In a sentence:
A return to form, Biffy Clyro’s eclectic eighth album ‘A Celebration Of Endings’ suggests a number of possible futures.
The career of Biffy Clyro is one of trilogies, as the
band themselves have alluded to in past interviews. Back in 2016, around the
time of the release of the relatively divisive Ellipsis
album, frontman Simon Neil spoke of the “prog-metal kind of complex fucking
mania” by which their first three albums were characterised, before breaking
out into the big leagues of British modern rock with three “big, expansive
records”, namely 2007’s Puzzle,
2009’s Only Revolutions
and 2013’s double-disc Opposites.
With two clearly defined, though not necessarily mutually exclusive, eras
behind them, the band seemed intent on continuing this tradition, dipping their
toes into new waters for what would become their third “trilogy”.
Clyro // ‘MTV Unplugged (Live At The Roundhouse, London)’
Ellipsis happened, and it seemed rather unclear what
exactly the band were going for. There was the odd abrasive,
post-hardcore-infused moment, akin to the band’s first “trilogy”, a handful of
guitar-driven pop songs that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Opposites,
and a few stabs at genres and styles previously unexplored within their
discography, such as R&B, funk and even country music. It wasn’t a bad
album by any means, but the band didn’t appear to know whether they were coming
or going. Were they more committed to venturing into these new, unexplored
territories, or merely rekindling old flames?
They then surprised us by serving up Balance, Not Symmetry in
2019, a soundtrack to the film of the same name. Here, Biffy Clyro evidently
set out to try their hand at every musical genre imaginable over the course of an
hour. Talk about artistic licence. It nonetheless became increasingly apparent
that the overarching style of this third “trilogy” would be… well, nondescript.
However, that did beg the question: Is Balance, Not Symmetry the second part
of the trilogy, or just a luxury one-off? Hence, should it even be considered a
Biffy Clyro studio album at all?
Regardless, that brings us on to album nine (or is it album eight?
8.5?), ominously titled A Celebration of Endings. Much like Ellipsis,
there are occasional glimpses of a previously unheard side of the band,
interspersed with a fair share of nods to the past. If anything, this record is
more backwards-looking than Ellipsis, at least stylistically. Quality-wise,
however, whilst that album, in its attempts to balance the old and the new,
ended up fairly hit and miss, Celebration rarely misses. The singles may
not shine as brightly as one might expect from a band like Biffy, so if you’re
expecting a ‘Bubbles’ or a ‘Many Of Horror’, you may come away disappointed, but
having all the tracks set on a more level playing field means that one can
derive enjoyment out of them all in equal measure, which is certainly no bad
The album begins with ‘North Of No South’, which
comes across as quite the oddball when compared to previous Biffy Clyro
openers. It doesn’t instantly grab your attention like ‘Wolves Of Winter’ or
‘Balance, Not Symmetry’ did, nor does it gradually build from humble beginnings
to something ultimately majestic (e.g. ‘Glitter And Trauma’, ‘Living Is A
Problem’, ‘Different People’). Instead, it follows the traditional quiet verse/loud
chorus formula, with some trademark “Biff riffs” and interesting close vocal
harmonies thrown in. On paper, it’s nothing to write home about, but after
several spins of the whole record, it’s unlikely to go anywhere but upwards in
most listeners’ estimations.
Things start getting very interesting with ‘The Champ’ though. The song
begins as a piano and strings-led ballad, and one can’t help but note how refreshing
it is to hear strings being used as a genuine melodic tool in a Biffy song, as
opposed to merely existing as an extra layer of dynamics over a sea of raucous
guitars and pounding drums. Come the second verse and the song exhibits an
almost “funk rock” vibe, mainly thanks to Neil’s guitar strumming patterns. One
dreamy yet short-lived instrumental section later and the track culminates in
classic Biffy fashion, as guitars, bass, drums and strings all come together to
gloriously cap off the crescendo. Now the wheels are set in motion!
Leisure’ keep the momentum flowing nicely, with its bouncy guitar riffs and
drumbeat. However, the unexpected drop in tempo as the earth-shattering chorus
enters, in addition to the intriguing chord changes that occur therein, are
ultimately what this song is all about. Throw in some bluesy lead guitar work
and you have for yourself an unconventional yet triumphant Biffy Clyro composition.
This wasn’t a particularly wise choice of single though, as it’s much too
texturally and tonally unstable for FM radio. Rather, this is an ace deep cut
through and through.
Oh yeah, did I mention FM radio? Well, the band go full-on “Planet
Rock hit of the week” with ‘Tiny
Indoor Fireworks’, a major chord-laden three-minute mainstream rock song
that belongs in the introduction to “Rock Music for Dummies”, should that book
ever exist. It’s also 100% Foo Fighters – it’s hard not to notice the totally
unsubtle ‘Learn To Fly’ reference during the second verse. That said, it’s
actually not a bad song. The chorus is undoubtedly very catchy, and some of the
guitar arpeggios and low-key keyboard melodies in the background work extremely
well. But after the adventurousness of the previous two tracks, this song does
unfortunately scream “sell out”. You can’t leave out the “woah woah”s
either. You mustn’t leave out the “woah woah”s.
