Sound — 4
In the span of a few years, Black Veil Brides skyrocketed from just another metalcore act with a glam revival image to a commercial-friendly metal act with a gigantic and dedicated fanbase. While it's not hard to recognize that growth of popularity going hand in hand with the band's musical direction obtaining more pop characteristics, BVB bit off more sonic expansion than they could chew in their third album, the conceptual "Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones," consequently leading to the band rebooting to a more straightfoward metal style in their following self-titled album.
Despite that blunder of expansion and the subsequent backpeddle, BVB frontman Andy Biersack still held a desire to expand his horizons as a musician, and understanding that doing so with BVB has its limitations, Biersack spent the last couple of years working on a solo initiative, under the slightly different moniker Andy Black. With his debut solo album, "The Shadow Side," Biersack reunites with producer John Feldmann (who previously worked on BVB's "Wretched and Divine") for his foray into pop music. Plenty of this is as straightfoward as it gets, these attempts being passable but by the book: "Break Your Halo" is pop R&B 101; "Ribcage" is a tame EDM cut; and despite Biersack's initial intention of going solo to try out new things, a sizable portion of the album sticks to a cookie-cutter pop rock sound ("We Don't Have to Dance," "Louder Than Your Love," "Stay Alive" and "Drown Me Out") synonymous with any other pop rock band; Papa Roach, 3 Doors Down, Adelitas Way, etc.
In the moments where Biersack and Feldmann experiment, it mostly comes off like throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. In odd instances, vocoder is used in "Beautiful Pain," dubstep-lite synth swells are thrown into "Love Was Made to Break," and trap-style hi-hats are shoehorned into the pretentious string-driven orchestral pop ballad of "Put the Gun Down." However, those odd choices come off manageable compared to the overstuffed opener "Homecoming King," where its poppy symphonic pomp, relative to Nate Ruess or the symphonic side of Panic! At The Disco, gets further encumbered with unnecessary sections of power ballad guitar solos and buried saxophone leads.
This issue is similar to what BVB's "Wretched and Divine" suffered, but this fit of overindulgence is also a common mistake with nearly anyone's debut solo endeavor, with Biersack treating his new platform of uninhibited sonic expression as a cue to cram in as many ideas as possible. In contrast, the few moments that work well in "The Shadow Side" are executed without a ton of bells and whistles: the IDM-style production job in the 6/4-running "Broken Pieces" is tastefully contained and easily the smartest track on the album, and the crisp, down-to-earth vocal harmonies in "Stay Alive" (which also includes Matt Skiba's vocals) are refreshing in comparison to Biersack's overloaded vocal layers and processing heard throughout the rest of the album. But with the final "The Void" striving for the same "larger than life" status as the album's opener, Biersack's temptation for the most bombastic of sonic expression only manages to be his undoing.
Lyrics — 4
Biersack's lyrics in BVB have always touted a fair share of motivational message, and his lyrics in "The Shadow Side" take that motivational lyrical style even higher. It's an expected shift to go with the album's pop style, and though Biersack prides himself on being a beacon of light for the outcasts and depressed (heard in "Homecoming King," the rousing "Drown Me Out," and the enduring "The Void"), his anti-suicide messages end up coming off contrived (in "Stay Alive") and tastelessly overwrought (in "Put the Gun Down"); with this considered, one could also interpret Biersack's condemning of musicians writing lyrics to appeal to said depressed teenagers ("It's a tragedy, to sell your words to lonely teens / That are fighting for their lives / Give it up, because we're not home" in the rallying "Louder Than Your Love") as a Freudian slip. Other lyrical moments also clash with the primary direction Biersack tries to take "The Shadow Side": the Steve Miller Band reference in "We Don't Have to Dance" is bound to go over nearly every teenage listener, and with plenty of songs appealing to the highs and lows of emotion (heard in "Beautiful Pain," the resilient "Paint It Black," and the everlasting hook of "No I don't believe that love was meant to break" in "Love Was Meant to Break"), Biersack throws in a weird counterpoint of emotional emptiness in "Ribcage," where the blissfully numb hook of "Nothing in the cage of my ribcage / Got no heart to break, like it that way" clashes awkwardly with the dance beat it's delivered upon.
Overall Impression — 3
As Andy Black, Biersack gets a free range to pursue whatever new genre he feels like exploring without it sullying the metal sound that BVB is embedded in. But despite this newfound boundlessness, the result of that exploration in "The Shadow Side" not only keeps things safe and unadventurous with a run-of-the-mill offering of pop music flavors, but the attempt to make these conventional compositions stand substantial by way of heavy-handed grandiosity makes the album ring hollow in the grand scheme of things.