Scotland's Finest Export Does It Again
Not to get all nationalist or anything, but generally, it’s hard to trust any Scottish person who dislikes Biffy Clyro. As one of the few bands that manages to unite so many music fans from different backgrounds with their wholesome brand of songwriting that no other group could even attempt to replicate, ‘Mon the ‘Biff’ is as much as a Scottish cultural calling card as ‘They can take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom,’ or ‘Gonnae no dae that?’
It’s established by now that it’s been a slow and steady journey to the top for the Kilmarnock trio, progressing from the angular post-hardcore intricacies of ‘Blackened Sky’ to the masterclass double album found on 2013’s ‘Opposites’. And through every step of the journey, listeners are left wondering where can they go from here, and they always deliver, so has that same delivery been made on ‘Ellipsis?’ Yeah, mostly.
Even at a stage where they’ve become a bona-fide arena band and festival headliner, there’s no accusation of staleness and repetition in camp Biffy. Thus in the aftermath of two gold standard arena-rock albums, Ellipsis takes them out of their comfort zone to be as experimental as an arena band can be, with odes to different musical styles interjected into their fiery alt rock. In certain instances, it’s mixed with some of the complexity that graced earlier albums filtered through Hollywood budget production.
Opener, ‘Wolves of Winter’ erupts into a set of juddering riffs which in the hands of any other band would seem jarring and unwelcome and transforms it into a soaring burst of positive energy. ‘On a Bang’ also recalls the intensity of Biffy’s post-hardcore era while riding a 2-4 groove reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age’s ‘Sick Sick Sick’ which places listeners in a sweaty basement club watching a band that used to share stages with Reuben and Hell is For Heroes.
New tricks have been picked up along the way as well as returns to their roots. Any extreme metal fan will have a double-take at ‘Herex’s’ very brief but non-ignorable leaps into blastbeat laden fury, while on the other end of the scale 'Small Wishes' owes its melody heavily to country music. And like the best country music, there’s a darkness that lies in the intricacies, as Simon Neil’s low ended guitar picking feels off-key and uncomfortable, while the lyrics about “a man who stole our national thunder,” and a “lizard” that “shit, and held it under our nostrils” recalls the treatment towards Scotland from a recently resigned political leader.
Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of experimentation on Ellipsis is the utilising of synthesizers to their fullest potential to match the creator’s levels ambition and insanity. Hearing a swirling electronic backdrop creep into acoustic led ballad ‘Medicine’ gives the song further dimension, boosted by Biffy’s trademark use of strings, while ‘Don’t Won’t Can’t’ features flares of fuzzy organ effects that feel erratic as they seem to burst out without any real fixed pattern. They’re a bit of a mindfuck, essentially.
Of course, there’s room for slower and more sentimental tracks such as the R’n’B infused ‘Re-arrange’ and icy-yet optimistic ‘People’, though the album’s structuring when it comes to the placement of these songs feels a little too thought out, as a number of section seem to follow a ‘hard-song, soft-song, hard-song’ structure a little too clearly, which is admittedly splitting hairs, but can get a little predictable for a band who should thrive on the unexpected.
However, it’s a minor error on an album that sits comfortably in the golden back catalogue of Scotland’s most fascinating and unique musical contributions. Though Ellipsis doesn’t top Opposites in terms of quality, which is asking a lot, it’s still an enthralling listen, which will absolutely leave listeners with one question on their minds: where can Biffy Clyro go from here??