Say what you will about Black Veil Brides, but one of the primary reasons they’ve got to where they are today is because of their frontman Andy Biersack. He’s one of the few truly larger-than-life rockstars around, flaunting a charisma and vocal power to match. The Shadow Side then, is a move with an unpredictability fitting of such a rock ‘n’ roll character, even if the execution is anything but. It sees him leaving behind the Mötley Crüe-meets-Misfits style of his main band and adopting the Andy Black moniker for an album of sleek, bombastic pop. And he’s fairly good at it as well.
Although The Shadow Side isn’t the dark-hearted new wave album many were expecting, it makes up for it with sheer flamboyance, the majority of these tracks embellished with highfalutin strings and synths. Its impeccably crafted and, in its more immediate moments, borders on real greatness. The triple threat that kicks off this album is a prime example; Homecoming King is a velvety number brimming with theatricality thanks to its strings and saxophone, We Don’t Have To Dance has ‘arena-ready’ written all over it, and Ribcage‘s chorus has an almost disco-style stomp that builds from its brooding synth work spectacularly. Elsewhere, the storming Drown Me Out could soundtrack a post-apocalyptic war, and Louder Than Your Love even has tinges of Bruce Springsteen in its organic, explosive presentation.
At its best, The Shadow Side is a classy, almost painfully contemporary take on the goth-pop that Andy has so frequently made his muse. Its slick, unashamedly synthetic nature may be slightly off-putting for those Black Veil Brides fans who actually pay attention to the music, but there is some truly impressive work on here. At the right place and time, a handful of these tracks would honestly thrive on daytime radio, such is the precision modeling on the likes of Ribcage.
However, this is also where this album’s major faults lie. While it’s obviously designed to be a pop album, some of the songs on here are so light and fluffy musically that they feel immediately inferior to the album’s best moments, and by a considerable degree. Love Was Made To Break and Broken Pieces feel incredibly saccharine musically, especially compared to the darker, punchier early tracks, and Put The Gun Down feels so empty in its bombast and pseudo-inspirational lyrics, the sort of song a band like Sleeping With Sirens would emptily brand as ‘for the outcasts’. It’s a shame that these sorts of tracks are so prevalent over the course of The Shadow Side – occasionally, it feels likes five pounds of ideas stretched across a ten pound album. The creative intent has been condensed in pockets to make some truly exceptional moments (see the opening handful of songs), but others feel as though they’ve been designed as filler. Of course, some of these brighter tracks do work well – Stay Alive sees Andy play off of Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba in possibly the album’s biggest chorus, and The Void rounds things off with a truly incredible swell of piano, strings and guitars – but these are in the minority.
But despite all of this, The Shadow Side will keep you coming back because of the passion and intent behind it. Beneath its shiny exterior there’s a real personality and character that’s mostly lacking from the typical crop of faceless profiteers. Throughout, it remains rooted in the alternative world thanks to Andy’s husky baritone and penchant for the gothic, blended into a full-blown mainstream pop album. Not only does that make The Shadow Side a more substantial album to dissect, but it also makes the prospect of future Andy Black music an exciting one. Because, while The Shadow Side is definitely a mixed bag, there’s enough on here to suggest that Andy could have this nailed the second time around.
For fans of: Set It Off, PVRIS, Panic! At The Disco
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Shadow Side’ by Andy Black is out now on Island Records.