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REVIEW: Biffy Clyro – ‘A Celebration Of Endings’ (14th Floor / Warner)


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”.

REVIEW: Biffy 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 thing.

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!

‘Weird 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.

Music video for ‘Tiny Indoor Fireworks’

‘Worst Type 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.

Music video for ‘Space’

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?

Music video for ‘Instant History’

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) (George McKenna)

Listen to A Celebration Of Endings by Biffy Clyro here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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