It’s clear how much of a passion project The Black Queen is. Sure, fronting The Dillinger Escape Plan for over a decade-and-a-half has surely accustomed Greg Puciato to a lack of mainstream success, but that was made up for by the constant love from the media and the underground; The Black Queen, on the other hand, has had no such platform up to now, and yet, this is now his main project. What’s more, this is a band who’ve severed ties to rock of any form altogether in their cold, minimalist electronica that only occasionally delved into ‘80s synthpop for a more recognisable touchstone. And yet, Fever Daydream ended up being a totally electrifying listen almost all the way through, one whose niche couldn’t have realistically been more narrow, but still ended up displaying a new level of inventiveness that Puciato hadn’t previously had the platform for.
And given the near-unanimous praise that album received – almost exclusively from rock fans, no less – it’s clearly given The Black Queen the confidence to push their vision even further on Infinite Games, abandoning the pop almost completely and venturing further down the weirder avenues of electronic music. And that can be an alienating move, especially when their darker, more industrial take on synthpop is arguably closer to rock than pure darkwave or cold wave, but a creative streak as prominent as The Black Queen’s is hard to stymie, and Infinite Games turns out as another enthralling listen.
And “enthralling” is perhaps the best way to sum up this album as a whole, especially over something like “enjoyable”. That’s not to say there’s not enjoyment to be gained from it, though, but it’s an album to be left to unfold on its own, something that brings Puciato’s own comments of it being “hookier, but more insidious” than their debut into contention. The insidiousness is certainly not up for debate, given that The Black Queen’s main weapons are icy, minimalist beats and accentuated negative space for what can be an almost disturbingly tense listen, like on the hollow echoes and faint clicks of Your Move, or the swirling, monochromatic miasma of 100 To Zero. And just like last time, Puciato’s vocals are so perfectly tuned in to selling this material in the best way possible, usually in the form of quiet, vulnerable croons with the reverb piled on thick to sink back into the deep atmosphere.
Instead, it’s the assertions of Infinite Games being “hookier” that are more difficult to qualify, and are arguably where this album falls apart the most. Sure, tracks like Thrown Into The Dark and Spatial Boundaries feel like the customary ‘80s-indebted tracks, sliding out of the deep-purple, neon smoke (the latter could convincingly be a remix of Fever Daydream highlight Ice To Never, at that), but they embody the lack of consistency that’s the issue here. The trio are definitely good at leaning towards both the mainstream and the obtuse, but a lack of balance makes it easier to sour on the latter, especially when that aspect of the sound is more difficult to really get into. And to some degree, that feels deliberate; this isn’t meant to be an easy listen by any degree, and the close, oppressive atmosphere has a certain level of tacit thrill in itself, but it wears out its welcome by the watery acoustic guitars of Porcelain Veins and the elongated plod of One Edge Of Two, and a couple of sharper, more immediate cuts wouldn’t seem out of the question.
It’s hard to believe that The Black Queen didn’t know this going in though, and the fact that they’ve stuck with their own intent in the way that they have deserves plenty of kudos; this isn’t an easy listen at all, and that’s totally by choice. Even if the progression made isn’t quite as good as what came before it, The Black Queen feel like they’re doing the same for rock-adjacent electronica as The Dillinger Escape Plan did for metal, pushing it into weirder, hitherto unfamiliar places to expose an established listener-base to more challenging sounds. That’s not nothing either, and where they easily could’ve played it safe for the bigger payoff in the end, Infinite Games is the product of that passion project mentality resurfacing once again, and makes the effort needed for it to really land totally worth it.
For fans of: Ladytron, Air, Asylum Party
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Infinite Games’ by The Black Queen is released on 28th September on Federal Prisoner.