Scottish alt-rock band Biffy Clyro are no stranger to the top of the charts in the United Kingdom, and their seventh album Ellipsis, released in July 2016, was their second number-one debut.
From their origins as an experimental rock group known for blending soulful indie sounds with furious hard rock, Biffy Clyro has matured with mainstream exposure while also preserving these elements that make them unique.
On Ellipsis, the reductive melodies and precise production reflect the maturation of the band’s musicality, but the record is decidedly more experimental than its recent predecessors. When they signed a deal with Warner Bros. Records, some fans criticized their next three projects as abandoning the alternative roots that made them great.
I won’t deny that Ellipsis is different from Biffy Clyro’s early projects, but their sound has only evolved and improved rather than suffered from the changes. A project worthy of their best album Only Revolutions, released in 2009, Ellipsis delivers a perfectly balanced blend of raging rock anthems and intimate, subdued ballads that culminate in a cohesive musical experience.
“Wolves of Winter,” the album’s opener, wastes no time in unleashing Biffy Clyro’s signature brand of seething energy, fueled by Ben Johnston raging at the drums. This track has a massive scale that suits frontman Simon Neil’s raw, expressive vocals. Although they often refrain from cranking up to the fullest intensity in the opener, on Ellipsis everything is laid bare for the listener from the beginning.
“Wolves of Winter” is just one of the record’s many frenetic tracks, alongside “Flammable,” “On a Bang,” and the rather overrated “Animal Style.”
There is a distinctive dissonance to Biffy Clyro’s music, particularly in their higher-energy tracks, that is distinctly lacking in “Animal Style.” The album’s third track seems like it could belong on any old rock album thanks to a rather forgettable pop-rock chorus and a few less-than-compelling riffs
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good song, but it doesn’t quite earn its place on an otherwise solidly unique track list.
That being said, “On a Bang” is one of the can’t-miss tracks on Ellipsis. Though it isn’t lyrically elaborate and isn’t quite as musically grandiose as “Wolves of Winter,” it is compelled by the same very genuine anger.
“On a Bang” is an example of all of the elements of Biffy Clyro working together in perfect harmony: Neil’s emotionally charged vocals, James Johnston’s furious bass and his twin brother Ben Johnston’s manic rhythm.
Neil’s voice lends itself not just to enraged rock bangers but also to slower, more nuanced entries like “Medicine” or “Re-arrange.” What is incredible about these tracks is that they present such a contrast to the large-scale rock songs and yet still very clearly preserve the Biffy Clyro sound that sets them apart from other alt-rock bands.
“Medicine” is a beautifully poignant track that comes across as an intimate letter from Neil accompanied by an acoustic guitar. These types of songs feel more like the exception rather than the rule on any Biffy Clyro album, but they fit particularly well into Ellipsis because of a much more precise production.
In the midst of these hard rock anthems and subdued ballads are some of the record’s standouts, “Howl” and, my personal favorite, “Friends and Enemies.”
With a catchy, pop-rock chorus and subtle trap beat, I can understand the criticism from some fans that the band is going too mainstream. However, Biffy Clyro is there, not just swept along through the track but authoritatively guiding the listener along by the arm.
In many ways, “Friends and Enemies” is the most experimental track on Ellipsis, and the success of the track is balancing that experimentation with the band’s distinctive sound to create a superb addition to the record.
But this is Biffy Clyro, and they are masters of evolving and testing their music. It’s no surprise that expertly-produced experimentation earns a place among the album’s best tracks.
Ellipsis shows a distinct musical evolution and maturation which culminates in an impressive project. Though I’m torn between whether I love the furiously raging stadium-shakers or the more reserved, brooding tracks, they come together in a cohesion that just leaves me wondering what to expect next from Biffy Clyro.