Review Summary: Pop-rock to roar from the top of the mountain.
“For the record,” insists the sticker that adorns the cover of Biffy Clyro’s latest record, “they’re probably the best rock band in the UK.” The usual hype-gathering quote to throw on a new release, of course – yet its attribution to NME adds a truckload of salt. Let’s not forget there’s a new saviour of rock every three months to this publication. Still, if there’s any band worth hyping up, Biffy is certainly amongst the top. Developing a strong cult following in the first half of the decade, the second half has seen them make mainstream impact with the album Puzzle
, in addition to support slots with everyone from Linkin Park to the Rolling Stones.
So are NME onto something here? The band’s confidence that emanates from their fifth album, Only Revolutions
, would certainly suggest so. Fans dedicated to the band’s previous work may initially find discomfort with the sheen of the Hollywood production, but at the core of the record is the same old Biffy with a few more hooks thrown in for exceptionally good measure.
Perhaps the most noticeable new feature in the band’s sound is the more constant use of arrangements to emphasise various points of the record. With prolific composer David Campbell at the helm, Biffy take the exact right moments and throw them into the open air. Take the trumpets that signal the arrival of opening number "The Captain", for instance. You’d have tough argument on your hands were you to state there’s been a more triumphant-sounding moment in the band’s discography – the major-chord progression and 6/8 drum gallops aside, the horn section pierces the top of the song’s mix and embosses a glorious, soaring sound. The string sections that follow the final chorus of "That Golden Rule", additionally, fuel the fire of the song’s high-octane excitability and voracious energy, as the movements swell and consequently explode.
Campbell isn’t the defining factor of Only Revolutions
, however. That title is still very much belonging to Simon Neil, the band’s vocalist and guitarist. His voice still maintains that quintessential Highland burr, refusing to sacrifice his motherland tongue to appear more accessible to a U.S. audience. His six-string work remains wonderfully catchy and versatile – "Shock Shock" roars out of the gates before slinking into an overdrive of power chords, while "Cloud of Stink" sees a thick-string grind clash with angular shimmying. Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme even pops in for a jam on "Bubbles", dropping his brooding guitar into the strangely-danceable album highlight.
The Johnston twins (James on bass, Ben on drums) continue to react amicably to Neil’s imagination and ambition with tight grooves, edgy movements and a backdrop that never feels forced or restrained. Even the quieter tracks like the folksy "God & Satan" (“I talk to God as much as I talk to Satan/’Cause I wanna hear both sides”) and the stirring "Know Your Quarry" (“Love is a shadow/In the brightness, it dies”) are kept appealing and engaging by the trio’s decade-odd-long intimacy and elaborate knowledge of one another’s musical movements.
Five albums into a wide-eyed and fruitful career, Only Revolutions
is the sound of a band more than happy with where they are – both creatively and commercially. Keeping up this level of creative, powerful and outlandish melodic hard rock isn’t just going to keep the band’s head above water – from here, they could part the Red Sea if they wanted to.