For a while, something had been amiss in Red Velvet’s charm – the tail-end of their contract renewals and a string of largely forgettable releases prompted conversations about the group’s direction for the future, which is why ‘Chill Kill’ is such a welcome reprieve. With their third studio album, Red Velvet have returned to what they do best – spinning chilling tales with flawless harmonies at the centre.
While we will address the eponymous title track ‘Chill Kill’ in just a moment, let’s give due credit to the other tracks on the album. All of them collectively contribute to the group’s reputation for having the best B-sides in K-pop, which often overshadow the title track itself, if one might dare say.
‘Knock Knock’ opens with bone-chilling harmonies by the group, layered over what appears to be a sample of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’. Then, as sharp string and bass alternate, unfolds an Edgar Allan Poe-esque game of hide and seek. Propped up by imagery of desolate playgrounds and “deepening loneliness like the walking dead”, the group imagine running away from someone eerily resembling yourself. It’s all so perfectly reminiscent of the Red Velvet of yore that perhaps ‘Knock Knock’ should have been the album’s lead single.
The vivid storytelling on the album is, in fact, the best part. Between orchestral arrangements and retro swing rhythms, songs like ‘Nightmare’ resemble slices of time carved out of a Victorian gothic horror novel. The members’ clear, expansive voices spark imagery of a young woman walking down a dark, foggy London street, picking up the pace ever so slightly as the street lamps inexplicably start going out.
“I’m your poet / I’m your pain,” say the group on ‘Bulldozer’, layering a challenge over powerful bass, as if testing your resolve to hold on during a wild ride. Elsewhere, on ‘Underwater’ – a strong contender for the best track on the album – we are baptised in an ocean of beats, complex harmonies and evocative depictions of being swept away by deep, uncharted waters. The all-encompassing treatment continues on ‘Iced Coffee’ and ‘One Kiss’, given how atmospheric and cinematic they are.
Heightening this tragedy are the lighter counterparts on the album, embodying the ‘hopeful’ nature of Red Velvet’s dual concept. The more uplifting tracks like ‘Wings’ and ‘Scenery’ can be considered more ‘red’ than ‘velvet’, but they create the ebb and flow that make the highs that much more impactful. ‘Will I Ever See You Again?’, however, deserves a special nod for making us feel like we’re witches joyously frolicking around a forest fire.
This brings us to the title track, ‘Chill Kill’, which is one of the weaker tracks on the album. After nearly four years without a quintessential ‘Velvet’ release, the teasers for ‘Chill Kill’ sent a jolt of anticipation through the fandom. With bloodied, bleak visuals reminiscent of The Handmaiden, ‘Chill Kill’ seemed to herald the end of a long night devoid of one of the best flavours of Red Velvet.
Even when it was described as a blend of “tragedy and hope” by Wendy, expectations were for a twisted version of hope rather than the sonic shift that was eventually presented. Suffice to say, ‘Chill Kill’ suffers from this switch up. Despite the strong start – where menacing synths and heavy beats build fear and excitement alike – the chorus is more a dampener than a catalyst. As it stands, the song is less a juxtaposition and more a clash between two opposing forces.
Red Velvet might have drawn us in with some duplicity – using deliciously dark teasers for a title track that turned out to be a disappointing sleight of hand – but we’ll willingly stay for the delightfully macabre B-sides. The nights are getting longer, the days are getting colder and Red Velvet are finally back with another thrillingly demonic album. It is, indeed, another ‘Chill Kill’ for this quintet.