When you're a band as huge as Biffy Clyro, every release comes with a mountain of expectation, whether it's readying the life-or-death breakthrough Puzzle, mammoth double album Opposites or their first record as bona fide festival toppers Ellipsis. Always an act happy to play with pressure, what better way to release their new album than chucking it online with barely 24 hours notice? Welcome to the world of the mighty Biff.
The very existence of Balance, Not Symmetry is a curious affair. Written as the soundtrack to an unreleased film with a screenplay by frontman Simon Neil, it's hard to imagine a low-key indie flick scored by Biffy’s epic juggernauts. But the film isn't out yet, with a premiere set for June, so we can only judge the music on its own terms.
First off, this isn't a collection of purely instrumentals or mood pieces. If we hadn't been told otherwise, this could sit as a companion to Ellipsis and 2014’s b-side compendium Similarities, where the trios weirder (weirdest? It's all weird) impulses ran free. Opener and title track ‘Balance, Not Symmetry’ is textbook stuff, a stomping riff careening to a lung-busting chorus. ‘Different Kind of Love’ finds Simon Neil at his balladeering best, while ‘Touch’ aims for the rafters in a celebration of resilience.
Lyrically, Neil focuses (even more than usual) on the thin lines between life and death, and finding solace and survival amidst the grief of losing someone. These are themes the film will confront and Biffy don't shy away from addressing them directly. Love is a comforting crutch rather than a playful frolic, and mortality is faced with stoicism and defiance.
‘Pink’ is the first instrumental, delicate piano and harp being the most obvious example of a scene being scored rather than a song being sung. The album’s midsection features some more spacious arrangements, ‘Fever Dream’ builds from a twinkle to a hurricane in five shape shifting minutes. ‘Yellow’ pairs Mad World-esque piano with Pet Shop Boy synths. Closer ‘Adored’ is as restrained as Biffy can get, plaintive piano chords sighing into Simon’s imploring vocal, a plea for human warmth to fight against the cold.
It's not quite a reinvention, but after the pressure of consecutive releases where they've been expected to mount the world (we can all thank ‘Many of Horror’ for that), the surprise release and intensely personal nature of this film project allow Biffy to cast off some of the weight and free their limbs. It's mad to think they've got a whole standalone studio album on the go to release before the end of the year on top of this, and that there are songs left in the tank. But Biffy never have been a band to know when to stop. Wherever they lurch next it's just good to be along for the ride.
Balance, Not Symmetry is out now via Warner Bros.