Scot-rock band Biffy Clyro’s transformation from math rockers in the early noughties to present day stadium fillers has been quite remarkable. Proggy songs like There’s No Such Thing as a Jaggy Snake were brilliant in themselves, but since then the band have taken on a large amount of pop sensibility, yet still retained their hard rock edge. The Kilmarnock trio are returned and rejuvenated from taking 2015 off, the band saying they needed a period away from the spotlight, for their sake and their fans'.
2016 gives us their latest album Ellipsis, a word defined in the dictionary as ‘the omission from speech or writing of a word or words that are superfluous or able to be understood from contextual clues.’ So with a title like that, you’d fully expect an album that is all killer, no filler (I’m also feeling pressure to keep this review concise and to the point myself). Ellipsis delivers on that promise – all killer, although the killer in question bursts out into a few uplifting choruses from time to time.
The album opens with one of its heavier numbers, a shrewd move to keep those just here for the heaviness on side. Wolves of Winter is Biffy’s expansive talent for versatility rolled into one song – an electronic intro, brutal riffs in the verse, a cheeky and catchy chorus including the lyric, “we have achieved so much more than you possibly thought we could"; as someone who listened to them playing math rock in irregular time signatures back in 2003, I heard this line and had to hold my hand up as someone who could not have foreseen them enjoying great chart success a decade later. The chorus is followed by a lone, weeping guitar motif played by frontman, Simon Neil, ingeniously setting the listener up for a knockout as the riff pounds back in.
If you removed Neil’s vocal from the opening bars of following track, Friends and Enemies, you could easily be listening to a Taylor Swift song. On paper, that sounds like an unforgiveable error for a rock band like Biffy Clyro; in reality, it’s a stunning listening experience. The LP’s first ballad, Rearrange, contains the golden line, “I wrote one hundred songs to make sense of the meaningless / I’ll unwrite them all if you help me clean up this mess”. It’s a moving piece, the emotional blemishes in Neil’s voice as raw as ever.
Biffy’s sheer invention is heard again in Herex, which somehow successfully combines a moshpit worthy breakdown with falsetto ‘wooooo’s. On A Bang, one of the angstier songs on the record, again discus-throws the rule book an impressive distance away; it’s a shouty song that includes a xylophone (why wouldn’t it?) as Neil blares out, “time doesn’t heal, you just learn to deal with it”. To keep our heads spinning, this pure hatred of a track is followed by Small Wishes, a folky, piano led slice of cheerfulness – the wit of having these two songs put together on the album will leave you smiling from ear to ear. Small Wishes is in no way included just for comic effect, however; there’s enough harmonic uncertainty and use of haunting whistling to keep the innovation levels at bursting point.
People sees the album out with a genuinely wonderful chord progression, and also the wittiest album ending I’ve ever heard (don’t worry, this is a spoiler-free review). Biffy Clyro have successfully omitted the superfluous, there’s no filler to be found here. Ellipsis is, well, an ellipsis. All that remains is a genre blending masterstroke which is at times brooding, cathartic, stirring, and very occasionally laugh out loud funny. Biffy Clyro have carved their own unique legend, and for that reason they ought to be cherished.
Review by Adam Protz