Back in 2009, Billy Talent had a lot to prove with their aptly titled third album ‘III’, considering it followed the undeniably brilliant ‘I’ and ‘II’, and, while it wasn’t a particularly bad album, it just wasn’t up to the astronomically high standards the Canadians had set for themselves. Then came 2012’s ‘Dead Silence’. Packed full of killer tracks each with a distinct progression in their sound, it was definitive proof that Billy Talent were back on track.
Well, it’s been over three years, meaning we were due a new Billy Talent album, and here it is: ‘Afraid Of Heights’. Hmm, so you’re genuinely done with the whole Roman numeral thing then, guys? Oh well.
Opening with the trademark, lightly distorted broken chords of Ian D’Sa‘s impeccable guitaring, followed by a belter of a chorus, ‘Big Red Gun’ is a statement that screams loud and clear – we are Billy Talent, and we are back.
However, while they are indeed back, that’s all they are. Back. There’s no real indication of progress on ‘Afraid Of Heights’, just more of the same. Sure, that sameyness is all well and good when it’s done to a high standard, but Billy Talent have always been about bettering themselves and pushing their own defined boundaries, so to see them fail to do so with their latest offering is just, well, disappointing.
What the album lacks in growth it almost makes up for in quintessential killer anthems. The forementioned ‘Big Red Gun’, ‘Ghost Ship Of Cannibal Rats’, and ‘February Winds’ easily match the lofty heights of their first two records, and will no doubt become a set-ist staples for years to come. Aspecial mention must be made for ‘Horses & Chariots’ which will in induce the same awe and euphoria that ‘Devil In A Midnight Mass’ did ten years back.
As for the rest of the album, it’s mostly just filler with the occasional flair of brilliance. There is, however, one song which is frankly shameful, one that Billy Talent should’ve scrapped from the get go. The culprit ‘Louder Than The DJ’ is so out of place, so horrifically mainstream, bland, and stupid that you have to genuinely double-check that this is the same band. Sadly, it is. Now Billy Talent’s songs have always carried a sombre message, told a story or at the very least stood for something; you can’t even remotely fathomed that from a song that discusses “Crap on the radio”, “rock and roll never going old”, or even the mention of a “DJ”.
‘Afraid Of Heights’ is okay, and just okay. Sadly, four amazing songs out of twelve are not enough to save any album, no matter how good those few tracks are. The record leans more towards the mediocrity of ‘III’ rather than the coherent step forward that was ‘Dead Silence’. With any luck, album six will see a soon to be overdue return to their roots.
Written by Andy Roberts (@Sassensquatch)