Dante’s Inferno, the Black Lives Matter movement, dystopic governments. Three years ago, if you would’ve told frontman Andy Biersack that the next Black Veil Brides album would be inspired by these things, he probably would’ve said, “I get it.” That’s what BVB fans can expect on the band’s sixth album, The Phantom Tomorrow, slated for release next spring.
Conceptualized while heavily locked down in the pandemic, the record has many layers. There’s Biersack’s fascination with belief systems, framed in subjects both ecclesiastical and political. (We also suspect the word “fire” will appear perhaps three times during the proceedings.) At the center of the rebel fighting group the Phantom Tomorrow lies the Blackbird, a vigilante antihero whose worldview is a Venn diagram of, say, Jesus Christ and Rorschach. The Phantom Tomorrow are fighting against the government elite who embrace doctrines best described as absolute. If any of these tenets feel like familiar allegories of America, you are picking up what Black Veil Brides are throwing down.
Biersack spoke with Alternative Press during some free time completing the album. He explained some of the overarching concepts on the record without giving away anything. This could very well be Black Veil Brides’ most shining achievement. Not because of its ability to rock hard (which we’re sure it ultimately will), but by the weight of the conviction of the people who made it.
Is The Phantom Tomorrow a political record? Or is it an allegory for other things that are affecting America? Or are you picking and choosing random aspects?
All of those things come into play when you’re writing something that’s like a fictionalized version of society. The biggest thing that was interesting to me was lying. I started to read Dante’s Inferno and reading about the different circles of hell. I found it so fascinating that the ninth circle is for liars. They don’t really specify in any way what that means.
I started thinking of all the different ways in which lying on any level is something that you do for good. Traditionally, the nuance is messed with religious ideas. Like the idea of everything that’s this way is bad. I’ve always liked to play with that stuff. I started thinking about it. I’ve had several times in my life where people that I knew were very ill, and they may ask me, “How do I look?” Even if they look like absolute hell because they’re going through something, it’s your responsibility as a kind person to make sure that they feel like they’re OK.
I just always find it interesting that, by definition in that world, if you were to tell your grandmother who is dealing with something or was feeling insecure about whatever and she wasn’t looking well or something. And if she were to say, “Do I look OK?” And if you said yes, you would be sent to the ninth circle of hell because there’s no room for nuance. So I started getting fascinated with the idea of the gray area, in general.
Now there is so little gray area culturally. We just have these really defined roles that people put themselves into. And they define the teams that they play for. And that was the basis for the story.
If you had a world where that scenario was an absolute, what would that look like? The big revolutions culturally that were going on certainly played into some of the expanse of the story. When I first started, it was really just looking at the idea of what we culturally accept and what we do not and why is there such a lack of nuance in between.
Filmmaker Albert Maysles famously said, “Tyranny is the deliberate removal of nuance.” Nuance is the crucial thing. You mentioned liars going to hell. But the first thing I thought of was German SS officers in the ’40s asking citizens if they were keeping Jews in their homes.
There are so many instances historically—and just on an emotional level for everybody—where the truth being malleable becomes a tool for good. But then inversely, we live in a world where the truth being malleable has become the ultimate tool for derision and the degradation of our democracy. In the stands to think “Well, lying isn’t always bad” is fine in theory. But in practice, it isn’t all that true. Because it tends to lead to worse shit. The more the truth becomes irrelevant, the less likely you are to care about it.
The Phantom Tomorrow has that overarching theme to it. And the character of the Blackbird is the person who metes out the justice. But he’s also prone to making the same type of philosophical mistakes.
The idea is that there would have to be a belief system in this world. There’s the idea if we had all of our social ways about us, our ways of separating what we believe in and what we think is real and all the critical thinking that many of us have toward different religions or whatever. But if Jesus were alive at the time, you had to face these crossroads. Do you believe that it’s actually real? Or is this guy actually doing magic, or what is it? And instead of it being a story that’s completely about a religious figure, it’s one of [the] people applying the kind of religious faith and belief system into this story of this guy who defends the outcast, the downtrodden.
Some of the stories are about how he’s a ruthless murderer. Other stories are about how he’s the figure of mankind. Some stories seem real. Some stories say that he isn’t. And then what the audience gets to find out is that he is a real person who just took this upon himself.
In the video I made, [I] cast him to look like a homemade costume. The idea was this is not Batman. This isn’t Iron Man, and he isn’t a superhero. This is a person who lives in this culture where he felt like he needed to do something and does it in his own way. And that’s not necessarily true to what the Comics Code Authority would like when it comes to how he handled those things. That becomes an interesting thing for the character of the story. They have to struggle with the idea that they believe in this thing as a basis for their life structure. Some people have seen it, and some people haven’t. What do you do if you see this guy and he just brutally murders people? How did that change your life and your belief system?
The idea is that this is just a person who is taking it upon himself. A couple of years ago, there were these documentaries about real-life superheroes, people who build their own costume to try to fight crime on their own. Those documentaries are shown through the lens of, “Oh, this is a misguided and terrible idea.” I like the idea of taking away the judgment and just putting on shin pads and going out there and trying to scare criminals and burning them alive with the torch.
And then you go, “Well, is that good? Should we want someone to do that?” But in this same world, we have a police and government structure where if you are known to be a liar, they can act with complete impunity against you. So you would need someone theoretically who would go over the line to defend the people who are [having] their rights being taken away by virtue of the fact that somebody told somebody that they told a lie. It’s heightening the stakes of how society works by also taking away some of the largeness.
On The Phantom Tomorrow, I’m trying to build a world that’s pretty small. I think our world is so big right now, [so] I like the idea of building this alternate reality where we’re just inside and trying to figure out how to stay safe and keep our families close and all that kind of stuff. It makes for a more interesting story if the Blackbird becomes a social media hero or something like that.
There’s absolutely no way that person could exist and thrive in the age of social media.
I had hoped against hope that they would set the current series of Batman movies in the ’90s or something, just pre-cellphones. Because the idea that you’d have a vigilante who’s out on the streets doing stuff every night wouldn’t be constantly videoed and photographed. It would take maybe 10 minutes to figure out who Bruce Wayne is because of the fact that everybody’s got an HD camera in their pocket. I really wanted to set this in a world where there isn’t that kind of other technology. This doesn’t have to be the past or the future. But it’s a world where we don’t have so much connectivity.
The Phantom Tomorrow is slated for release in the spring of 2021 by Sumerian Records.