I first heard of Biffy Clyro in 2010, when they released the single that changed everything for the three Scottish rockers: “Many of Horror”. The single became an incredible success, marking both Biffy’s launch into the worldwide music circuit and my own launch into the band’s discography. I found multiple things, such as the fan-favorite album Puzzle, emotional ballads and sharp hard-rock tracks, but perhaps most importantly, I found a new favorite band.
From that moment onwards, Biffy Clyro has been one of my favorite bands and I always get a little nervous when the three Scotsmen release a new album. I’m always plagued by the same question: will I love the new material as much as I love the old stuff? Ellipsis, the band’s seventh studio album, answers my question perfectly: yes, I do.
The opening track of the album, “Wolves of Winter” is a familiar one, as the track was released as the first single. Upon first listening, it’s a typical Biffy Clyro track, full with heavy guitars, frontman Simon Neil shouting something Scottish and angry and crazily timed intervals. But upon closed listening, the track is a subtle message to those who have commented on Biffy becoming “too mainstream” and “too polished”. Right at the beginning of the track, almost too swiftly to fully notice, you can hear Neil laughing and shouting “Record this!!”. It’s subtle, yet crystal clear: Biffy is not polished.
The first three tracks of the album, including “Wolves of Winter”, “Friends and Enemies” and the album’s second single “Animal Style”, are hard and heavy rock songs, perfect for the stadiums and festival fields Biffy are playing during their upcoming tour. The strongest of the three is “Animal Style”, perhaps even the best track of Ellipsis. It’s the perfect combination between Biffy’s musical rage in the shape of heavy guitars and Neil’s angry vocals, and the catchiness of the melodies and the occasional “woo-woo”s.
The arguably best track of Ellipsis is followed by arguably the most beautiful, called “Re-arrange”. One thing that marks a difference between the previous albums and Ellipsis is the autobiographical note in Neil’s lyrics. During the promotional fuss and endless touring that came with the success of Only Revolution and Opposites, Biffy’s frontman has struggled with mental health issues. On the ballad-like track “Re-arrange”, Neil describes how his wife was the one to pull him through this difficult time, which is accompanied by subtle clapping, piano tunes and melodic guitar strums. “I would never break your heart / I would only re-arrange / all the other working parts / would stay in place”, sings Neil. Another track along these lines is “Medicine”, an acoustic track which reminds me of Puzzle‘s “Machines” and Only Revolution‘s “God & Satan”.
Simon Neil, James and Ben Johnston have named a few unexpected sources of inspiration for Ellipsis, including a number of rappers. This unlikely influence is recognizable on “Flammable”, in which the couplets consists out of James Johnston’s bass and Neil’s vocals brought in a manner and rhythm which is more rap than rock. Another piece of experimentation is “Small Wishes”, a full-blown country track aimed at Scotland’s wish to be independent from the United Kingdom. Although it’s not of my favorite tracks of the album, it’s still great to hear Biffy experiment with their sound and to be creative in a way we’re not used from them.
Next to “Animal Style”, I think “On A Bang” is one of the strongest tracks of Ellipsis. It’s a frantic track, defined by Ben Johnston’s fast drumming and the slightly off-beat rhythm (which is one of Biffy’s defining characteristics). This is combined by aggressive guitar strums and Neil’s raging vocals. “Why can’t you do better / Why can’t you fucking do better” is unitedly shouted by the three Scotsmen, perhaps also aimed at the critics of Biffy’s sound. But what I personally think is really strong about “On A Bang”, is how the hard guitar sounds and frantic drumming is combined with the soft and almost fragile chime sounds, adding an extra layer of vulnerability to an aggressive track.
I like how Ellipsis‘ cover perfectly sums up the entire album – it’s a combination of strength and vulnerability. Biffy’s seventh studio album is filled with both angry and hard rock tracks, but also soft and emotional ballads. Ellipsis might not be full of surprises or as ambitious as the double album Opposites, but it’s an angry, autobiographical and good album. And with that, Ellipsis happens to be super, super catchy.