For Fans Of
Billy Talent’s latest album, ‘Afraid Of Heights’, is a self-fulfilling prophecy sadly.
‘Afraid Of Heights’, or as I shall refer to it for the rest of this review – ‘Billy Talent V’ – is simply as “Billy Talent” as it gets. It shows a band that is either too afraid to change or too comfortable with their current sound and methodology to reach for far more ambitious goals, both conceptually and stylistically. To make matters more complex for yours truly, there are actually some good songs littered throughout this record, leaving me somewhat stuck in the middle, like lukewarm water.
The Canadian outfit really peaked with ‘Billy Talent II’ and their 2003 debut, both of which feature songs that still make up a decent portion of their live sets, and with good fucking reason! But since then, they’ve simply stuck with what they know, or rather, what has secured them their success and current standing in the rock world. Here, the band’s usual musical template has been copied right down to the fucking T. The backing vocals and harmonies, Ian D’sa’s mix of clean and thrashy, distorted guitars, the simple, tight drumming (Jordan Hastings or Aaron Solowoniuk – it’s all the same really), Ben Kowalewicz’s unmistakable vocals; you and I have heard all of this before!
I mean, shit, you can probably pick out how these songs more or less sound just by looking at the damn tracklisting.
With that being said, there are some saving graces here. For instance, the title track is easily one of the best songs the band has to their name, and arguably the best song on offer here (even if it’s music video is bonkers and probably won’t be explored further). Hell, even the reprise version is superb and is proof that a great song can still be a great song when you re-work the nuts and bolts of its design. Other songs that will hopefully peak your interest and actually get your adrenaline running are ‘Ghost Ship Of Cannibal Rats‘, ‘February Winds‘, & ‘Time Bomb Ticking Away‘. And, well…that’s really it.
Sonically speaking, this is a real rock record in its production and performances, but it’s not how the band’s playing that’s the issue; it’s what they’re playing. The issue is that they haven’t evolved their sound since their first two releases, save for occasionally moving into the alternative rock territory. A band doesn’t always have to evolve, no, but if you don’t, you can stagnate and badly. Such is the case here. ‘Billy Talent V‘ is an album that weaves so inconsistently between its exciting highs and it’s severely mediocre lows that threaten to make you yawn too much.
Now, I would hesitate to say that this album is a caricature of the band. We haven’t reached that point just yet. I also wouldn’t necessarily say that this a bad record, but goddamnit, there is a lot of filler here. Please see ‘Big Red Gun‘, ‘Leave Them All Behind‘, ‘This Is Our War‘ for sadly, just a few examples of the filler on offer. Or rather, don’t. You’ll just be wasting your time.
Consistency and devotion to your established sound can be such a double-edged sword in music, and for ‘Billy Talent V’, it’s one big fucking sword. Sure, it’s fine to understand your band’s sound and to write within what you know, but at some point, doesn’t it just become too much? Aren’t you just going through the motions and recycling old ideas? I suppose that that’s the Caleb Shomo Syndrome taking place (patent still pending on that one, folks). Although, I will let Kowalewicz and co. off the hook slightly for not releasing an album every 18-24 months.
Now, that would be too much!
Billy Talent are a truly great band. But it pains me greatly to say that while ‘Billy Talent V’ (yeah, I’m really sticking with that name) is simply a mediocre effort from a band that’s capable of so much more. I criticise because I love, but this is just another Billy Talent album, and I can’t help but think that they’re now retreading old ground in search of the kind of cracking tunes that filled ‘I’ and ‘II’ to the very brim.
Maybe in another three or four years, ol’ BT will slap me senseless and punish me for my insubordination by releasing their greatest release yet. Or maybe, just maybe, it’ll just be another average as fuck listen.
1. Big Red Gun
2. Afraid of Heights
3. The Crutch
4. Louder Than The DJ
5. Ghost Ship Of Cannibal Rats
6. Rabbit Down The Hole
7. Time Bomb Ticking Away
8. Leave Them All Behind
9. Horses & Chariots
10. This Is Our War
11. February Winds
12. Afraid Of Heights (Reprise)
‘Afraid Of Heights’ is out now through Warner. Purchase/stream/hate on it like me here.