Bladee is the true tortured poet on Cold Visions

by Ben Gardner

Bladee is the true tortured poet on Cold Visions

“Keep guessing about my next move, you're not even close”

— "Close" by Bladee (2018)

In my recent review of Bladee’s recent surprise drop Psykos with Yung Lean, I ended with: “I’m sure that their future work will continue to take us by surprise.” Boy, was I right! Recently turned thirty Swedish singer, rapper, songwriter, etc. Bladee (born Benjamin Reichwald) blessed his fans by dropping Cold Visions, an expansive thirty-song album that features an all star cast of Drain Gang members and collaborators, highlighted by Lean, Ecco2k, Thaiboy Digital, Whitearmor, Skrillex, and most prominently all-star rage producer F1lthy of the collective Working on Dying, who collabed with Bladee in 2017 on their self-titled mixtape. That mixtape is often associated with the moniker “Evil Bladee,” referring to its dark trap sound and Bladee’s aggressive vocals. Since then, his sound has constantly evolved and changed, leading many of his older fans to lament “When will Evil Bladee come back?” After seven years, the prayers of the Drain faithful were answered.

Production-wise, the songs on this album mostly fall into two groups: the darker, aggressive rage songs, mostly produced by F1lthy, and the lighter, dreamier tracks which are reminiscent of Icedancer and The Fool. Among all of the producers, Lusi’s contributions stand out. His surging synths are instantly recognizable on “DONT DO DRUGZ” and “FALSE.” The three track run of “YUNG SHERMAN,” “FLATLINE,” and “ONE SECOND” is one of the best on the album, and also clearly demonstrates the variety of production. “FLATLINE” is a top ten Bladee beat that’s catchy, clear, and clean with its cascading lead synth and rhythmic trap drums. This is directly juxtaposed to the unhinged violence, in-your-face 808s, and unapologetic distortion of “ONE SECOND.” The chaos continues after with “SAD MEAL,” “FUN FACT,” and the comically distorted “ONLY GOD IS MADE PERFECT.” The most chaotic moment (in a good way) might be the end of “RIVER FLOWS IN YOU,” when it devolves into a sea of glitchy effects most likely added by experimental electronic artist James Ferraro, who has credits on this track. Even though many of these beats contain the typical emotional synth loops, typical trap drums, and prominent, driving bass of rage music, they all have their own character. Whenever Bladee experiments with another genre, it never fails to contain his personal sound, and this is no exception. Lastly, the album is also full of funny samples and sound effects, which keeps things interesting and contributes to the chaotic energy of the album.

Bladee’s vocal performance on this album is one of, if not his best, in his catalog. He employs a variety of flows and voices throughout, ranging from frantic mocking on “RED CROSS” to mournful crooning on “PM2” to angelic singing on “FALSE.” Many tracks contain different delivery styles that seamlessly transition into each other and provide a riveting listening experience. The first verse on “OTHERSIDE” is a great example of this, which at one point he slowly and seamlessly transitions from rapping in a lower voice to singing in falsetto, raising the pitch of his voice every line, climaxing at “I’ll throw myself in a ditch / I’ll hurt myself if you wish.” Another vocal highlight is his repeated and catchy singing of “Cold visions / Dark feelings” on “FLATLINE.” The song is peppered with laughs, yells, growls, and screams throughout, shedding insight into his turbulent mental state. Bladee’s backing vocals and adlibs are on point as well. He often supports himself by extending sung notes in the background, such as on the first outro, and SAD MEAL contains the best ‘skrrt’ adlib you’ll ever hear at 0:21. Reichwald is well known for his heavy autotune usage, but certain tracks, such as “FLEXING & FINESSING,” have little to no autotune. In the tracks that do use autotune, it’s thoughtful and effective as an instrument, rather than a crutch. Bladee on autotune sounds like a suffering cyborg filled with existential dread, and it’s mesmerizing.

