Black Dresses’ white–hot and crushing new record, Forever In Your Heart, shouldn’t even exist at all. In May of 2020, the band, composed of Toronto–based musicians Devi McCallion and Ada Rook, shared a statement that they would be disbanding—citing “extended harassment” and “hurtful and frightening” behavior from fans. This was an understandable decision, given McCallion and Rook’s vulnerability as transgender individuals in the public eye, but was still disappointing for long–time supporters. That is, until this Valentine’s Day brought another Twitter announcement:
“New album ‘Forever In Your Heart' out today. We’re no longer a band unfortunately. Regardless, we’ve decided to keep putting out music.”
Black Dresses have little intent to reconcile the paradox of collaborating under a shared moniker and putting out music without identifying as a band. Many tracks on Forever In Your Heart feature Rook and McCallion either trading off singing responsibilities or, as on “Silver Bells,” vocalizing simultaneously—but with one bandmate screaming deep in the mix. This can feel like two panic spirals occurring in parallel, to the point where the song’s pounding dissonance has to relent for a check–in. It offers one of the record’s glimpses into a relationship composed of support and compassion that surpasses music entirely.
Such fleeting moments of vulnerability don’t take away from what is easily Black Dresses’ most bombastic project to date. This is evident in the opening salvo of “PEACESIGN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” and early standout track “Concrete Bubble,” both of which have foundations in nu–metal and industrial music. Their instrumentals are dominated by roaring harmonized guitars and buzzing synthesizer frequencies pushed hard beyond their limits. The title of the opening track is a clear callback to the album cover of 2020’s Peaceful as Hell, which is reclaimed as an omen of what Rook and McCallion work to bring about across these 15 tracks: “[Making] something beautiful with no hope.” Sonically, the abrasive glitch and meandering song structures could be viewed as inaccessible, and perhaps that’s exactly the point. “PEACESIGN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” is Black Dresses’ warning shot for casual listeners and a trial–by–fire for longtime fans.
It’s difficult to emerge from any song on the record unscathed, but those who persevere will learn that Forever In Your Heart also contains some of the duo’s catchiest and most danceable work. “Concrete Bubble” lives up to its promise to “Rock your body like a cattle plague,” as it locks into a drumbeat reminiscent of Bowie’s “Modern Love.” Immediately after, “Bulldozer” has one of the album’s most instantly memorable and earwormy hooks. It bears the marked influence of Trent Reznor’s early work as Nine Inch Nails: pummeling, syncopated percussion and foregrounding aggression without sacrificing groove. This brand of danceable angst crops up on later tracks like “Perfect Teeth” and the electroclash–indebted “We’ll Figure It Out.”
Forever In Your Heart’s callbacks to '90s music continue for two back–to–back songs, “Waiting42moro” and “Gone In An Instant,” which both pull heavily from the decade’s songwriting. The former cribs its vocal delivery and dissonant squalls from Sonic Youth, while the latter—the album’s purest expression of beauty amidst the wreckage—deconstructs the beats and chiming guitars of female–fronted shoegaze acts like Garbage. Both of these songs represent a subtle pivot from a rage that feels despondent to a rage that feels anthemic, with harmonized refrains to match.
With “Understanding” comes the record’s clearest statement of purpose: “There's not a lot of pain in the world that makes any sense / Maybe people need to be understood instead.” These lyrics are heralded by the track’s sonic peak, as the once–menacing sawtooth synthesizers change from major to minor key and come to the forefront in a display of laser–light show magnitude. But while similar dance music breakdowns employ synthetic platitudes of euphoria, Black Dresses reach for harder–won transcendence.
Forever In Your Heart strives to escape the earthly and corporeal. “Heaven” features lyrics about “the night [exploding] in the light from a shooting star.” That said, it’s “Silver Bells'' where Black Dresses push themselves into “the planet’s atmosphere.” They are a united front—whether they’re disbanded or not—and the song’s closing minute feels like an apocalypse—finding hope not in change, but in destruction and rebirth. Its percussion pummels like jet thrusters. By the close of the album’s sixth track, Rook and McCallion have already left their fans, their haters, their past lives as bandmates, and probably your speakers razed to ashes in their wake. Afterwards, they set about building something new.