Like any good band that wants any sort of longevity, Billy Talent have long since evolved from the post-hardcore punk band they were at the beginning of their recording careers. If you look at the four albums that are currently out today, you can hear a steady progression that further separates the Billy Talent of 2016 from the Billy Talent of 2003. Such progression only continues on their soon-to-be-released fifth album Afraid of Heights.
Currently the torch holders of modern Canadian mainstream rock (or at least I think it’s safe to say that), Billy Talent have always had a lot of weight on their shoulders to remain close to the top. One thing they’ve always managed to do is stay current enough to still get endless support from the Canadian media. At least one song from each of their previous four albums can still be heard very regularly on the radio.
Though I’ve always felt their third album is their best, I couldn’t deny the evolution and greatness of their 2012 release Dead Silence (you can read my review of that album here)which perfectly blends radio friendly tracks with strongly composed musical numbers that show a new side of the band. I’ve wondered for four years how Billy Talent would follow that up, and that question was answered this past week after having given Afraid of Heights a few good listens.
The title track to Afraid of Heights was the first song released, and if you’ve heard it by now you probably know that it’s a kind of mid tempo rocker with some great melodies but very unlike most Billy Talent singles. I thought it was an odd first single to release, remembering such past leading singles like Viking Death March and Red Flag from previous albums, but then I remembered the even slower Rusted From The Rain being all over the radio in 2009 upon the release of Billy Talent III.
Regardless, Afraid of Heights‘s title track shows a fine return to form, which I was a bit concerned wouldn’t be the case, as I was never a fan of the 2014 single Kingdom of Zod which was released with Billy Talent‘s Hits compilation that same year. Though I’ve heard the song on the radio a handful of times, I’m surprised to say it’s not on the radio as much as past singles. I haven’t even heard second single Louder Than The DJ on the radio at all. Though it was released online, hearing it when listening to the full album was the first time I heard it, and to great pleasure I might add. It has a traditional rock sound blended with Billy Talent’s forever unique groove and Ian D’Sa‘s warped and otherworldly guitar rhythms leading the way which I can’t help but love.
Both singles are placed in the first half of Afraid of Heights, and including those two, I don’t know which of the first six songs I like more. The sheer energy of opening track Big Red Gun had me instantly convinced that Billy Talent had put together another great rock album. The Curse has some intense vocals. Not screaming vocals, much like Dead Silence, Ben Kowalewicz chose to abandon the vocal style in new material, which I certainly don’t have any complaints about. The chorus has the intense vocals. I can’t tell if it’s just Ian D’Sa singing with his much loved background vocals or if Ben is singing with him, but either way there is an aggression to the chorus that no amount of screaming could have accomplished.
Of the songs on the first half of Afraid of Heights, I guess you could say Ghost Ship of Cannibal Rats is the most textbook Billy Talent song. But it still rocks just as hard as its previous four songs and continues to show the endlessly improving guitar playing of Ian. It’s following track Rabbit Down The Hole really had to grow on me and I still don’t think it’s the greatest of tunes. I can’t deny that it’s a well composed song, with the rarely heard sound of an acoustic guitar at the beginning, but after about four listens, my opinion of the song has only improved to the point where I find it pretty good.
Billy Talent brings it almost equally as good on the second half of Afraid of Heights. It starts with Time Bomb Ticking Away, which is another track that I had to grow in to, but with its very fast changeups, it’s hard not to find yourself rocking out. This Is Our War and February Winds are both sure to stick in people’s memories after a couple of listens, but the second half is highlighted by three songs: Leave Them All Behind, Horses & Chariots and Afraid of Heights (Reprise).
Leave Them All Behind starts off as a ballad, with a very warm hearted soft intro, but it eventually turns into a faster very up tempo track unlike many I believe I’ve ever heard from Billy Talent. Horses & Chariots has to be my favourite songs from Afraid of Heights. It reminds me of some of the last few songs on Dead Silence and the way they were experimental they were compared to past Billy Talent songs. It has a very serious back tone but it has so many hooks to it, both vocally and musically.
Lastly there is the closing track Afraid of Heights (Reprise) which I believe in a nutshell sums up the new level of maturity Billy Talent has reached on Afraid of Heights. This reprise is more of a piano and keyboard rendition of the leading single, both instruments, much like the previous acoustic guitars, have rarely been heard in a Billy Talent song. It keeps up a very similar pace to Afraid of Heights and keeps all the same vocal melodies, but with a completely unique twist that I think is fantastic.
Billy Talent‘s evolution is very obvious when listening to each of the previous albums, between Billy Talent and Billy Talent II the band went from post-hardcore punk to less hardcore punk, then when moving onto Billy Talent III they kept a youthful spirit but replaced almost all the hardcore aspects with much more and much better melodic moments, and then with Dead Silence they completely matured into the Canadian rock veterans that they by that time were. The evolution between that and Afraid of Heights is a little less obvious, but it’s there.
With Afraid of Heights, Billy Talent display improvements in every aspect. They seem to have further embraced themselves as adults and the songwriting shows it. They turn up the volume when it needs to be turned up, and they take the mood down into beautiful compositions just enough times before it becomes too much. Afraid of Heights easily keeps Billy Talent on top of the Canadian rock world. I hope it gets more attention from Canadian rock radio than it’s been getting because it is certainly up there with the year’s best albums.
“Louder Than The DJ”
9.5 (Out of 10)
|1.||“Big Red Gun”||3:17|
|2.||“Afraid of Heights”||3:45|
|3.||“Ghost Ship of Cannibal Rats”||3:39|
|4.||“Louder Than the DJ”||3:21|
|6.||“Rabbit Down the Hole”||6:03|
|7.||“Time-Bomb Ticking Away”||3:22|
|8.||“Leave Them All Behind”||4:53|
|9.||“Horses & Chariots”||3:35|
|10.||“This Is Our War”||4:02|
|12.||“Afraid of Heights (Reprise)”||4:23|