‘Billy Talent III’ is a mind-blowing example of a band at the top of their game...
Billy Talent know all about playing the long game. For years before they first appeared in the UK, they were slogging away in their native Canada – developing their sound, finding their identity (they started out as “Pezz”), and slowly but surely gaining recognition. Even when they arrived here in 2003 with a proper debut album and major label backing, they were no overnight success. The explosive sucker-punch of songs like ‘This Is How It Goes’ and ‘Try Honesty’ was utterly unexpected, and it was enough to turn heads in the rock industry. But even at that point, with excitement visibly bubbling, Billy Talent felt like an underground phenomenon. It wasn’t until their second album in 2006 that the foursome began to get the recognition they deserved on our shores. By that point, they had honed their song-writing skills to perfection. The result was the brilliantly executed ‘Billy Talent II’, a huge-sounding record packed with first-rate tunes.
Fast forward to 2009, and Billy Talent are well-known and well-respected. Nonetheless, it’s time to take it to the next level, and that’s exactly what they’ve done. But how? Recent interviews almost suggested a new direction, with the band referring to ‘Billy Talent III’ as the darkest thing they’ve done to date. Yet while the album might sound denser as a whole, ultimately it’s classic Billy Talent – just done in a way that’s more powerful, more direct and more precise than ever before.
First single ‘Rusted From The Rain’ is just one example of how things have got heavier, and perhaps points to exactly where Billy Talent have gone right all along. There’s no mistaking the legacy of 90s bands like Green Day and Soundgarden in songs like this. But the Billy Talent boys have taken that legacy and twisted it into a whole new beast – arguably one with more spark and originality than many acts had back in the day. Indeed, whether it’s spitting, snarling rock (‘Tears Into Wine’) or a tragic ballad (‘White Sparrows’), Ben Kowalewicz and co never fail to hit the mark. You may well make the odd musical association here and there – Muse fans will no doubt appreciate ‘The Dead Can’t Testify’ – but it’s only ever in passing, because Billy Talent have achieved that rarest of feats; they’ve hit on their own trademark sound.
The other area in which Billy Talent excel, of course, is lyrics. In the past, Ben has been inspired by everything from personal troubles to newspaper articles, and it seems nothing has changed. ‘Billy Talent III’ covers the whole spectrum - persecution, politics, suicide attempts, bereavement, and being a loser in love. Every song tells a story, but what you choose to take from it is up to you. The point is that Billy Talent make moral tales hugely entertaining, and give their songs depth and integrity in the process. Yet if there’s a moral for the album as a whole, it has to be that hard work pays off, because ‘Billy Talent III’ is a mind-blowing example of a band at the top of their game.