"Vale" By Black Veil Brides
Hard Rock/Traditional Heavy Metal/Released Jan 12, 2018
One of my favorite things since I started writing music reviews is when a band I usually don't like or one I'm not expecting much from releases an album that I'm pleasantly surprised by. This past year it happened with Silverstein, Emmure, and even Danny Worsnop's solo country album. This is not one of those times.
The last time I gave the boys in BVB a listen was around the era of their Set The World On Fire album in 2011. Wasn't a fan. Since then the band has thankfully dropped the KISS inspired image and Andy Biersack has markedly improved his singing ability. While the group has moved to a more mature rocker image, complete with matching leather jackets, their love of 80's glam still comes through loud and clear on Vale.
First let's give credit where credit is due. The guitar work on this album is pretty strong. The duo of Jake Pitts and "Jinxx" Ferguson have always been a constant positive to the band's sound and their classic metal inspired solos and twin guitar harmonies remain tasteful and interesting. Biersack's vocals have been a point of improvement over the band's career. On earlier records he sung with a forced rasp that sounded unnatural and a little too try-hard. On Vale however it seems Biersack has discovered a comfortable melodic range where he can perform with added confidence which makes his distinct vocal tone a positive instead of a negative.
Despite the technical improvements there is still a glaring flaw that holds Black Veil Brides back critically: lyrics and songwriting. With the arena rock glam of the 80's being a primary influence there is some cheesiness to be expected. But if you're going to go that route you need to find a new way to express that style. Biersack's lyrics are mired in cliche that can be predicted from song titles such as "Dead Man Walking", "Our Destiny", and "Wake Up". And the overabundance of "whoa-oh"s is nothing short of aggravating. The millennial whoop has infiltrated rock music. And it's just as annoying here as it is in pop.
With a mainstream band such as Black Veil Brides the most important element of a song is the chorus. It usually makes or breaks the track, especially with the pop structures of mainstream music. While some of the choruses on Vale are unique to each other and hit their mark such as "When They Call My Name" and "My Vow" most are so canned they sound interchangeable and the overused "whoa-oh's" add to the repetitiveness. Additionally despite listening to this album in full multiple times none of these hooks have gotten stuck in my head.
The weakness of the lyrics and the choruses are disappointing because there is some legitimate potential in most of these songs. Besides the aforementioned guitar work the verses tend to be the more interesting parts of Vale's tracks. Especially in the heavier songs. "The Outsider" prominently features a catchy twin guitar harmony in its chorus and chuggy riffing in the verses. "Throw The First Stone" is a solid headbanger all the way through and features the most likable chorus on the record. "Dead Man Walking (Overature II)" is the most complex track composition wise with a length of eight and a half minutes. And surprisingly it keeps your attention all the way through despite the cliched title used in the chorus. Issued in diverse, distinct sections it's deviance from the typical verse-chorus song structure and closing with an orchestral piece make it an enjoyable and refreshing song to break up the monotony of much of the other tracks.
Vale may turn off some of the band's longtime fans with its more mature sound and simpler approach. It has way less shred than the albums that have come before it but sadly that highlights the songwriting which is mostly hit and miss. It's disappointing because there are some points of praise when you dig deep enough into the record. However it won't be enough to win over longtime critics. There's more here to like than most bands who receive the level of hate that Black Veil Brides does. But not enough to keep your interest and be memorable.