The Black Queen

For Los Angeles’ The Black Queen, the depths of isolation and loss have always functioned as a gateway to being born anew. Much has transpired since the band released their cold, cutting debut album Fever Daydream (a record that Revolver described as “a haunting exploration of the darker side of pop music”). But throughout it all, the trio of Greg Puciato (former frontman of the now-defunct The Dillinger Escape Plan), Joshua Eustis (of Telefon Tel Aviv, Puscifer, and Nine Inch Nails), and Steven Alexander Ryan (technician for Nine Inch Nails, Kesha, and A Perfect Circle) have emerged as triumphant and intense as ever, documenting their journey via the synth-streaked industrial anthems of their sophomore release, Infinite Games.

Formed in 2011 after a chance meeting between Puciato and Eustis backstage at a Dillinger show in which they both realized they were huge fans of each other’s work, The Black Queen became a labor of love for its members to explore sounds and emotions that they couldn’t quite fit into their full-time projects. Injecting a pained, twilit edge into slick new-wave tracks as fit for the dance floor as they are for some imagined dystopian skyline, the trio have managed to channel their scattered, eclectic influences into a surprisingly cohesive vision. “We’ve got a pretty weird cross section,” Puciato says of the band’s musical chemistry. “We can go out for food and listen to Power Trip on the way there, then Baltimore club music on the way back, and then talk about how killer Maxwell’s Embrya album was, and then get sidetracked and talk about the Celeste video game soundtrack, then all have to be quiet so that we can grab a voice recording of some weird sounding radio interference. It’s all over the place and unusually far reaching, and there’s a lot of passion for discovery.”

After releasing their 2016 debut album Fever Daydream to critical acclaim however, the trio underwent several major upheavals that cast the project in a completely new light. Puciato’s main project The Dillinger Escape Plan disbanded. Chris Cornell of Soundgarden killed himself while Puciato was on tour with him. Eustis put out music under his beloved Telefon Tel Aviv moniker for the first time since his former bandmate Charles Cooper died in 2009. The trio’s storage space was robbed. Puciato suffered a relapse into crippling anxiety and paranoia. Once again, in the face of tragedy, The Black Queen had to rebuild everything from the ground up.

The first step was acquiring a new studio space, which immensely helped the band get back into the rhythm of freely collaborating with one another, and experimenting with sounds for as long (and as loud) as they wanted. The resulting album, Infinite Games, marks a massive leap forward for The Black Queen. Not only are the band’s icy R&B instincts more sharply pronounced; they’ve also rendered their morbid electronics in more lush detail than ever before, filling out the corners of their songs with chilling ambient passages that create a wide-screen backdrop for Puciato’s eerie, tortured vocals. “I think this album is actually hookier, but more insidious in that it reveals itself over time,” Puciato says about Infinite Games. His choice of words says something about the album’s creeping, pitch-black approach to pop music.

With this release, the group have also announced a new undertaking in the form of their new label, Federal Prisoner. Resisting the more marketing-centric approach that feels standard at this point for the record label game, the goal of Federal Prisoner is to provide an outlet for projects that emerge naturally from The Black Queen’s own creative endeavors and collaborations with other artists. In a way, Federal Prisoner solidifies TBQ’s commitment to creating music on their own terms, following the same organic sense of inspiration that led them to forming in the first place. As Puciato puts it, “It’s just an expression of passion and individualism in a way that opens more doors for us to create and to own what we create with minimal compromise. It’s as much an act of refusal as it is a statement of intent.”

Following the release of critically acclaimed LP Wake in Fright, which had two songs featured in the new season of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, it was time for Uniform vocalist Michael Berdan and instrumentalist Ben Greenberg to return to the studio. The duo decided to up the ante and add a third member to help perfect their vicious post-industrial dystopian cyber-punk. After some deliberation, Greenberg called upon drummer Greg Fox (Liturgy, Zs) to help round out the sound they were looking for. Using a mix of triggered samples and real drums along with layered synths and good old electric guitar, the trio arrived at what would become The Long Walk after only a few short days in the studio.

From the opening whirr of the title track, it’s clear that the band is onto something special. Recorded in Strange Weather studios in the first part of 2018, The Long Walk is eight new tracks by the duo of Greenberg and Berdan, incorporating Fox’s skills behind the drum kit to add an entirely new dimension to the signature Uniform sound. Ditching sequenced tracks, Greenberg opted for single takes to highlight the Frankenstein-like guitar-bass-synth hybrid that oozes throughout the recording. Meanwhile, crushing guitar thunder is punched up by Fox’s masterful drumming while Berdan’s cries from the nether feel more desperate and morose than ever. This is Uniform at its most bleak, emotional, and powerful.

Lyrically, The Long Walk deals with paradoxes in spirituality and organized religion. Growing up in a devout Irish Catholic household in an Irish Catholic neighborhood, Berdan went to Catholic school for most of his primary education, and even was an altar boy. Fear of Biblical hell and damnation felt tangible. As Berdan grew and matured emotionally, he began to reject Catholicism bit by bit, viewing the church as a judgmental, repressive people who choose to live their lives dictated by hateful, fear-mongering dogma.

In the recent past, Berdan found himself slowly reconnecting with his Catholic background, observing how the faith that he found so repressive served as a great source of comfort and strength for so many. Eventually, Berdan began to view at the root of Catholicism and all major world religions a practice of love, tolerance, peace, and altruism. He began identifying as Catholic again, finding that basic tenets to be good guiding principles for daily life. Yet therein lay the contradiction that drove him from religion in the first place — many of the human traditions of the church also dealt in repression, intolerance, and bigotry, and some of mankind’s most hateful acts have been carried out in the name of God. Could one observe the rituals and practice of a faith while acknowledging and rejecting its ugliest elements?

The title The Long Walk comes from a Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman) dystopian novel about an oppressive government that forces some of its children to endure a grueling game where there is only one survivor. In this case, it’s an allegory for an extended march away from comfort, family, and faith, and eventually into an amorphous sense of spirituality that can be understood on a personal level.

Hyper-surreal objectifications of cold observations. Self produced electronic musician ~

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