Havok fashion, he can’t let the opportunity to attack religion go to waste. “Swallow Your God” might be his most brutal attack since Crash Love’s “Sacrilege”. As Jade ravages through the most traditional guitar riffs on the record and thunderous drums, Havok relates religion to drug use as he screams, “I will destroy the King of Kings / I will never swallow your God / Until you bring your eyes down to the Earth you cannot claim this sight / Your faith is a disease, another poison I deny / I deny the high of Heaven”.

XTRMST is a remarkable album. It’s at once the answer and the worst enemy to those annoying fans who have been ranting for a dark album since Sing The Sorrow. While fans of Havok and Puget are sure to enjoy the album, there is no denying that it will force you to start mentally defending yourself to some degree. This album will mean something different to most anyone who listens to it, either satisfying the hardcore fans or making casual fans uncomfortable. Regardless, Havok and Puget have constructed a masterpiece of rage and defiance.

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and during AFI’s Crash Love tour, followed them across the Midwest to a half-dozen shows like a creep. At a show in Indianapolis, Jade Puget winked at him and tossed him a guitar pick. His girlfriend was jealous.