Review: Blaqk Audio – Only Things We Love

The sheer amount of content Davy Havok and Jade Puget release is utterly staggering. The fact that each release is near perfect is frightening. Blaqk Audio, the AFI duo’s electronic project, is relentlessly hypnotic. Dance beats, new wave melodies and Havok’s signature melancholy blend to create a sound that feels as familiar as it is unique. Only Things We Love isn’t the group’s best release, but it’s so close it may as well be.

You can buy or stream Only Things We Love on Apple Music.

It’s hard to peg the meaning behind Blaqk Audio’s albums (or AFI’s, for that matter) due to Havok’s ambiguous writing style. The concepts behind Blaqk Audio releases tend to be far more romantic than any of Havok’s other projects. As such, Only Things We Love is about conquering the anger of youth that prevents us from loving someone else… or it’s about the confessions of a serial killer?

Havok’s vocals are again a demonstration of why he may be the best singer currently active. Decidedly different from the screams and crooning of AFI, Havok’s voice is poignantly drenched in new wave sensationalism. Utterly relaxed, he shifts comfortably between soft verses to energetic, rampant choruses. Powerful inflections in tone give his performance a superb edge that puts Only Things We Love as yet another highlight of Havok’s sensational voice (“Dark Times At the Berlin Wall”).

Puget’s arrangements are among Blaqk Audio’s best. The industrial electronic beats are deep, commanding and pulsing. The best part about Puget’s dance music is that it finds a perfect blend with modern electronica, detailed new wave melody and the corny catchiness of Dance Dance Revolution’s heyday (“Matrimony and Dust”). The downside is that Puget has used many similar synth tones for the last few records. Despite improvements from album to album, there is an argument that the underlying music for each Blaqk Audio release doesn’t do nearly enough to distinguish itself from any past album.

Despite Havok’s best descriptions of gore, such as on opening track “Infinite Skin” (“Blood on the corner / Love on a dead end street / You heard them warn her, when you first heard of me”), Only Things We Love is an album about lost love and learning to forgive. Lead single “The Viles” describes the pain of the aftermath of a break up against Puget’s pulsing synth. Havok pointedly shouts, “Day may break me. Daylight like she, like she burns / Through five nights when all is not right / And again, we meet here”.

Not all is as dark, as songs like “Summer’s Out of Sight” describe the memory of a relationship at the height of passion. Puget’s melodic bass lines and twinkling keyboards shine beneath Havok’s hopeful verses (“I had to crawl the halls to ask when we might meet before you left / You said, ‘Maybe tomorrow or never again’ / But you said, ‘Right now I’m yours’) and the devastated chorus (“Hearing you leave out my name makes me want you / You personalize pain”).

For an album relishing the sound of 80’s new wave electronica, nothing personifies it more than closing tack “Matrimony & Dust”. An elegant homage of 80’s cliches, the song finds the characters meeting again to finally move on to healthier relationships. The sincere tenderness of Havok’s voice as he croons, “And would you believe, somehow, that I am married now?” is astonishing, considering he’s a singer who became famous for throat-shredding screams and skate punk shouting.

Only Things We Love is a bitter album, but not without purpose. In what might be the biggest surprise from Havok, there’s hope in the darkness. The album is humane, carries a sincere resolution and stays true to the era that inspired it. It straddles a fine line between being Blaqk Audio’s most brutal and sweetest album. Fans of the band will find exactly what they expect, and newcomers will find what might be the single most accessible album Havok and Puget have ever written.

4.5/5

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 typing blindly right now while the cat sits in front of his monitor. Her judgemental gaze is not unlike that of a giant squid.

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Most Anticipated of 2016: #6 AFI Reignite the Fire

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The Sorrow is Sacred

It’s been a tradition for the better part of a decade and a half that AFI releases a new album every three years. The only album to buck this trend was Burials, arriving four years after Crash Love. With their last release arriving in the fall of 2013, the band’s new project should be either done or nearing completion by the end of the year.

AFI’s releases are relentlessly ambitious and each record unique. It defines a certain part of the band’s career. And their fans are ravenous for anything new. AFI have tread ground through goth metal, hardcore, rock and the biggest ‘fuck you’ to pop music ever created with Crash Love. Trying to predict what comes next is near impossible, which is just part of the band’s charm.

If nothing else, the band hasn’t been on a proper tour since 2014. Even if the album itself doesn’t quite fit into 2016, the band should be gearing up in the fall to start a wave of shows across the country in some form or another. AFI is one of the best live bands anyone can get a chance to see. Jade Puget’s guitar work is next to godly on stage, and Davy Havok’s ability to switch between one of the best singers in the scene to one of the best screamers is breathtaking.

With a new Blaqk Audio album finished and ready for release, Havok and Puget are free to focus on their main project. There’s no telling what their new album will sound like, but it will be a reinvention and reinvigoration, guaranteed to have fans combing the songs lyric by lyric until 2019.

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 chased AFI to half a dozen different cities on the Crash Love tour. Ugh, obsessive fanboys, amiright?

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.