July 8, 2016 marked the release of Ellipsis, Scottish trio Biffy Clyro’s seventh studio album. Ellipsis follows 2013's critically acclaimed double-album Opposites, which reached #1 in the U.K.
A recurring theme found in the album’s lyrics is the concept of “fighting back” against one’s personal demons. An ideal of living life unfettered, like an animal, also recurs throughout. Frontman Simon Neil has said that Ellipsis was created to be a volatile “fight rock, pint-in-the-face rock,” album.
Ellipsis contains quite an eclectic mix of songs. Some could best be described as hard rock, whereas others have more of a pop sound. Some seem to vacillate between these two genres by combining hard rock riffs with poppy lead and/or backing vocals. Several hip-hop acts are cited as influences for this album, and one song even verges into alt-country territory. These differing genres can often be heard as distinct elements within the same song, seeming to pull in opposite directions as if fighting for dominance. But this album was made to deal with fighting as a theme, so in this it is successful.
Wolves of Winter begins the album with a prog influence, a nice buildup, and Rage Against the Machine-style guitar. What you anticipate is a vocal that kicks in with a growl, a scream, or a howl. Then the vocal starts and totally catches you off guard; it’s more pop than rock, and at first it doesn’t seem to contain enough gravelly anger to match the music or the subject matter. However, as the song progresses the vocal becomes more serious and angst-filled, and this is when Wolves of Winter starts to get really good.
On Animal Style the lead vocal remains consistently rock-oriented throughout the song, and this works much better with the churning rock sound of the music. With the possible exception of some poppy “ooh-ooh-ooh” backing vocals, the music and vocals on this song successfully convey a congruous level of rage and rock sensibility. Animal Style has a catchy guitar progression and a solid chorus.
Re-arrange is a mellow and lovely tribute, and remains consistent with this classic ballad formula throughout. This song marks a change of gears from the album’s regular themes with its message of hope and healing. Medicine and People are also good examples of successful ballads along these same lines.
On a Bang is pure rock, as is evidenced by the pleasingly crunchy music and the satisfying, cathartic scream of the vocals. The level of angst here is just right, and the music and vocals complement one another rather than working against each other.
In The Name of the Wee Man is a song that fully makes it all the way to the band’s stated fight-rock vision. There is a deft interplay of guitar, bass and drums. Dynamic, driving bass lines stand out nicely on this track, and the guitar hook immediately pulls you in. A prog rock influence and Simon Neil’s angst-ridden scream really satisfy, and they dominate the song consistently from start to finish. This is a great song; it’s my personal favorite from Ellipsis.
It would be wonderful to hear Biffy Clyro explore more of their hard rock sound, both with their music and with their vocals. Ellipsis proves to be more of an experimental album, and experimentation is essential to any band’s evolution. Yet based on its heavy guitar riffs and rock lyrics, Ellipsis seems- for all intents and purposes- to really want to be a hard rock album. I firmly believe that the band’s true strength lies in its ability to rock, and they have the potential to stretch that ability to its outer limits and beyond. I hear it on this album; amidst all the other elements, it seems to fight hardest for attention.