Afraid of Heights
The fact that one of Canada’s best acts never quite broke down here in the States is a bit of a minor tragedy. Their two best records, Self-Titled and Billy Talent II, came out in the mid 00s, when punk-y anthemic rock was all the rage, and their quirky idiosyncrasies (Kowalewicz’s spastic melodicism and D’Sa’s treble-heavy angular riffing) were enough to help them stand out in the punk rock market at the time. They slowed things up a bit with their most recent album, 2012’s Dead Silence, showcasing how punks can age gracefully and begin to rally against the state of the world. While Afraid of Heights feels like one for the fans, with its sound feeling like a mix of what made those three albums so good, the album also serves as a succinct introduction into the sonic world of Billy Talent.
From the beginning of “Big Red Gun”, it’s clear the band are aiming a bit higher with this one, both lyrically and musically. It’s a driving, hyper-melodic tune, yet it uses purposefully silly illustrations to highlight how problematic our love of guns can be. Billy Talent’s ability to meld protest punk, stadium rock, and power pop has always been admirable, but it’s on high display here. Your toes will start tapping long before you realize it, and hooks will force themselves deep in your cranium. Songs like the title track, “This Is Our War”, and “Horses & Chariots” are all slower numbers that may initially feel lacking until you realize their staying power. If any complaints could be levied against those numbers, it’s that the latter track gets a bit too close to Muse territory, though the song is good enough to stand on its own. Elsewhere, songs like “The Crutch”, “Ghost Ship of Cannibal Rats”, and “February Winds” feel like classic Billy Talent tunes, with big riffs and bigger choruses. The biggest complaint about the album is really that “Louder Than The DJ” feels a little flat in comparison. It’s a tad too repetitive, and it’s rallying call that rock n’ roll won’t die feels vapid in comparison to the themes of the rest of the album.
When it comes to punk-infused rock, few do it as well as Billy Talent, and Afraid of Heights may be the band’s best effort yet. The album feels more mature than their early input, with the more prescient lyricism of Dead Silence. Rock ain’t dead yet, but maybe just let your music show that next time, guys.