Black Veil Brides’ Andy Biersack: The message of The Phantom Tomorrow is to be your own hero
When it comes to his art, Andy Biersack has never done things by halves. Whether it was creating a whole film – Legion Of The Black – to accompany Black Veil Brides’ 2012 LP Wretched And Divine: The Story Of The Wild Ones, or authoring a supernatural graphic novel to tie-in with his Andy Black solo project, he’s an artist who’s always looked to create in a manner that’s bigger and bolder than the majority of his peers. That uncompromised work ethic and vision is evident in The Phantom Tomorrow, Black Veil Brides’ sixth album, which will be released on June 4 via Sumerian. A concept record about a group of outcasts and the mysterious hero who watches over their world, it looks set to be one of 2021’s most ambitious rock records.
Here, Andy tells Kerrang! about the origins of The Phantom Tomorrow, the story behind new single Fields Of Bone and the work he’s undertaken to ensure this is a tale that leaves no stone unturned…
Where does Fields Of Bone fit within the world of The Phantom Tomorrow?
“Early in the process – around January 2020, before the pandemic – I started thinking about what the endgame would be for this world I was building. And in so many people’s lives, particularly those who are part of an Anglo-Christian society like America, the endgame is dying and going to heaven. But at the same time, no-one wants to die. So there’s this weird thing whereby heaven is posited as this great place where you live in the sky with your loved ones, but you don’t want to go there because it means your life is over. The Field Of Bone came from that conundrum – it’s like a blessed and cursed location, and in the world of The Phantom Tomorrow it’s a concept, rather than an actual place. The name comes from Judas Iscariot, who in the Bible is paid for betraying Jesus, but afterwards he feels shame and buries the coins he’s given in a field, which has become known as the Field Of Blood. I was fascinated by this idea of getting what you want but then feeling shame because of it, because I think it’s something we all experience.”
How does the Fields Of Bone video expand on the events of your previous video for Scarlet Cross?
“The goal with the Scarlet Cross video was to make everything look very glossy. The world looked kind of empty, very clean and eerily quiet – almost not lived in. And then in Fields Of Bone we enter this underground environment where The Phantom Tomorrow hide and live, to demonstrate the part of this world where the stakes are higher and people are dying and living off rations. You then find that this force that has been stalking them has made its way down into this world, and though our quasi-hero Blackbird eventually arrives, everyone he runs into ends up getting killed by the character 9, who is the Joker to Blackbird’s Batman. There’s a small confrontation, which hints at more to come. In terms of tone, I wanted the video to be something that leaned more into the realm of horror, while keeping the comic book feel that you saw in Scarlet Cross.”
How did you go about building the world of The Phantom Tomorrow?
“What we had this time, that had been forced upon us through the pandemic, was the ability to work on something in more detail than we ever had before. I’ve written concept albums in the past, but I’ve never truly had the time to flesh out a story and work on it to a level where every detail is there. A lot of concept albums fall short because they’re essentially half-concepts; I don’t mean to disparage anybody else, but oftentimes it feels like artists are trying to shoehorn these songs about their lives to fit within a concept, when in reality all that’s there is a costume and a character design. I’ve been able to be really hands-on with The Phantom Tomorrow, building the costumes myself, directing the videos, designing the characters and the worlds, and now working with a comic book company to build the story out further, all the while writing an album with the concept in mind. We’ve built something we’re extremely excited about, and if you’re a fan of narrative, story-driven material and hard-rock, this record will be very enjoyable for you.”
Are all the songs on the album closely tied to the overarching story?
“I don’t mean to toot my own horn and make it sound like I’ve cracked the code on this, but there really is a delicate balance you have to strike when writing a rock opera. You have to be writing about reality and experiences you’ve had, but then place them through the lens of the story you’re building. Plus, the songs have to be able to stand on their own outside of the concept. I don’t want to compare myself to someone like Truman Capote, but I wanted this to be like an In Cold Blood type of thing, where there’s hyperrealism and stories that are true, but built around mythologised concepts. These songs are legitimate stories about my experiences, but I’ve made it my prerogative as a lyricist to then build them out and make them a part of this world of The Phantom Tomorrow. Having written this in a year when everything was in chaos, we were all locked inside and the world was changing, it was impossible to not find some inspiration from that, but the goal was very much not to write about lockdown, and rather take a look at everything else that was occurring in the world as a result of it.
“What really struck me in that regard was the loss of identity I saw in so many people – it felt like everyone was becoming part of some kind of political or social ‘team’, and wearing these ideologies that hadn’t grown organically inside them. It seemed to me that we’d created these avatars for ourselves – whether they were politicians or whatever – even though these people really didn’t give a shit about those who were supporting them. And this isn’t an indictment of anyone in particular, but seeing people walk around with t‑shirts with a politician’s name on struck me as a weird loss of identity and a form of cultural hero worship. It was like we were mythologising these people and turning them into heroes, which is no good for us, because we forgot to build the hero in ourselves. The story of The Phantom Tomorrow started there: if you have this world where people are mythologised, where would society end up? It’s not a dystopian future, it’s more like an alternate timeline where I’ve taken things I’m influenced by – like Watchmen and V For Vendetta – and had these flawed characters be the hero in the story.”
Figures like V from V For Vendetta are clearly echoed in Blackbird, the main character of The Phantom Tomorrow. What does that character represent?
“It makes me think a little bit of QAnon and the characteristics and mythologies that are placed on certain people. It’s something that happens on both sides of the political spectrum – characters are created, stories are told about them, and whether they’re true or not, the story spreads, the clickbait headlines are posted and these insane narratives become believed by a significant portion of society, to the extent that you could convince people that what they’re seeing is a balloon monster rather than a real person, just because that’s the information they’re being told. With that in mind, I wanted to build a character that was maybe evil, maybe great, maybe disinterested, and have different sides of this world put their hopes and dreams into this person and create their own mythologies, and see how that would resolve.
“Within the context of the record, we have a song near the start called Born Again which is positing the idea of ‘We finally have our saviour,’ and then by the end of the album, you get to the songs Kill The Hero and Fall Eternal where the hero has failed us. The goal of all of that is to show how we don’t need to mythologise these people – we can create those heroes within ourselves. The message of the record is really very simple: be your own hero.”
You’ve previously hinted that this album is going to be heavier than your last LP, Vale. How would you describe the sound of The Phantom Tomorrow?
“‘Heavy’ is a funny word, because to me that means bands like Type O Negative, and you’re not going to get that on this record! There’s some screaming, sure, and some very metal riffs, but by and large the goal was to paint a darker picture, and make an album that was less shiny. There are moments of straight-up arena rock on The Phantom Tomorrow, but tonally, this is definitely a darker record. And if you’re looking for heaviness, there are songs like Shadows Rise and Crimson Sky which deliver in that regard. Doing Re-Stitch These Wounds was an opportunity for us to do that metalcore sound again, but with regards to The Phantom Tomorrow, our goal was to evolve our sound. In terms of our catalogue, this album is probably most in-line with Wretched And Divine. The main thing when it comes to the sound and everything else about The Phantom Tomorrow, though, is the detail and the time we took to really build this thing out and make it multi-faceted. There are many layers to what we’ve created, and that’s something we’re really proud of.”
Black Veil Brides’ The Phantom Tomorrow is released June 4 via Sumerian Records.
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