I was hoping we could get some big name features on this one, since F1lthy is now one of the biggest producers in the world (cough cough Playboi Carti)...and I was disappointed. However, we did get some standout performances from old friends. Yung Lean shines on all five of the tracks he’s on, and even outshines Bladee on “ONE SECOND” and “I DONT LIKE PEOPLE.” Sickboyrari does his thing on “OTHERSIDE,” Sad Boys producer Yung Sherman is hilariously featured on “YUNG SHERMAN”, and longtime collaborator Ecco2k does ethereal backing vocals on the second outro. The Legendary Drain Member/SG Chief Commander A.K.A. Thaiboy Digital steals the show with his energetic standout verse on “LUCKY LUKE” and his genuinely motivational speech on “MESSAGE TO MYSELF.”

There are a myriad of hilarious lyrics on Cold Visions that will feed r/sadboys for generations. The whole chorus of “YUNG SHERMAN” invites the listener to imagine Bladee and Sherm in rehab (very sad), at Venice Beach (very rad), and working out in the gym (getting tan). Other comical highlights include “Fuck being depressed, asbestos,” and “Man I’m stepping on the court / Man you’re watching YouTube shorts.” The whole concept of going to McDonalds and ordering a ‘Sad Meal’ is amusingly on brand for Bladee, and who else would boldly start their album off with “Not many brain cells left?” Crafting humorous lyrics is an art, and Bladee can both tackle difficult subject matter and make you laugh, often in the same song. Bladee’s humor is often written off by those who don’t put much attention towards his lyrics, but those who are tapped in know that he’s a true comedian.

Even though there are funny bars throughout, the general themes of the album are very dark. Cold Visions marks a descent back into darkness for Bladee, serving as a reminder that recovery is not linear. Bladee is typically very honest with his lyrics, and takes that honesty to an even deeper level on this album. “MESSAGE TO MYSELF” provides a look into Bladee’s inner conflict. He ridicules himself, “Man, you stupid bitch, get well / Get the fuck up out of hell,” while Thaiboy Digital serves as a positive foil to his friend’s negativity. On “DONT DO DRUGZ”, Bladee is frank about his issues with substance abuse, “The easiest route is the one that I choose … this isn’t the truth and I know / yet I choose the way that makes me lose.” He feels as if he has no choice but to suffer, even though he knows that isn’t true, reminding us that it is often hard to break out of the confines of our mental cycles. Later in the song he explains how drug issues made him feel numb and depressed: “Feel hate as soon as you awake / each day is ruined every day.” In addition to exposing his emotional turmoil, Bladee discusses his insecurities as an artist, stating his distaste of fame. He talks about his struggles feeling confident in his work on “LOWS PARTLYY,” rapping “I always believed the ones that doubted me the most,” but then criticizes his contemporaries: “I’m the OG, y’all just parody.” This dichotomy between braggadocio and emotional openness is a staple of the music of Drain Gang/Sad Boys. This unnamed author in their review of Bladee’s Red Light described it best: “something in it is fighting for life, and something is already dead.” Part of Bladee is clinging to the cold visions and dark feelings, but another part knows that he can get better and is fighting hard. Bladee is truly a tortured poet, exposing his mental turmoil to the world unapologetically.

Bladee poignantly ends this journey of an album with two outros. On the first one he questions whether or not the fans even deserve him, and repeats: “tell me when to quit if this not it.” He also reflects on his creative beginnings and describes how he has always been plagued with negative thoughts: “Even when I was being good, I think of violence and fires.” This song serves as a message to the fans, demonstrating that due to his already negative mental state, harsh criticism has made him consider quitting. The second outro is more positive and introspective. Using his favored flowers metaphor, Bladee demonstrates that his struggles have made him stronger and he will rise again. This closing track is beautiful and extremely emotional, as his vocals soar grasping for something, anything in the abyss. He begs himself, “Won’t you let the love in?” before turning towards God and love. These two tracks epitomize the potent mix of emotions Bladee has expressed on this record, a yin-yang of pain and hope. He has wowed me with his emotional honesty with this one, and I truly hope he is able to find peace and happiness.

Cold Visions is a roller coaster ride in the best way possible. Through thirty tracks, Bladee gives the listener a tour through his turbulent emotional world, over a diversity of soundscapes. If this truly is his last album as some online have theorized, he definitely did not end on a loss. However, judging by his immense artistic output over the last ten years, I suspect (and hope) this isn’t the last we hear of him.