This project from Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro has been a long time coming. Originally planned for a 2018 release date, they promised a breath of fresh air, a chance for the trio to write music outside of their usual studio contract. Despite the delayed release, Biffy have come through on all they promised and more, creating their most varied and ambitious release since their 2004 release Infinity Land.
The surprise release came less than a week after they teased the first snippet of the title track, and only a day after the release of the lead single. Balance Not Symmetry is a far cry from traditional movie soundtrack songs, opening with an explosive salvo of riffs and tapping drums. Large sections of this track would be at home on one of their first three albums, combining dissonant stabs with odd time signatures. However, the chorus brings the listener back down to earth with a classic Biffy sing along, suitable for the largest arenas and festival stages that they have come to inhabit over the past decade. Sunrise is quite similar in this regard, with the characteristics being highlighted even further. A great sing along chorus and bouncy bridge section clash with staccato riffs and tumbling piano note clusters, as well as including true electronic music in a way Biffy has never really done before (Glitter and Trauma being a notable exception). On their earlier records, Simon Neil created expansive progressive rock tracks with a relatively small palette of instruments. Now, an expanded budget and a matured songwriting style has produced tracks such as Colour Wheel, with its blasts of distorted synth, and Tunnels and Trees which contains a synth break reminiscent of the Twenty One Pilots track Car Radio stuck between a classic Biffy chorus and a heavy guitar breakdown.
All this may hint at an unfocussed album, spreading this many different styles over seventeen tracks, and without the accompanying film for context, it is hard to judge the completeness of the album. However, in its own right, Biffy have managed to make a very coherent piece of art, blending influences from all over their career and beyond. Standout tracks include Fever Dream, which crescendos from the minimalist electronic introduction to a crushing ending, and Following Master which matches vocal harmonies and twinkling piano with crazed guitar lines and pounding drums, switching between them in a matter of seconds.
Whilst not being particularly strong in their own right, the three instrumental tracks (Pink, Navy Blue and Yellow) neatly tie the album together.
The main criticism of this album is that, at seventeen tracks and 1 hour 5 minutes long, it is a tad bloated. Tracks such as Touch, Jasabiab and Different Kind Of Love, while excellent tracks in their own right, would be better served as B-sides, bringing the album down to a more manageable and concise package. However, they will undoubtedly have their own place in the movie, and should make sense when they are part of a complete package.
It is strange that this movie and album are said to be mostly concerning the subject of grief, something which Biffy are all too familiar with and have channelled at the best moments (anyone who doubts this should listen to Folding Stars). However, despite this the album remains so full of life. All Singing and All Dancing and Tunnels and Trees are highly energetic bringing all the excitement and dynamism of a Biffy Clyro live set to an album, providing brief moments of levity amongst the more sorrowful moments.
This album, in spite of its few flaws (namely the length and one or two mediocre tracks), is the closest that Biffy have come to recreating the majesty of their earlier work in many years. Their maturity and increased popularity has coincided with a chance to break away from their major label shackles, creating a bizarre and insane masterpiece, which deserves to be placed alongside their best work in its own right, regardless of the existence of the accompanying movie.
The movie of the same name will premiere on the 23rd of June at the Edinburgh Film Festival.