After dwelling in the cesspits of the Ontario punk-rock scene as local-Pezz, Billy Talent first arrived in the mainstream music rotation in 2001 with their self-titled debut (better known as ‘One’ to most fans of the band). After attaining rave reviews and significant air play with the album’s breakout single, ‘Try Honesty’, the band quickly carved out a name for themselves across four greatly received records; ‘II’, ‘III’ and the numeric-trend-breaking, slightly less well crafted ‘Dead Silence’. With such a stellar track record, the Billy Talent boys are back with their latest effort, ‘Afraid Of Heights’, a thematically heavy, majorly consistent (if at times questionable) release to sit comfortably amongst the band’s later material.
At this point in their career, it’s incredibly hard to argue that Billy Talent will ever be content with just putting out a record to pay the bills, so to speak. Songs like NRA-tickling-opener ‘Big Red Gun’, lead single/tom-heavy-title track ‘Afraid Of Heights’ and ‘The Crutch’ (which if played by any drop-tune-obsessed band would sound absolutely brutal) are comparable with the band at their absolute best, taking the band’s signature ability to blur the lines between groove-laden punk rock instrumentals, pop-rock melodies and post-hardcore vocal sensibilities.
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Never one to shy away from more sensitive subjects, lead vocalist Benjamin Kowalewicz sets his sights on all manner of issues ranging from self-destruction & personal battles on the somewhat eye-rollingly titled ‘Time Bomb Ticking Away’ to social classes on songs like ‘Ghost Ship Of Cannibal Rats’. However, it would be amiss to declare ‘Afraid Of Heights’ a masterclass in lyricism. Songs like ‘Leave Them All Behind’ fall flat, succumbing to pop-punk genre clichés of running away and forgetting it all. Songs like the cringe-inducing ‘Louder Than The DJ’, a track essentially damning all genres not tucked under the rock ‘n roll umbrella, feel embarrassing, relating more to the listeners grandparents than the band’s younger, intended audience.
Clocking in at just under the fifty minute mark, ‘Afraid Of Heights’ sure can feel a lot longer during the first initial listens. Between the unnecessary reprise of the title track toward the end of the record and some of the more plodding, near-five & six minute offerings, there is a fair amount of fat that could comfortably be trimmed from the record. However, the thing is, that despite the record’s bloated feel and occasional lyrical hiccup and all nitpicking aside, Billy Talent have still delivered one of the best releases that 2016 has to offer. Problems like these feel minor when the album has been given time to settle, and songs like the aforementioned ‘[the] Crutch’ and the album’s title track work in the band’s favour, with repeated listens unearthing more genius and punk-rock perfection in spades. Overall, ‘Afraid Of Heights’ is another solid record from the band who simply refuse to phone in their efforts, no matter what the cost.
‘Afraid Of Heights’ is released 29th of July via Warner Music Canada/The End Records
This Billy Talent article was written by Joey Stoate, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Zoe Anderson.