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Biffy Clyro - Ellipsis (Album Review)

Monday, 25 July 2016 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

It’s virtually impossible to tackle a new Biffy Clyro record without acknowledging the shift that took place mid-way through their career. After kicking off with three scatter-brained post-hardcore records, the Scottish trio signed to a bigger label, effectively tweaked their sound for a mainstream audience and were soon headlining stadiums.

That’s a very brief summation, but the point is that the move left the Biffy fanbase more divided than post-referendum Britain. The band are more than aware of the chasm that exists between the two factions and have spent almost a decade trying to appease them both.

Usually, this is done by dropping in a quirky riff or changing a time signature here and there without sacrificing accessible choruses or polished production. It’s never quite that simple, though, and in attempting to please too many people at once Biffy have ended up lacking consistency and a clear purpose.

‘Ellipsis’ sees them in full pandering mode, as demonstrated on the opening track, Wolves of Winter, where they revive the three-part harmonies and syncopated rhythms that made ‘The Vertigo of Bliss’ such a classic. But as frontman Simon Neil goes through the motions, you can’t help but notice that something’s missing.

There’s no real bite to anything; the production is thin, the riffs are bland and toned down, and the vocals sound oddly processed, although Neil’s increasingly Americanised accent also plays a part here. The song structures aren’t overly simplistic or predictable, but Biffy just don’t possess the same scuzzy charm that they once did.

As a result, much of the album is more frustrating than outright bad. Re-Arrange is the worst offender as they hint at their ‘Blackened Sky’ debut with a twinkly arpeggiated riff before overlaying it with tacky electronics, removing any soul from the mix in the process.

What’s worse, though, is that most of the tracks lack even the irritating catchiness and staying power of hits like Many of Horror. The penultimate cut, Howl, is so dull and unadventurous it might as well be a Snow Patrol song. Meanwhile, the token ballad, Medicine, dawdles along so agonisingly you have to remind yourself that this same band once wrote songs with twice as many ideas packed into two minutes.

Biffy Clyro have always been a band who’ve embraced irreverent fun, as evidenced by their eccentric instrumental choices, song titles and album covers. Yet where they once had character, their sense of adventure no longer extends beyond shoehorning in the occasional dissonant chord or absurd lyric (see "the lizard shit and held it under its nostrils" on Small Wishes).

‘Ellipsis’ lacks the energy of their first three albums and the grandeur of their more recent works. They’re too technically gifted to ever fully let go of their wild past, which is a good thing, but here the songwriting is muddled. Like fellow stadium rockers Muse, they need to take a step back or risk drifting towards self-parody.

Biffy Clyro Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sat August 27 2016 - GLASGOW Bellahouston Park
Sat November 26 2016 - DUBLIN 3Arena Dublin
Sun November 27 2016 - BELFAST SSE Arena, Belfast

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