On September 11, 2010, my friend and I were in front of a sound booth at Wembley Stadium in London bemoaning the fact that we had one more band to sit through before MUSE took the stage. The opening bands for both nights up to that point had been rather lackluster and the only thing standing between us and who we were there to see was a band named Biffy Clyro. Neither of us knew anything about them. I looked at Olga and asked “What the hell does that even mean?” Then three men took the stage without shirts; one of them sporting snow-white hair and a Colonel Sanders beard and moustache. I sighed. Another friend who watched from the stands later said that he initially thought this white haired person had to be in his 70s. We resigned ourselves to suffering through another lack-luster set and then the Scottish trio of Simon Neil, James Johnston, and Ben Johnston opened with “Golden Rule.” Our jaws dropped and we grabbed each other, I shouted something like “Where has this been?????!!!!!!” Fast-forward to now when it’s been more than three years since the release of “Opposites” and their newest album – “Ellipsis” – is set to drop and I look at them and say “Where have you been?”
The short answer to that question is that the end of the “Opposites” cycle left them tired and exhausted. In interviews leading up to the release of Ellipsis, Simon Neil has been upfront and honest about the mental strain he’s been under as a singer and songwriter. They decided to forego touring in 2015, Simon worked on a solo album – the yet to be released ZZC – and then they headed into the studio with Rich Costey to begin work on their next record. Their seventh studio album begins a third “cycle” in the Biffy Clyro catalog. Simon hinted that they were “rewiring” Biffy’s sound and in a December 2015 interview with DIY stated that they were “in the process of making potentially the best Biffy album you’ve ever heard.” The world got its first taste of the new record when On a Bang was premiered at Edinburgh’s Hogmany celebration and we’ve been waiting for the whole shebang ever since. Tomorrow is the day. The wait was worth it.
The album starts off with Wolves of Winter – an in-your-face first single warning to dismiss Biffy Clyro at your peril. “We have achieved so much more than you possibly thought we could . . . . No I in team. There’s two in brilliant.” Wolves romps through time signatures – 7/8 to 4/4 and possibly a little of everything in between. It’s winter, it’s cold, and they’re hungry. Simon’s lyrical strength shines in this song and only gets better as the album continues. Next is Friends and Enemies with “you were not right, you were just righteous . . . with a friend as good as you, who needs enemies?” And then Animal Style smacks you right in the face and reminds you that no one drops a chorus like Biffy Clyro does. And if you somehow forget Biffy’s ability to drop a chorus, On a Bang” reminds you again and dares you to ever forget.
If I can find any fault with Ellipsis, it would be the middle of the record. The next thee songs – Re-Arrange, Herex, and Medicine – venture over into U.S. radio-friendly love song territory. Don’t get me wrong, they are good, solid songs but they don’t click with the rest of the album. Simon can wring your heart out with an occasional love song and Medicine fits the bill here with “So help me, why can’t this be love? Tell me, why can’t this be enough? When is high ever high enough? It’s all I’ve ever hoped for.” But I’m used to raw, angry songs from Biffy Clyro and three ballady-takes in the middle of the record slows it down too much. Thankfully this pick up again with On a Bang in all of its f-bomb dropping glory and the momentum carries on through to the end.
Ellipsis fulfills the prediction that Biffy’s sound would be rewired. Each of the proceeding cycles is different from each other in terms of sound, feel, and tone. Biffy has never been a band that sounds the same from record to record and Ellipsis is the same. It’s taken multiple listenings for some of these songs to catch for me – for instance as I work on this review, Flammable has grown on me to the point that I quite like it. Ellipsis takes us into the world of animal appetites and savagery, so the slower songs do provide the balance necessary to keep this album from drowning in anger. Biffy Clyro is maturing and growing from album to album and each piece continues to fall perfectly into place.
1. Wolves Of Winter
2. Friends and Enemies
3. Animal Style
8. On A Bang
9. Small Wishes
12. Don’t, Won’t, Can’t (deluxe only)
13. In The Name Of The Wee Man (deluxe only)
Wolves of Winter – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpJvP4b5fX8
Animal Style – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAsda7veaxo
Friends and Enemies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJL1V1vlfGE
Tour Dates: http://www.biffyclyro.com/shows.htm