“Oh that’s the band who sang that song that X Factor winner released a couple years ago, right?” – not exactly how a band with heavy metal influences want to be recognised. However this is no longer to be the case, Scottish rock trio Biffy Clyro have entered 2013 with the aptly named Opposites which provides two discs, each with a different concept. The first disc portrays some of the band’s darkest moments recently bought to light in an interview with Kerrang! These themes range from the band’s depression and alcoholism. The second disc however takes a more positive ideal supported by the energetic yet by no means aggressive mood given off by both the music and vocals.
This latest edition to the Biffy catalogue is essentially a portrayal of pitting the dark days against the happier times; learning to deal with their issues and learn from mistakes made. As much as this has formed the band, the men in question have also formed their most distinguished album yet. This is further supported by the artwork which features the oldest living tree that survives in Chile; suggesting the idea of formation over the years rather than destruction. It was designed by Storm Thorgerson, who also worked on the artwork of previous albums Puzzles and Only Revolutions.
Perhaps symbolic of the band sticking to what is true to them, the new album does not stray too far from the band’s melodic yet distinctive delivery of heavy guitars and a range of both soft and coarse Scottish vocals. Nevertheless there are hints of progression and innovation. The use of trumpets in ‘Spanish Radio’ almost lulls you into the expectation of a Ska number before the usual rough cut Biffy sound seems to hit you out of nowhere. This experimentation adds a little something to the album and contributes to the concept of positivity, providing an alternative form of energy to the usually aggressive energy that the songs facilitate for. ‘Stingin Belle’ starts off sounding like a built up demo with some jagged shredding of the guitar to reel us in. It ends with a domination of bagpipes over the drums and a softer use of guitar to follow the first upbeat verses. Despite the feeling that there should perhaps be another verse to follow this, the bagpipes serve as a clear recognition of the band’s Scottish heritage and fortunately for us even manage to avoid sounding like the wail of several cats in agony.
‘Black Chandelier’ could have easily done without the ironically dry opening “Drip, drip, drip, drip” as it just seems to be filling some space before any real vocals are introduced. Nevertheless the track is not tarnished, it turns out to be well balanced in it’s introductory soft guitar riffs leading towards a heavier finish. In particular the guitar solo toward the end creates an image of the band letting loose, hinting at signs of aggression which seem to relate to the darker themes of album.
In contrast, ‘The Fog’ uses softer vocals throughout and includes an unexpected instrumental that sounds like it should belong in a fantasy film from the 80s.
What we do expect however is front man Simon Neil’s thick Scottish accent dominating the edgy guitar riffs. Neil spurns the dreamy American sounding vocals often utilised by other British bands. Instead the Scottish pronunciation acts as a distinct reminder that this is a band that do what they want, a point very broadly put across in ‘Sounds Like Balloons’ with the line “this is not for your entertainment”. This does not mean to say that every song sounds like an angry Scot yelling over music or that the vocals clash with the melodies, rather the accent provides a delicate yet defiantly unique accompaniment to the softer songs. Additionally this track is introduced with a jittery guitar riff and then a kind of ironic use of piano to surround the aforementioned line as if to suggest a more typical sound than what is actually produced. While the vocals do indeed stand out, they do not necessarily do so in the manner of a sore thumb, alternatively they blend in as an appropriate compliment to the incomparable production of Opposites.
Opening with mellow riffs to back some of Neil’s more delicate vocals “Biblical” builds up to a repetitive chorus and a series of 30 Seconds to Mars style ‘woah-oh-oh’ to add a kind of anthemic feel to the track. This track seems to play it safe with the infectious rhyming lyrics of the chorus and repetition of verses. The only thing that seems to set it apart from other generic rock numbers is the ever prominent Scottish accent.
Overall Opposites seems to offer the same old Biffy sound with just a few hints of variation across the album. Rather than a change in the method of playing instruments there seems to be a wider range of instruments used to add to their sound. Rather than throwing alternative sounds in our face Biffy Clyro are now blending these into more generic melodies but not so much that the band are unrecognisable. The album seems to feature more of the angst featured in the early albums than their previous Only Revolutions however seems to maintain a tamed and structured nature. As a result Opposites stands as an album to both please old fans and open the door for more listeners. With a headline slot at Reading Festival on their agenda 2013 is certainly Biffy’s year and this latest album has had to prove their worth. While it may not hit a new listener in the same way as it would a dedicated long time fan Opposites certainly does the job. In portraying the highs and lows of the band this album acts as a quick guide in getting to know them and marks an important part in their career.