Cold Visions

“Not many brain cells left, but I’m ready for—” Bladee begins his new album, before he’s cut off by Vincent Price’s famous laugh from “Thriller.” So fried he can’t finish a sentence, this madman’s at the brink of collapse. Seized by panic attacks, he threatens to “kill kill kill” and calls himself “a stupid bitch” while ambulance sirens wail and screams lacerate the night. Ten years in, the Swedish rapper is the most famous he’s ever been and still crippled by anguish. “The only thing that’s left is paranoia,” he cries.

Trying to explain Bladee’s bizarre thrill to doubters always felt risky: the more you thought about it, the less sure you were about why you liked him. Here was this young Swede soaking in Auto-Tune and cosplaying as a listless, emo Chief Keef; half the time it was impossible to tell what his verses meant. Still, the twinges of ache in his voice, floating over glassy and gloomy beats, felt inexplicably poignant. His slipshod vocals capture the ennui of modern life like nothing else, or so one long essay put it. Over time, he’s made it easier for true believers and rubberneckers alike, stretching his voice to acrobatic wildness and sculpting a galaxy of surreal lore in the lyrics. Bladee’s version of rap is blemished but beautiful, imperfect and half-coherent in a way that makes banal thoughts feel endearingly askew.

Cold Visions is his most realized project to date, an anxious 30-song album that doubles as a chance for him to reflect on his dizzying ascent. It’s enticingly darker than most of what he’s put out in recent years—the sublime optimism of Crest and 333, the summery bounce of Good Luck and The Fool—and more cohesive than Spiderr and Exeter’s freaky experiments. It’s like his life is glitching between dreams and nightmares. He’s at the Gucci store one moment then lying sleepless, begging for help the next; he’s declaring himself the bloodthirsty king then sitting at McDonald’s where all he can muster is calling it the “Sad Meal.” Bladee reaches max mania on “End of the Road Boyz,” which begins with the ear-splitting shrieks of a viral Roblox squeaker that’s like a bouncer for old heads. Flitting between moods, he unleashes a flurry of saintly warbles and baleful mumbles. “Reality surf might break my mind,” he warns. “Take another breath, it’s great, I’m fine.”

Everything bursts alive here, from the surround-sound vocals to the production roster that’s basically the cloud-rage Avengers. Seamless transitions make F1LTHY and Warpstr’s synthetic blazes melt against the icy trembles of Lusi, Woesum, Yung Sherman, and Whitearmor. Bladee’s delivery is constantly morphing, hurling horrorcore grunts and evil ASMR whispers over smooth rap flows and the kind of helium-high singing he honed on Crest and The Fool. Demented ad-libs shadow pristine verses; words deform into mutant growls. “King Nothingg” is a killer coronation: Bass thuds convulse, synths shiver, Bladee jokes about trauma-dumping and murdering people for nothing. The mix shakes with demonic sound effects yet somehow ends in a dreamy cloud rap reverie. It’s a far cry from the limp Auto-Tune droning of his early days.

Amid the chaos, Bladee pauses to take stock of things with striking lucidity given his usual tendency to abstract and arrive at ideas from oblique angles. He dropped his first solo tape, Gluee, just about a decade ago, back when he was known as Yung Lean’s sidekick. Now at 30, he’s experiencing something like a mid-career crisis. “I got so old, I got embarrassed to even be here, you know?” the intro goes. He’s aware of his immense influence on a new generation of internet musicians, but also feels more personally fucked up and worse off than he was as a fresh-faced 18-year-old. The gorgeously glum “Flatline” conveys Bladee’s sadness about letting someone down—possibly himself?—with some of his most expressive vocals ever, fluttering between hushed murmurs and frail cries; as he repeats how he’s suffocating in “dark feelings,” his tone mirrors the dismay by slowly dropping in pitch.

For as agitated as this album can be, it’s also sweetly silly in classic Bladee fashion. “Lows Partlyy” is eerily joyous, its blooming synths juxtaposing wildly with the depressive lyrics lurking beneath. “Burn down the disco, hang the fucking DJ,” Bladee coos at himself, sounding blissed-out. Some lyrics recall the gibberish aphorisms and cutesy riddles of his 2021 Fool era. He talks about “violently drug abusing weed” and accidentally buying 1,000 Smurfs toys while browsing eBay on shrooms. He scorns people for watching YouTube Shorts and says he paints better than Rembrandt. Lines that might feel dead in print electrify the ear through Bladee’s agile vocals, twitching with odd mouth-noises and tone-switches, like how he randomly chirps “I’m back!” as if he’s returning home from work in the twilight haze of “Flexing & Finessing.”

While Cold Visions may not be his swan song, there’s definitely a feeling of a closing chapter. The album is haunted by ghosts from Bladee’s past; nearly every song makes some kind of allusion to a previous release. He namedrops track titles like “Everlasting Flames” and “Redlight Moments.” Previously established lore about the mystical Drain Gang High School gets developed more on the snarling “Don’t Wanna Hang Out.” Old audio logos rematerialize, like the “Blade” tag taken from the 1998 movie Blade and the Sad Boys “profound sadness” effect lifted from Street Fighter IV. Veteran drainers are combing through this album in group chats, building a master doc to catalog every interpolation and reference.

One minute, Bladee’s wondering whether his cultish fans understand him (“Every time I check the comments I’m thinking like, ‘Do they even deserve me?’”). Later, he doubts whether he’s achieved anything that warrants worship: “The vision is clear, but I’m nowhere near.” It sounds like he’s collected his past lives and sonic memorabilia together for himself as much as for the fans. He’s looking at it all, questioning what his musical accomplishments mean. There’s no clear answer; Bladee hasn’t discovered true happiness or reached enlightenment. By the album’s end, he sounds exhausted yet ecstatic, like he’s shedding a great weight. The music swells and shimmers. “I’m like you, I’m living and I’m learning,” he sings, dissolving into the noise.