It's good. Very good.
The early noises from camp Biffy Clyro were that album seven would bear witness to more experimentation than ever before. Following a run of arena-conquering, festival-headlining, and mainstream-courting records, this time the musically-contrary trio reportedly used the likes of arty hip-hop collective Death Grips, ‘80s pop duo Tears For Fears and the shoegaze-meets-black metal of Deafheaven as sonic touchstones.
While it’s fair to say there’s an evident flexing of creative muscle, reassuringly, ‘Ellipsis’ only ever sounds like Biffy Clyro. Even when it kind of doesn’t… but more on that, in a bit.
Perhaps with one eye on and acute awareness of audience-challenging new horizons, lead single ‘Wolves Of Winter’ ushers the record in on relatively friendly and familiar-sounding footing. Staccato breakdowns, a rolling, tumbling sense of menace and an ever-present grasp of triumphant melody make this an easy bridge for anyone worried their heroes were about to abandon them entirely.
‘Friends And Enemies’ edges a few steps to the left, however. With its combination of huge percussive bombast, a children’s choir and a nasty, sledging guitar riff cutting through everything, it comes off like an evil Benetton ad soundtracked by world music. Simon Neil’s vocals anchor it firmly in the world of Biffy Clyro though and he delivers his lines with customary relish.
Speaking of, he doesn’t half give himself a bit of a kicking on this album. “Why’d you waste your time with me I’m just an animal? / Can’t you realise my head’s a fucking carnival?!” he spits on the throbbing, snarl of ‘Animal Style’.
It can be no coincidence that this is immediately followed by the woozy, smitten kitten, synth-soaked ballad of ‘Re-arrange’ where he pleads forgiveness and asks, “Darling… please stay with me”. Three years on from their previous full-length, it seems Biffy Clyro are still occupied with songs of contrasts and opposites.
But there is progression here, with producer Rich Costey deserving huge praise; embellishing their well-worn, instantly recognisable sound with subtle bells and whistles throughout.
The band themselves tear up their own rulebook by the time ‘Small Wishes’ rolls around – a country pop song, that could pass for the theme tune from a 1970’s U.S. TV family drama, complete with breezy melody, barroom piano and lap steel whirrs. Somehow, it sounds absolutely natural that a band once so synonymous with the weary old cliché of ‘angular riffs’ pull this off with consummate ease. You didn’t know that you needed a Biffy Clyro country song in your life, but you’re getting one and you’re going to love it.
All of which might raise some concerns or heckles among long time fans. But fret not, because the furious cacophony of ‘On A Bang’ brings the ruckus. “Well here’s your shitty future, you motherfucker!?” Simon Neil wails over the Bronx-referencing bluster, underpinned with a pulsing synth and guitar racing to the finish.
Late album standout ‘Howl’ also sounds exactly how you might imagine a song by that name by this band should sound, whereas the reflective beauty of ‘People’ is another classic Biffy ballad. It’s all gentle acoustics, keys and a sublime vocal building to a steady crescendo, as Simon once again berates himself, “I have the cruelest mouth and a sick little tongue” before adding a warped, gone-wrong Beatles-esque false finish.
All told, this is an almighty beast of a record – yet another in the now bulging Biffy Clyro canon. They’re well and truly settled into a creative groove now, making the improbable seem like a reflex, as easy and instinctive as breathing. And ‘Ellipsis’ is irrefutable proof, yet again, that they are without peer.
We catch up with Biffy to chat 'Ellipsis' and a whole lot more in our new issue.