Billy Talent are one of the most openly political rock bands of our time, saturating their songs with questions of morals, principles and talk of the world’s most significant challenges. Their legendary tracks, including Nothing To Lose (which covers bullying and suicide) and Fallen Leaves (about a man who becomes addicted to heroin) have built the band a reputation which relies on their use of meaningful lyrics. A personal favourite of mine, Surprise Surprise, slams capitalism and cries out to, “Those who seem to think we don’t care / And those who seem to think we’re not aware.” As, yes, some of us under the age of 40 do actually care about politics. With a huge history spanning two decades and four previous albums under the name Billy Talent, it’s natural to wonder if the band will lose their fiery passion. But, take it from me, Billy Talent won’t be burning out anytime soon.
Afraid Of Heights comes four years after the success of Dead Silence and picks up exactly where the last LP ended. Kicking off the album with a thumping beat, Big Red Gun is an enchanting opener and a promising crowd pleaser. Lead singer Ben Kowalewicz doesn’t hold back and dives straight into his feelings on gun laws.
“And all I want is a big red gun, I’m gonna shoot, shoot, shoot ‘til the thrill is gone ‘Cause this is my right no matter the cost.”
He follows up this powerful chorus by voicing what many of us fear:
“The law will never disagree, On the target of my insecurities.”
It sums up what the album is about from the very first track. Fear.
“We have a fear of taking it to the next level. When did we lose our way? Where did our prejudices come from? Where did this hatred come from?”
I love how Billy Talent don’t contain their beliefs to one or two songs. In Ghost Ship Of Cannibal Rats they combat environmental issues while in Louder Than The DJ Ben sings about the role of rock in 2016. It’s a refreshing listen as the relationships between people are addressed on a global scale, rather than within the context of an intimate relationship.
Beyond the lyrics, Billy Talent have a lot more to offer. As the title track Afraid Of Heights opens the unique riff is impossible to miss and unlike anything I’ve heard, even compared to other Billy Talent songs. Their imaginative instrumental work is just as impressive as Ben’s lyrics and equally as enticing. Tracks like The Crutch, Time-Bomb Ticking Away and This Is Our War showcase more of Ian D’Sa’s impressive guitar work. Combining both of these talents, Horses & Chariots incorporates keys and opens with a hymn-like melody to successfully parallel the lyrics which speak of those who let their faith override their compassion. While discussing the hatred behind some forms of religion is a difficult topic for anyone, Billy Talent explore the nameless religion as an observer and mirror the growing fears of terrorism around the world. They rightfully point out the confusion between faith and love with hatred, in other words how “devotion turns dangerous”.
Another track which deserves a specific mention is Rabbit Down The Hole. It opens with a delicate riff, bringing fans back to Billy Talent’s acoustic song Chasing The Sun, and builds into an epic six minute burst of anxiety and tension. Angsty lyrics such as “who’s gonna take away my pain, take away my pain” and “you’re screaming there is no escape, there is no escape” are solidified in their confident delivery.
The topics of discussion and strengths of the band remain the same, however Afraid Of Heights is a step in a new direction for Billy Talent. It’s less gritty and more mature than their youthful releases but that’s no surprise - the band have been together since their high school years and are now hitting their forties. More like smashing the crap out of their forties, let’s face it. I’ll always love the old Billy Talent, but I have their Greatest Hits album to be as nostalgic as I need. One day, I hope that the tracks from Afraid Of Heights will become as special to me as those like Surrender, Try Honesty and River Below.