Biffy Clyro are a little bit like a glass of vodka and coke: something heavy cut with something mild. Lovers of millennial soft-rock bands like Coldplay have been kept happy by the stadium ballads such as Many Of Horror and Mountains, whilst metalheads relish Simon Neil and Ben Johnston’s heavy, driving drum and guitar work. With Ellipsis, however, the boys have mixed a can of flat 7up with motor oil. The resulting cocktail is somehow both too insipid and too intense all at once, and is unlikely to have the cross-genre appeal upon which the band are so heavily reliant.
The album’s opening is a perfect example of this misconceived mixture of bland and blasting. Wolves Of Winter begins with the band laughing in the studio, before being drowned out by a thrashing guitar. The intro then drags on with vocoder vocals (perhaps in homage to Britney Spears’s Toxic. Biffy fans like Britney Spears, right?) before the first verse finally arrives.
The opening track’s erratic changes in energy set the general pattern for the record as a whole. Friends And Enemies, Herex, Flammable, On A Bang, and In The Name If The Wee Man all come bursting out of the speakers, all sounding practically identical, whilst Re-arrange, Medicine, and People form the more tender side of the album. Yet the weak taste of the flat 7up tracks is abundantly clear; a big problem is the lyrics, which could not even be rescued by being read out by Morgan Freeman. “I’ve got a lot of rage and I’m struggling with ways to control it”, is a real low point, as is “because I have a problem and I need to get some” (I mean, I wasn’t planning on sleeping with you Simon, but now that you mention you’ve got a problem…) but by far the most howlingly awful line on the entire record is “you think that you’re delicious in anything you do, with silence as my witness, your cacophony’s the truth.” I… Just… Wow…
There are, of course, some appealing moments. After a few listens, Wolves Of Winter starts to feel like some interesting songwriting. The track’s seemingly random changes in tempo and instrumentation may not be particularly easy to swallow, but they do at least try to cut against the grain of current chart-music trends. Were this the theme of the record, were the more stilted songs an attempt to disrupt the mundane fabric of contemporary popular music and resist succumbing to its oppressive homogeneity, I would stop here and say that whilst Ellipsis isn’t going to find its way into my Spotify search bar again, it is at least something different.
Unfortunately though, I can offer no such praise. The flat 7up tracks are not merely bland in comparison to their screamier counterparts, but are bland because they are essentially pop/R&B songs. Re-arrange is redolent of an emotional boy-band ballad, and even follows the current trend of repeating the introductory melody instead of having an actual chorus (think Avicii or Kygo). Instead of singing any words in the chorus, Neil simply repeats the do do dos he sings in the intro (although this may be because his bandmates begged him not to write any more of his horrendous lyrics).
Taking all of this into account, it is hard to imagine who will love Ellipsis. It is neither classic Biffy Clyro, nor an interesting reinvention of the band’s sound; it is neither sincere to a single genre, nor a successful embrace of several; neither a subversive pastiche of pop music, nor a convincing departure from it. Perhaps the best thing about the album is that, whilst the cocktail may be disgusting, it is at least swiftly forgotten.