A Rise to “Heaven” and a Fall From Grace:

Alanna Weissman

Though the past few months have brought a bevy of new rock and alternative albums, two in particular stand out among the rest: Blaqk Audio’s “Bright Black Heaven” and Three Days Grace’s “Transit of Venus.” What makes these two releases so significant is the impressive set by a little-known side project versus a highly disappointing one from former heavyweights of the hard-rock world.

“Bright Black Heaven,” which was released on Sep-tember 11, demonstrates a respectable knack for combin-ing upbeat electronica music with somber, downtrodden lyrics. Indeed, duo Blaqk Audio’s particular brand of dark synth-pop sounds fresh, especially given members Davey Havok and Jade Puget’s alter egos as the lead vocalist and guitarist, respectively, of AFI. Indeed, most of Blaqk Au-dio’s music sounds little like AFI’s, though fans will rec-ognize slight echoes of songs like “37mm” and “Death of Seasons” on most tracks, and the piano-laced final track “Ill-Lit Ships” sounds like it could’ve been an AFI song, save for computer-generated drum beats instead of real ones. Still, “Bright Black Heaven” is best because it of-fers a subdued improvement on the band’s first album, 2007’s “CexCells,” which was really nothing special as far as darkwave goes. Each song on “Heaven” flows smoothly into the next without sounding too similar and, while I often find heavily synth-based music dull due to its inher-ent repetitiveness, this skillful set, unlike most of “Cex-Cells,” was anything but. I bought this album – admitted-ly with low expectations, given Blaqk Audio’s track record – primarily because I’m a longtime fan of AFI. However, I found myself really enjoying the album, which is in a genre from which I don’t usually get much listening plea-sure, so for me, this was one of fall’s greatest hits. While you can’t go wrong with any of “Heaven’s” tracks, if you want a taste, I’d recommend my personal favorite, “Every-body’s Friends,” which is three minutes and 56 seconds of sexually-charged, toe-tapping catchiness.

Whereas “Bright Black Heaven” surpassed every one of my expectations, I bought Three Days Grace’s “Transit of Venus,” which dropped on October 2, ex-pecting to be thoroughly impressed, only to be sorely disappointed. The album seems to be borrowing from other bands, with echoes of Hinder on tracks like “Op-erate,” which seems like a cop-out from a group with as much talent as 3DG has. The band’s greatest asset is frontman Adam Gontier’s rough, gravelly, rock-n-roll vocals, and, quite frankly, most of “Transit” wastes them. While I don’t think anyone expected the rockers to outdo 2006’s excellent “One-X” – unquestionably the pinnacle of 3DG’s career – by the time they start sing-ing about roadkill on “Give Me a Reason,” it’s clear just how far they’ve fallen, and in the relatively short span of only two albums, too. Two tracks later, during “Expecta-tions,” you’re praying for “Transit” to just end already. While there is one standout track, “The High Road,” which fulfilled the very rare duty of truly speaking to me (which of course it won’t do for everyone), the rest of “Transit of Venus” is sorely disappointing, especially given the kind of quality we know Three Days Grace is capable of.

In sum, I’m going to have to disagree with the popular crit-icism for each of these rock veterans’ albums, much of which rated “Transit” slightly better than “Heaven” due mostly to the extent of its experimentation. Though the attempt at musi-cal growth is laudable in and of itself, if you were thinking of giving “Transit” a listen because you know the band and have enjoyed their previous success-es, don’t even bother.

You’ll be much better off getting your hard-rock fix from older Three Days Grace albums like “One-X” and tak-ing a chance on an experimen-tal sometime side project from an equally successful, albeit lesser-known outside the rock world, band.

Contact Alanna Weissman at [email protected]