Of Best Possible’ starts out with an ear-splitting false intro, which
immediately harkens back to ‘The Kids From Kibble And The Fist Of Light’. However,
the bulk of the song itself turns out to be easily one of the most heartfelt
songs on the record, with verses that conjure up imagery of alcoholism, social
alienation and failing relationships, whereas the chorus is imbued with an
undeniable sense of hope and determination to turn things around for good.
Furthermore, the chiming guitar arpeggios provide an undeniable warmth and
tenderness that complement the lyrics superbly. We’re back on track.
Feeling sentimental? How about we follow that up with the first fully-fledged ballad that Celebration has to offer, and one that the band themselves have described as “the most unashamedly sincere song” on the album? The overall tone adopted by ‘Space’ is noticeably more positive than that of its predecessor, namely the fact that no matter the trials and tribulations that love may entail, you’ll always be there for each other at the end of the day. A simple message carried beautifully by Neil’s passionate vocals, and accompanied wonderfully by a luscious backdrop of strings. The bitter and cold-hearted old-school Biffy fan may feel compelled to categorise this song under “generic ballad”, and they wouldn’t be totally wrong. This song isn’t necessarily original, by any stretch of the imagination. But as a breath of fresh air located at the halfway point of A Celebration Of Endings, it works wonders.
Okay, so what’s the best way of following up two potential tear-jerkers? “Some pure, unadulterated rock, of course!” reply Biffy, before delivering ‘End Of’. There isn’t much to say about this song, apart from the fact that it’s a generous helping of blistering power-pop magic. James Johnston’s bass playing comes to the fore in this track, particularly during the instrumental breakdown, whereas Simon Neil pushes the upper limits of his impressive vocal range in the pre-chorus, and then rewards us with some trademark screams at the end. Lovely stuff.
Lead single ‘Instant History’ is
probably the biggest misstep on the record. The extremely poppy verses are fine
but painfully generic, whereas the arena-sized, EDM-infused chorus sounds
half-arsed and out of place at best, and not a million miles away from what one
would expect from every critic’s favourite “rock” band: Imagine Dragons. Any
listener would agree that this song stands out like a sore thumb, and therefore
leaves a stain on what is an otherwise perfectly cohesive album. Perhaps this
would’ve felt more at home on Balance, Not Symmetry?
The band rediscover their energy on ‘The Pink Limit’, a song that would instantly be dismissed as album filler if it weren’t for the glorious transition from pre-chorus to chorus, where the band can be heard effectively dangling a perfect cadence before the listener, yet just as they’re about to take the bait, they’re swept off their feet by a sudden key change that would make Biffy Clyro’s very own touring guitarist Mike Vennart (ex-Oceansize frontman and initiator of an equally fantastic solo career) proud.
The penultimate track is the obligatory acoustic ballad ‘Opaque’, which follows in the
footsteps of the likes of ‘Machines’ and ‘Medicine’. The pre-chorus is
especially gorgeous, as the way the string arrangements all come together just
as Neil utters the line “But you could have made it right this time”
maximises the sense of betrayal that permeates the lyrics. Nevertheless, the
volatility of the line “Take the fucking money and run” sits awkwardly
against the tranquil instrumentation, causing the listener to abruptly snap out
of their melancholic state of mind. It probably suffers from “penultimate track
syndrome”, whereby a decidedly weaker song is invariably placed before a much
stronger closing track.
As a palettte cleanser though, it certainly does its job, because
‘Cop Syrup’ is an absolute masterstroke.
Honestly. It’s the greatest closing track Biffy have ever put to record, hands
down. It begins as Celebration’s most overt call-back to the band’s
first “trilogy” of albums, complete with angular riffs and screamed vocals,
before embarking on a slow, extended instrumental crescendo, with arpeggiated
guitars and strings, that not only sounds like the kind of closing track that
Mastodon would produce at the top of their game, but also captures the band at
their most “progressive” in over 15 years. The brief but oh-so-effective
recapitulation that rounds off the song, and consequently the album, is
ultimately the moment that’s going to cause listeners to flock back for
repeated listens in their droves. It really is that remarkable.
So, A Celebration Of Endings… All that can be said is
that if this does end up being the third instalment of this third “trilogy”,
then Biffy Clyro truly have ended it on a pretty marvellous note, particularly
when taking into account its two predecessors. Sure, it’s far from a “perfect”
album, and the stylistic trajectory of the band is still relatively unclear.
They could honestly go anywhere or nowhere from here, that’s for sure. Let’s
just hope that the album title merely refers to this current trilogy, as
opposed to the band’s entire career. Because, if you’re nine albums deep into
your discography and still writing songs as phenomenal as ‘Cop Syrup’, then
it’s far, far too early to be calling it a day just yet. (8/10)
Listen to A Celebration Of Endings by Biffy Clyro here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!
Tags: 14th Floor, A Celebration Of Endings, album, Ben Johnston, Biffy Clyro, George McKenna, James Johnston, review, Simon Neil, Warner
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