Release Date: Jul 8, 2016
Record label: Warner Bros.
The Scottish rock trio’s last album, 2013’s Opposites, was a proggy double epic, so naturally, Ellipsis is a tauter, rawer beast, with fewer anthems and more war cries, led by Wolves of Winter’s growling, territorial romp and the chugging, brutal Animal Style. Ellipsis is nothing so simple, though, as a return to the jagged energy of their early, pre-stadium albums; Friends and Enemies begins so poppily it could be Chvrches, but for the crunching guitars, while Re-Arrange slips into some R&B style, Herex a malevolent reggae groove, and Small Wishes a dippily demented country flourish. Though they’re now festival headliners, chart-toppers and X Factor cover material, it’s clear the fierce, weird and wonderful Biffy still have plenty of ambition.
Over the last decade, Biffy Clyro have carved out one of the most ridiculous careers in all of British music. Clawing their way up the ladder, having laid their foundations in squalling, jagged indie, they soon grew to become behemoths of the rock world. With their last album ‘Opposites’ - both massive in sound and tracklisting - they stepped up the top plate and hit a home run.
It's good. Very good. The early noises from camp Biffy Clyro were that album seven would bear witness to more experimentation than ever before. Following a run of arena-conquering, festival-headlining, and mainstream-courting records, this time the musically-contrary trio reportedly used the likes of arty hip-hop collective Death Grips, ‘80s pop duo Tears For Fears and the shoegaze-meets-black metal of Deafheaven as sonic touchstones.While it’s fair to say there’s an evident flexing of creative muscle, reassuringly, ‘Ellipsis’ only ever sounds like Biffy Clyro.
Feisty seventh album from Scotland’s biggest musical export. Precious few bands have enjoyed a more artistically satisfying and commercially successful decade than Biffy Clyro. They have graduated from cult alt.rock heroes to festival headliners over the course of three outstanding albums – 2007’s Puzzle, 2009’s Only Revolutions and 2013’s ambitious double set Opposites, their first UK chart-topper.
Ellipses sees Biffy Clyro become a little more schizophrenic, accentuating their extremes rather than sticking to the middle ground they so deftly occupied during their second album trilogy. The 'popular' songs, those that appear purpose built for radio aren't quite in the same vein as those on Only Revolutions or Opposites but genuine pop numbers thanks to the arrangements and instrumentation. Conversely, Ellipsis contains some of Biffy's most aggressive moments both in terms of music ('In The Name of the Wee Man', 'Wolves of Winter') and the lyrical content.
Biffy Clyro’s journey to British rock’s main table has been an interesting one. After three records of pummelling riffs, roaring feedback and jagged bass lines, it was the intimate Puzzle (inspired by the death of singer Simon Neil’s mother) that began their upwards trajectory. The band’s music has taken a turn for the grandiose since - 2013’s Opposites brought the Scots headline slots at Reading and Isle of Wight Festival and the three-piece rose to the challenge of these huge live sets in triumphant fashion.
Named after the three periods at the end of a sentence that indicate an omission or unfinished idea, Biffy Clyro's seventh studio album, 2016's delightfully compact Ellipsis, is a power blast of an album that finds the Scottish outfit knocking out a tidy set of crisp anthems. Produced by the band and Rich Costey (Muse, Foo Fighters, Rage Against the Machine), Ellipsis follows up the group's ambitious 2013 double album Opposites. However, it feels more connected to their breakthrough Mercury Prize-nominated 2009 effort, Only Revolutions.
The conundrum facing Biffy Clyro is obvious. Where do you go when your last album was a double, you’ve played an arena tour and headlined Reading Festival? It’s the question that confounds so many acts when they hit this stage of their career. They’re in a similarly difficult situation to Muse in that they’ve got a fan base split in half between the edgier and ambitious early material, and the more radio-friendly recent output.
It’s telling that Biffy Clyro opened Ellipsis, their seventh studio album, with Wolves of Winter. Simon Neil sings, “We have achieved so much more than you possibly thought we could,” a direct response to those who have criticised the band in the past. Biffy Clyro built their core base since their 2002 debut Blackened Sky, but achieved mainstream success after 2009’s Only Revolutions.
Seven albums in, Biffy Clyro have evidently mastered the art of writing commercial rock songs, a fact which makes Ellipsis a pleasant listen but which may annoy old-school fans and some critics. There’s not a song on this album that you can’t hum to yourself at work/the gym/Sainsbury’s. Surely this has to be a deliberate tactic on the trio’s part: after all, they spent a decade from 1995 writing fairly rowdy, fairly heavy tunes before switching to a much more commercial sound in the late 00s.
Biffy Clyro typically ease into their studio albums, slinking in with muted instrumentation that slowly amps up to explosions and declarations. Take a listen to the openers of Only Revolutions and Puzzle as examples. But the Scottish trio begin their seventh album, Ellipsis, on a different note: seconds of dialogue from the studio, where frontman Simon Neil exclaims, among echoing laughter, “Record this?!” Neil’s disbelief is de-contextualised but understandable, considering how Biffy Clyro opted to work with Rich Costey on Ellipsis rather than longtime collaborator Garth Richardson.
For a while, Biffy Clyro were one of Britain’s strangest – and best – guitar bands, an unruly and hirsute mob who would title songs things such as There’s No Such Thing As a Jaggy Snake, flit between time signatures on a whim and pair lovely three-part harmonies with punishing post-hardcore. In their current stadium-pleasing incarnation, though, they’re a vastly less interesting proposition. Singer Simon Neil has declared seventh album Ellipsis the first in a trilogy of “studio” albums, and verily everything here feels buffed up to a frictionless sheen.
How do you keep a marriage exciting after 20 years? That’s the challenge facing Biffy Clyro as they enter their third decade as a band and join the ranks of Oasis, Muse and Coldplay by chalking up seven albums. “We don’t want to be a reliable band,” Simon Neil told NME recently. “No one wants good old f**king Biffy Clyro.”Last time out they took their bid to always grow to a new extreme with a 78-minute concept double album (2013’s ‘Opposites’), and still hit Number One.