Black Veil Brides were already setting the world on fire when I first talked to founder/frontman Andy Biersack, and since then their fame has shot up to all new levels. Their ambitious new rock opera Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones was pushed back a bit from last year, but the band has rewarded their fans' patience with a dramatic new presentation, including the full-length companion film Legion of the Black – a dark fantasy tale which had a limited theatrical release before its online pay-per-view premiere. I finally got to take in this massive album, and as a fan of their sound and larger-than-life image, I'd say it was worth the wait.
Right out of the gate I was impressed with the album artwork by acclaimed artist Richard Villa (a long-time visual collaborator with the band), who also created the creepy promotional art for the film. The horror imagery only hinted at in the band's previous albums and videos has reached a new peak, depicting the band and their fans as a rebel army dubbed “The Wild Ones,” aligned against the paramilitary forces of F.E.A.R, a creepy cabal of priest-like figures determined to shut down all free-thinking opposition. It's not a new concept, but it's well-handled here, playing out on a grand scale and mirrored in the plot of Legion of the Black, which depicts one of the band's fans escaping from a mental hospital to join up with the Wild Ones and do battle with F.E.A.R.
That's the world they've created; now let's get down to the music that shapes it. Even before their debut album We Stitch These Wounds hit the streets, the Brides have summoned an anthemic style seemingly tailored to giant venues, taking musical and lyrical cues from the standard-bearers of '70s & '80s arena rock, horror punk and metal. Wretched and Divine, while it has its share of misfires, is the first time the overall presentation has risen to the ambitious scale of their songwriting, and it also finds the Brides even stronger than the sum of their many influences. Biersack's robust vocals – always one of the band's strengths – are finely tuned here, and bring a lot of warmth and power to the lyrical images. The story is pretty basic, considering the album's colossal scope, but for me, the most legendary concept records (including The Who's Tommy and Pink Floyd's The Wall) tend to be pretty modular, with each song standing up well outside the bounds of the album. Across these 19 tracks, there are plenty of moments to display the landmarks of the world you've come to visit: for example, frequent interstitial tracks containing narration by Wil Francis (of William Control & Aiden) represent the Orwellian broadcasts transmitted by F.E.A.R. While these sometimes pause the musical momentum, they do help sustain an ominous atmosphere, and that mood is an important ingredient in this recipe.
This band always rides high on the power of their anthems, and there are quite a few strong examples on Wretched and Divine. The leading single “In the End” ranks among their best work (check out the video below), along with the equally uplifting “New Year’s Day,” both of which demonstrate their lyrical and combined vocal strengths; the band has also many opportunities to showcase their tight instrumental skills, including the excellent “I Am Bulletproof,” and their knack for blending metallic aggression with rock-solid melody in the title track and the powerful, dynamic "Shadows Die" (another strong candidate for a single). The excellent orchestral/keyboard arrangements are strong and prominent enough to create a cinematic feel, especially on the instrumental track "Overture," but usually don't intrude on the band's rock & roll core; it's just enough to tie the tracks in to the larger canvas of the story. On the downside, I've never really been a fan of the Brides' ballads, and there's not much material here to get me back on board with those. “Done for You” is just too emo for my taste, while “Lost It All” reaches for a profound and emotional closure to the album, but in the end feels forced and overblown. But those are brief lapses in what is otherwise the band's strongest release to date, and while many of the songs hold up very well individually (there's at least a half-dozen solid singles in here), Wretched and Divine is best experienced as a one-hour immersive experience, and that's a rare thing these days.
Legion of the Black will receive a DVD release in the near future; we'll have more on that soon. In the meantime, you can get a sweet taste of the film's spooky apocalyptic imagery in the video for “In the End”...