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Biffy Clyro

Blackened Sky

(Beggars Banquet; US: 6 Aug 2002; UK: 11 Mar 2002)

Biffy Clyro started out as a teenaged group in the mid-‘90s in a small village in Scotland. Influenced by Nirvana and Guns ‘N Roses V.1.0, the duo of Simon Neil and Ben Johnston discovered what a distortion pedal should and shouldn’t do. Some university years ensued with studies concentrating around their music more than books, resulting in more ink and more coverage in the indie music scene. After being discovered at the annual T in the Park in 2000, Biffy Clyro honed their sound to include a lot of independent favorites like Fugazi and Aerogramme. Now with its debut effort out and still in their youthful twenties, the group has made a debut album that starts off as a cross between the pop hues of XTC and the bland jock rock of Nickelback. Confused? Well, you should and shouldn’t be.


The leadoff song, “Joy.Discovery.Invention” has a lovable harmony between each of the three members, all of who sing lead. There is no buildup to what transpires though, a loud and brooding “nu-metal” sound that is a bit over the top. Taking it down a notch or four for the bridge, the group sounds like they’re onto something, but get lost in some sonic sludge. It’s a good song generally, but the dichotomy is far wider than imagined. “27” has a nice and melodic chord progression in the vein of current U2 while Simon Neil gives a very good performance. Possessing a deliberate building style, the guitars don’t sucker punch the listener and are far better off for it. Keeping the guitars in for the remainder of the track, the band hits all cylinders and resembles musicians far older than their youth.


“Justboy” has an infectious Incubus-like pop rock groove that gains steam. A bland chorus has the sing-a-long effect in spades, but isn’t the payoff one might anticipate. It grows on you though for an excellent homestretch. Biffy Clyro often aren’t shy to take chances, thus the uneven quality to the record shines on the inane and heavy opening on “Kill the Old, Torture Their Young”. Resembling the latter day Manic Street Preachers in its reflective mood, the band returns to a pensive and lightweight pop rock format. But the drums are heavy enough to hint at what’s to evolve (devolve?). Beach Boy vocals behind a harder rock sound rarely work, and here is no different. After the five-minute mark, the song veers off into an interesting instrumental section. “The Go-Slow” is perfectly polished emo-punk a la Jimmy Eat World, demonstrating the band’s myriad of influences. Although it’s void of the hook like “The Middle” or “Sweetness”, there is enough in the chorus to put it over the bar. “Christopher’s River” is the record’s highpoint, a gorgeous mix of melody and brawn that isn’t overkill. The harmonies also add a lot of texture to the tracks.


“Convex, Concave” is a murky Pearl Jam attempt that speaks of innocence before moving into an almost elementary school tempo and formula. The drumming comes to the fore but for all of the wrong reasons, too dominant at times while too small in others. The guitar 90 seconds in save it temporarily but it goes off on a weird musical tangent. It also sounds like a phone is ringing in the distance, so be forewarned it isn’t your own. Too grandiose and prog-rock, therefore resulting in its downfall. “57” brings Remy Zero to mind as well as the Goo Goo Dolls. “Hero Management” is a soft pop tune with a “woe is me” structure, a touch of alternative guitar that the Cure personified decades ago. Again there are brief moments of genius, particularly the middle instrumental portion, a blend of punk and rock progressions.


The last quarter of the record is a mishmash of various influences that shows the best and worse of the band. “Solution Devices” is again Linkin Park “nu metal” despite the Biffy Clyro bio stating they aren’t “nu metal”. “Stress on the Sky” is tidier in its production, pieces of Primus and Incubus melded with some blood-curdling wails that do little for the number. Biffy Clyro offer a little bit of something for everyone, which is something few acts are capable of. What this means for future projects and a loyal fan base is hard to determine. Generally a credible first step despite some lapses in judgement.

Originally from Cape Breton, MacNeil is currently writing for the Toronto Sun as well as other publications, including All Music Guide, Billboard.com, NME.com, Country Standard Time, Skope Magazine, Chart Magazine, Glide, Ft. Myers Magazine and Celtic Heritage. A graduate of the University of King's College, MacNeil currently resides in Toronto. He has interviewed hundreds of acts ranging from Metallica and AC/DC to Daniel Lanois and Smokey Robinson. MacNeil (modestly referred to as King J to friends), a diehard Philadelphia Flyers fan, has seen the Rolling Stones in a club setting, thereby knowing he will rest in peace at some point down the road. Oh, and he writes for PopMatters.com.


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Fans of Biffy Clyro will dive headlong into these 20 new songs and embrace them as feverishly as anything the band have previously released; but that’s not to say that this record isn’t without some major flaws.
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