The Black Queen – ‘Infinite Games’ (Album Review)
Calling The Black Queen’s debut album Fever Daydream a masterpiece is not an act of taint-tonguing, banus-licking sycophancy. It’s merely a statement of plain and simple fact. It’s been more than two years since key tracks The End Where We Start, Ice To Never, Secret Scream, and That Death Cannot Touch saw the light of day, and those converted by the above are now getting hyped about the second full-length Black Queen release, Infinite Games.
Admittedly, it helps that The Black Queen is made up of three musicians with peerless résumés, but let’s be honest: if this project were synonymous with shit music, it would have died a death by now. Yes, vocalist Greg Puciato made his name fronting The Dillinger Escape Plan, one of the most ferocious bands of all time; Joshua Eustis is inextricably linked with Telefon Tel Aviv, and has also been involved with both Nine Inch Nails and Puscifer; and Steven Alexander’s background involves everyone from Dillinger, NIN, and A Perfect Circle to Ke$ha. But plenty of long-forgotten bands were comprised of one-of-a-kind musicians hell-bent on exploring new horizons together.
Simply sticking a bunch of talented people in a room together does not guarantee an epic result. Chemistry, some kind of creative catalyst, the spark that lights a fire under the blank page, is all-important – and The Black Queen have more than their fair share of it. Without chemistry, creative compatibility is impossible, and the project is fucked from day one.
When The Black Queen first emerged, many listeners were surprised at just how effectively Greg Puciato’s vocals fit into such an exposed, vulnerable, and relatively low-key context. At this point, we’re all more used to it – but Infinite Games sees The Black Queen try on even more minimalist arrangements than before. Due to its extra spaciousness, Infinite Games may lack some of Fever Daydream’s immediate accessibility, but after a short while it becomes something remarkable.
An album that grows on you gradually, gets under your skin, and never causes the slightest hint of buyer’s remorse.
The Black Queen have grown in terms of songwriting and composition, but stylistically, all the same elements remain in place. Infinite Games is a classic example of a band refining rather than totally redefining their sound. Most notably, Puciato exhibits a little more control over his vocal, extending his range further still into a context his accomplices have considerably more experience within.
The Black Queen / Nine Inch Nails connection is highlighted most vividly during No Accusations and a brief industrial digression inside Impossible Condition; Your Move toys with beat-based expectations; and Thrown Into The Dark pops and fizzes as an irresistible lead synth line drives the first of multiple tracks custom-made for the dance floor. Eustis and Alexander are The Black Queen’s primary propellants, choosing precisely the right points at which to pump up the energy, ease off, or take tangential turns into ambient atmospherics. This album is riddled with perfect examples of sound design and rhythmic decisions done right; quite honestly, Infinite Games really is a synthpop masterclass.
You could take any one of these tracks apart, reverse-engineer it, and turn it into a miniature lecture. There would be technical diagrams, sentences made up of intimidatingly long-winded words, maybe even equations. Attendees would leave with massive migraines. But still, it could be done.
Despite that fact, Infinite Games never becomes overly abstruse or alienating – and that achievement is a true testament to this band’s vision and ability. If you want to sit down and think it through, you can, and you’ll have fun doing it if that’s your thing. But you don’t have to if you don’t want to. When tracks as hard-grooving as Spatial Boundaries and One Edge Of Two get going, you’ll find yourself possessed by the urge to dance like no one is watching – no matter where you are.
That might lead to some awkward looks while you’re queuing at the hardware store, lifting heavy objects at the gym, or taking the morning bus to work, but at least it’ll leave you with some stories to tell. At this point, however, the Black Queen story can be summed up more seriously. These guys are two albums into an awesome career, and both releases are fucking exceptional.
It’s that simple.
LTK RATING: 10/10 (Essential Listening!)
Pre-order Infinite Games (out September 28) on iTunes.
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