Date of Release: 28-Jan-2013
Hirsute Scottish rockers return with a sprawling double-album of full-throated glory.
Biffy Clyro are the Scottish practitioners of a brand of hard rock pitched somewhere in the same ballpark as Muse and Foo Fighters, accented by a dash of Rush power-trio goodness. Over a series of indie releases in the UK, they honed their seemingly contradictory loves of punk and progressive rock into something with alternative radio-friendly hooks. While 2007’s Puzzle was well received, things really started to heat up for the band internationally when their rock-solid 2009 release Only Revolutions was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize.
Four years on, and Biffy Clyro has returned with an ambitious new release called Opposites. The sprawling double-album is split into two fraternal twins, the first half dubbed “The Sand at the Core of our Bones” and the second half called “The Land at the End of our Toes”. Both mini-albums feature their own artwork, riffing on the surrealist spirit of the main album cover. But to my ears, and despite the album’s title, there is no thematic segregation between the halves. On Opposites, the band simply seems intent on exploring a variety of different sounds.
Playing against type, the big radio single is actually a straight-forward, mid-tempo rocker “Black Chandelier”. The title track continues in a similar vein, focusing on melody instead of face-shredding riffs. The pretty ballad “Skylight” is almost completely devoid of electric guitars, and “Spanish Radio” features bursts of mariachi horns. From this point forward, let no one ever accuse Biffy Clyro of being one-trick ponies.
But, truth be told, it’s when they get down to the serious business of Rockin’ Out that things get truly exciting. “Biblical” disguises a surprisingly affecting melody and an undercurrent of regret with layers of squalling guitars. “Little Hospitals” and “Stingin’ Belle” feature the band’s patented twisting time signatures and a hodgepodge of instrumentation, challenging the head-bobbing listener to keep up to the frenetic pace. “Modern Magic Formula”, “Pocket” and “Picture a Knife Fight” dial back the polyrhythmic gymnastics for a more briskly anthemic rock sound. One can easily imagine a festival field or an arena of sweaty lads, joyously punching their fists in the air.
I think my favourite song on the album is “Accident Without Emergency”, a slow-burner that builds to majestic choruses. To me, it’s the pinnacle of a surprisingly solid set of ambitious, engaging rock tunes. It’s a rare feat whenever a twenty-track album only features a few missteps. Fans of melodic alternative rock are sure to find something ear-pleasing among the many facets of Opposites.
(epilogue: Opposites was also released in a slimmed-down, single-CD version that omits six tracks. I suppose it might serve as a condensed introduction to Biffy Clyro’s new fans, but with the entire 20-track opus available on iTunes for less than $10 the single-CD version seems a little irrelevant).