Arena rock Scots Biffy Clyro have long left behind their early days, where charged emo-rock ruled the roost. Instead, they now own emphatic, mammoth choruses and driving riffs, while striving for a more balanced ‘alternative’ sound.
Yet, despite their gradual switch over the years, one thing the group have never shown the desire to shed is their willingness to get all experimental. From stabbing off-key riffs, bagpipe solos – hell, even a pirate-rock shanty at one point – it’s fair to say the trio generally refuse to play it safe, and 2019’s ‘Balance, Not Symmetry’ is nothing different.
Judging this as a ‘proper’ Biffy Clyro album may present a slight challenge, however, what with it being written as the soundtrack to an upcoming unreleased film by the same title, with frontman Simon Neil playing a significant role in developing its screenplay. Yet, as ever with new music from the band, this isn’t probably what you’re expecting, especially as movie soundtracks tend to go.
There’s a buzz of energy right from the opening title-track, as Neil interjects crashing guitars to gush “I don’t wanna talk about it / I just wanna fuck, what?”. The energetic moments of the record feel like the band are casting a sentimental eye back to their wilder side of old. Tracks like ‘Sunrise’, a crazy, winding five-minute adventure, the wild ‘The Naturals’, or the rage-fuelled climax of ‘Fever Dream’ really allow Neil to properly let loose.
Biffy Clyro have always had a knack for smashing together pop sensibilities with heavier overtones, and here, their ability to mould a plethora of sounds into coherent forms without ever feeling overly-experimental to the point of being ‘too much’ is truly admirable. Take ‘Gates Of Heaven’ and its plodding playfulness, the swooping, overlapping vocal harmonies of ‘Colour Wheel’, or the atmospheric instrumental tracks of ‘Pink’, ‘Navy Blue’, and ‘Yellow’.
There’s never just one static sound, and the level of variation and musicality actually achieved is expertly done, while still feeling greatly cinematic and able to keep the listener on their toes.
‘Balance, Not Symmetry’ isn’t exactly a record you can just have on in the background. It’s detailed and therefore requires a fair bit of attention, but listen close enough and you’ll find some of the most creative material that Biffy Clyro have released for a few years, even if it is ‘just’ a movie soundtrack.