More about: Biffy Clyro
Biffy Clyro have said in interviews that their new album The Myth of the Happily Ever After serves as a reaction to their previous record A Celebration of Endings and the unusual circumstances of its release; no victorious world tour, the album instead came out during a shutdown of live events, with venues empty and fans and artists alike trapped inside.
Written and recorded at home in Scotland amid that gloom, isolation and boredom, The Myth of the Happily Ever After arrives at a time when we're (largely) able to have a much brighter outlook in terms of our social lives and seeing our favourite bands in the flesh. Its release will be followed by a delayed series of ‘underplay’ concerts across the British Isles, seeing the Biff rock much smaller rooms than the enormo-domes they routinely pack out.
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Teased with the shape-shifting, hulking ‘Unknown Male 01’, veering from organ and choral vocals to demonic metal, the expectations were set high for what could be seen as a bonus disc for last years Celebration of Endings’ Not to labour this point, but it feels important to contextualise the origins of this record given Biffy’s history of statement releases (see 2013’s sprawling double album Opposites). Simply put, if leader Neil and rhythm section James and Ben Johnstone had not been locked inside, away from the stage, we would not be holding this new album in our hands. Lyrically, The Myth of the Happily Ever After is a time capsule of the weird limbo that characterised much of the past eighteen months.
Opener ‘Dum Dum’ asks us to cast our minds back in anger to the UK government’s response to the pandemic in April 2020, as ministers and advisors flagrantly ignored the rules they imposed on us plebs, all while the death toll surged. The track doesn’t quite click or lift off as an intro to the album however; it’s hard to muster the cold, cruel banality of governmental bureaucracy into an energising rallying cry.
Never mind the slow start though, next up ‘Hunger in Your Haunt’ is a stormer, hurtling urgently along with gang vocals, fuzzed up basslines and spidery guitar work sparking this record to life, the trio raging against their enforced confinement. “It’s an expression of pure frustration,” says Neil in a press release. “There were moments in the past year when I just wanted to scream my head off. I lacked purpose and didn’t want to get out of bed for a while, and the song is a wake-up call to myself. You need to get a fire in your belly and get up and do something, because no-one’s going to do it for you. It’s like a self-motivating mantra.”
For the most part, Neil and the Johnstone brothers harness that fire across these eleven tracks. ‘Deniers’ is a whirlwind of noise, keeping up the energy levels, while ‘Separate Missions’ features an exploration in sound design, with a shrieking lead line that reverberates, squalls and trails back into itself. Is that a guitar, a keyboard, a processed violin, or some new eldritch instrument? Let us know, guys.
‘Witch’s Cup’ is a real highlight, bombastic brass and Beach Boys melody taking precedence over rocking out, if only for a few minutes. It’s a moment of real joy and novelty from a musical perspective and proves the centrepiece of the album. A few tracks do feel more like offcuts from Celebration, but the best moments here, ‘Witch’s Cup’ and metamorphosis of ‘Unknown Male 01’ stand tall on their own.
Compared to their last few studio albums the production can feel a bit muddy, guitars not quite cutting through with that razor sharp edge Biffy are renowned for; but to return to our old pal ‘context’ it shouldn’t surprise us that a converted Ayrshire barn doesn’t sound as slick as months tinkering with dials in a state of the art Los Angeles maximum security studio compound. As the final roars of ‘Unknown Male 01’ herald the tail end of the album, ‘Existed’ provides the now obligatory lighter-in-the-air moment that features on every Biffy release. They change the formula by swapping strings for staccato programming, eerie synths and a barked final chorus, finding a new niche within the oeuvre of Biffy Ballads. ‘Slurpy Slurpy Sleep Sleep’ continues this experimentation, with multi-tracked vocals and square-wave synths making for an expansive, adventurous close to the album, which mirrors ‘Cop Syrup’s proggy bookending of A Celebration of Endings. A heavenly choir of digitally layered Simons urges us “Don’t waste your life, love everybody” before a frenzied and uniquely Biffy rhythmic freakout brings the roof crashing down on the record.
While The Myth of the Happily Ever After might not represent a new creative peak for Biffy Clyro, it's a solid and occasionally captivating record, with some wonderful arrangements that point the band in tantalising new directions. Which, given the album’s background and the reason for its origins (namely staving off mind numbing boredom and inertia), is plenty justification for its release. A companion to A Celebration of Endings, a third album in three years and a gift to their impatient fans unable to rock out with them in person for so long, with just a few inessential songs? We can forgive them for that. Mon the fucking Biffy.
The Myth of the Happily Ever After arrives 22 October.
More about: Biffy Clyro