Billy Talent – ‘Afraid Of Heights’

By Max Gayler

After releasing a curiously timed greatest hits album, I had no expectations of ‘Afraid Of Heights’, assuming we’d be getting another collection of single-gear power rock released out of necessity more than passion. And boy, was I right, but Billy Talent really do pull this sound off better than anyone else.

I really loved ‘Dead Silence’, truly loved it. ‘Surprise Surprise’ and ‘Viking Death March’ kept alive that crunchy guitar driven breed of military rock that gave them global recognition with the release of their globally-adored single, ‘Red Flag’. I was hoping for another surprise in the release of ‘Afraid Of Heights’.

Whilst these songs are in no possible way a step in a new direction, they’re proof that Billy Talent aren’t just another mid-naughties rock band clinging onto the attention from a scene that died along with the likes of nu-metal and crunkcore. They can write non-stop bangers guaranteed to instil a bit of aggressive adrenaline into even the casual listener.

Songs like album-opener ‘Big Red Gun’ don’t politely knock on the door, they crash through arms swinging, screaming down your ear. The vicious pace takes no breaks until ‘Afraid Of Heights (Reprise)’ at the end of the record. Whilst a change in momentum would have been appreciated at some point through the twelve tracks, the addictive sound of Ian D’Sa’s guitar turns this album from a headache into a party.

Lyrically this album is as politically charged as ever. Songs like ‘Ghost Ship of Cannibal Rats’ and ‘Time-Bomb Ticking Away’ offer the most frustration from vocalist Benjamin Kowalewicz. Addressing current issues such as gun control and the abuse of the youth, these topics are brought to life in regular Billy Talent fashion. Those gang shouts you loved from ‘River Below’ are executed better than ever and there’re thick and heavy singalongs galore thrown in here and there for good measure.

Despite the good old fashioned sound, I’m not entirely sure who Billy Talent are fooling anymore. Yes, this is more of the same, and the same is good for a little bit, but there’s little lasting value in playing it safe. I hear songs like ‘Louder Than The DJ’ and just feel uninspired. In an age where music is being stretched and pushed to new limits how long can they get away with adding a new coat of paint every couple years? Sadly, ‘Afraid Of Heights’ continues this pattern, a seeming attempt to just extend the life of a band who’re scared to take a step in a new direction incase they fall off the edge.

In spite of this, more songs like ‘The Crutch’ please. This song about halfway through the album has stadium-sized capabilities, bringing back to life all of the greatest things about noughties hard rock; body-crushing drops, jaw-dropping solos and thick and fun drum work.

There’s still a lot of fight left in Billy Talent. Despite members facing personal challenges and growing older than your average angry rock band, they’re still selling out tours all over the world and entertaining crowds through some killer musicianship and banshee screams that still send shivers down your spine. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, I guess.

MAX GAYLER

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