The five guys who form L.A.'s glam-rock-metal outfit Black Veil Brides look like they've just stepped out of a DeLorean that zoomed off the chronological grid sometime in late 1986. Black leather? Check. Makeup? Check. Bandanas? Check. Fluffed and primped blow-dried hair? Yep, check on that one too. And a casual listen does nothing to dispel the sense that the Brides took the exit ramp marked "Extreme Metal Mayhem" in the '80s and are only now getting back on the highway, sporting a searing yet melodic rock sound that splits the difference between vintage Mötley Crüe and Avenged Sevenfold.
So we know what to expect, right? Piles of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, right? Fingers extended in a "devil's horns" salute?
Actually, not so much. None of those things turn up in Black Veil Brides' third effort, the 19-track concept album Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones. Instead, we get a surprisingly detailed—if often spiritually disoriented—story about a group of freedom-fighting rebels doing battle against a corrupt, totalitarian regime known as F.E.A.R.
This is the kind of concept we've seen from the likes of Muse, My Chemical Romance and Green Day in the last few years. Unlike those peers, however, Black Veil Brides' take on this theme explores a wide variety of spiritual ideas, some of which parallel a Christian understanding of spiritual truth.
Some of which definitely do not.
The Brides imagine themselves as a group of revolutionary rogues called the Wild Ones resisting F.E.A.R.'s dictatorial and spiritually abusive regime. Many songs involve heroism and sacrifice on behalf of those the band hopes to free from F.E.A.R.'s thrall. On album opener "I Am Bulletproof," for instance, we hear, "Got something to live for, I know that I won't surrender/A warrior of youth." "New Year's Day" proclaims, "So rise from the ashes/Faith will find a way—like lightning crashes." "Wretched and Divine" includes more of the same: "Fearless, fight until we die/ … We live for the broken hearts." "Nobody's Hero" tells us, "I'll die fighting, inside me there's a fire that burns."
From a spiritual perspective, there are various references to heaven, hell, the devil, our need for salvation, a longing for God and the belief that another life awaits after this one. "The devil filled our minds with sadness," bellows "I Am Bulletproof," and a similar reference pops up on "New Year's Day." On "Resurrect the Sun," the band mingles the ideas of battle and resurrection ("These saints within us can bring this moment back to life/And my heart's held high, with this battle cry I'll march on/On the horizon we will/Resurrect the Sun").
Album closer "In the End" asks, "In the end, as you fade into the night/Who will tell the story of your life?" Amid doubt, it still suggests a life after this one ("In the end, as my soul's laid to rest/What is left of my body?/Or am I just a shell?/ … I will live again/Who we are isn't how we live/We are more than just our bodies"). It proffers a hope that creates courage in battle ("'Cause it's the end and I'm not afraid/I'm not afraid to die").
Two tracks reference sin as a negative thing. "In the End" says, "Born a saint, but with every sin I still want to be holy." And on "Resurrect the Sun," we hear, "The years of my sinning teach to show a heartless feeling of pain and regret."
"Days Are Numbered" rightly recognizes that "everybody wants eternal life" and the spoken track "Abeyance" longs for God ("That my whole being cries out for a God, I cannot forget") …
… even as those tracks, respectively, wrongly conclude that no one can discern how to achieve heaven and proclaim the Wild Ones' atheism ("That God does not exist, I cannot deny").
F.E.A.R. is repeatedly characterized as an abusive church. And to the extent that this organization is mistreating and misleading those it rules to keep them in bondage, resistance can be seen a good thing, not sacrilegious. That said, we still hear lines many will hear as a repudiation of Christianity. These are from "Shadows Die": "Tear down the cross, splinters and shards remembered/This Trojan horse rode to the land we enter/ … A church of lies/Can't tell me what is right." On "Devil's Choir," these lyrics: "Raise another broken glass to failure/A simple promise of a crimson savior." The song also seems to characterize those who resist F.E.A.R. as part of "the devil's choir." "Lost It All" implies that the rebels' victory involves overthrowing religious belief ("With these hands I shook the heavens to the ground/I laid the gods to rest").
Album opener "Exordium" is another spoken-word piece that initially seems to echo some of Jesus' teaching but which eventually proclaims a spiritual reality that's closer to pantheism. "The kingdom of God is inside you, all around you," we hear. "Not in a mansion of wood and stone. Split a piece of wood, and God is there. Lift a stone, and you will find God." "We Don't Belong" suggests that the rebels are repelled by both heaven and hell ("The gates of heaven were locked and shut/The pits of hell, they were all filled up and I fear/I don't belong here").
Among other disturbing images of skulls and the like, a drawing in the liner notes depicts a full-frontal nude demonic-looking female being.
Clearly Black Veil Brides is not your average hair metal band—never mind that its look would have been considered almost generic back in '86. There's a lot to digest here. And a lot of it is a confounding, at times confusing mixture of spiritual ideas that affirms eternity, sacrifice and holiness one moment and calls into question the very existence of God the next.
Frontman Andy Biersack writes of that tension, "The origin of the [band's] name comes from my childhood fascination with Roman Catholicism and the dark imagery that it evokes (i.e. sacred heart, stigmata, etc.) The term black veil bride comes from the church. When a Nun has her coronation, she is marrying God and they literally have a ceremony in which she wears a black veil because she is giving up the cardinal pleasures of life. I thought this worked well for a heavy band as the strong dichotomy between a bunch of guys dressed in all black and general lack of 'holy-ness' claiming such a strong image seemed to be evocative and sexy to me."
And that explains more about this music than perhaps even Biersack himself understands.