Review Summary: I’ll be the constant reminder of what life should have been
When a work of art holds deep sentimental significance to you, it’s often nigh impossible to take a strictly objective look at it due to nostalgia’s tight grip; it’s even harder when said previously mentioned memories all revolve around pivotal points in your development as a person. Stripping down a release of that caliber to the technicality of its songwriting or the lyrical composition fails to give justice and increase the relatability of a piece’s impact to the reader; so, I’m asking you to look at this piece from the perspective of someone who felt the spark of life come back, where inspiration clicked and dug up buried feelings that the passage of time had all but buried under layers of emotionally constricting and self-imposed caution. ‘Vale’ is Black Veil Brides’ magnum opus, and is the ultimate representation of when life takes away your fire, and the rush that courses through your aching soul when you get a taste of that high once again.
When looking at exactly what this record accomplishes, it’s not hard to defend its position as a perfect amalgamation of the band’s tonal evolution over the last decade; as it gracefully weaves between the bombastic theatrics of ‘Wretched and Divine’ (of which Vale is considered the spiritual successor), and the larger than life lyrical themes of ‘Set the World on Fire’, while still channeling the darker songwriting approach from ‘We Stitch These Wounds’, and the infectious vocal hooks of their self-titled release. The notable change is in the utilization of the best parts of the band’s discography into an epic and monumentally fleshed out new sound that breaks the band’s established formulas while still feeling comfortable in the best way possible. Everything here also sounds a great magnitude better than the rest of their discography thanks to John Feldmann and Jake Pits’ stellar production job; Andrew’s divisive vocals sit amicably in the overall mix, allowing them to take center stage but not to the detriment of the instrumentals such as in the self-titled, and the guitar work sounds absolutely massive here thanks to the production tone, and the more subdued technicality of the song compositions benefit the new mixing style.
Andrew Biersack is at his peak in the vocal department; his raspy timbre has mellowed out to a smoother, more projected tonality that causes every hook on the album to sound monumentally infectious. Whether he’s belting out his signature mid-range bellows in the chorus of “Our Destiny”, or carrying the delicate chest-voice passages of “Vale (This Is Where It Ends)”, he sounds on the top of his game and the arrangements revolve around his vocal prowess as a result. That isn’t to say there aren’t some new tricks utilized here; layered distortion and progressive influenced vocal melodies such as throughout “Dead Man Walking (Overture II)” or the bridge of “The King of Pain” help expand vocal variety to keep the experience from ever growing stale. He also pushes his range beyond his previous limits, breaking into higher octaves during the bridge of “Ballad of the Lonely Hearts” and during the chorus of the album’s first released single “The Outsider.” Waiting half a decade between albums and branching out into different genres with ‘Andy Black’ and various collaborations across the alternative spectrum helped to flesh out his style and brought new flavor to his main band. The gang vocals commonly utilized throughout the band’s history have also made a return here, but are used more tastefully than in previous albums such as in the verses of “Our Destiny.”
The lyricism has taken a decidedly somber turn, and circles around regret, the passing of time, betrayal, and the decay of love. While their consistent themes of self-empowerment and the importance of standing together are still here, they feel more jaded and desperate than before, frequently dipping in mood despite a more optimistic start.
“I thought you could hold me
I thought this would show me
That we will live eternal nights
But I can't be bought, no
I won't be taught, no
I have no faith to run back to”
- Dead Man Walking (Overture II)
Years of egregious battling with a multitude of individuals have shaped the band member’s experiences, and this darker lease on life provides for a captivating atmosphere. The theme of eternity and metaphorical references to divine judgement and faded motivation are prevalent throughout the entire album, especially when it comes to segments about having a crisis of will.
“Don't ever look to the sun
He will burn your eyes with the fire of his light
And never pray in the house of
Eternal sight where the spirit goes to die”
- The King of Pain
With the vocal performance taking the spotlight, one would often expect a decline in instrumental quality, but that’s far from the case here; taking cues from the best aspects of 80's glam rock ballads, and 2000's alternative metal in the vein of Avenged Sevenfold’s ‘City of Evil’ or Breaking Benjamin’s ‘Dear Agony’, instead emphasizing groovy guitar hooks and melodic riffing over the faster paced metalcore influenced and sweep-laden guitar style of previous releases. Jake Pitts continues to diversify his guitar style, such as his excellent blend of pinch harmonics and gentle whammy usage in the solo of “When They Call My Name” or the melodeath influence in the bridge of “Dead Man Walking (Overture II)”, his tight riff-work and swift finger picking are superb additions to each one of the tracks.
Jinxx’s rhythm section is solid and along with Ashley’s bass compositions helps to give the vocals and lead a powerful framework to bounce off of, but the true star of the show here is Jinxx’s orchestral compositions and key backdrops, which are littered throughout every song. Whether the arrangements are subtle for supportive atmospherics such as in the verses of “Ballad of the Lonely Hearts”, or take center stage such as in “Vale (This Is Where It Ends)” where they guide the track towards its energetic conclusion with a flurry of fretwork in its well timed and gorgeous solo before the final chorus slams into effect. The drumming has slowed down in speed from previous releases, but what it lacks in speed it makes up for with diverse fills and creative backdrops that help distinguish each of the tracks; the increased impact thanks to the vastly improved production values also help this new glam influenced direction feel right at home.
It’s hard for an established band with a massive following to please their entire fan base while at the same time winning over previous detractors or new listeners, but an album like this has all of the ingredients needed to ensure massive success while simultaneously being a masterful piece of musical artwork. ‘Vale’ is a deep, impactful album that has the potential to become regarded as one of the most influential hard rock albums of the 2010's, and while it’s still too early to say, ‘Vale’ could very well become one of my favorite, if not my favorite album of all time.