By Kenny Fowler
(Source: Billy Talent Official Website)
Billy Talent are easily Canadian rock and roll veterans at this point. Since their early days of Pezz, they have been writing and playing music since before many Humber College students were even born. Their strength in their early career was raw, unapologetic fury, which resonated with the young, angry kids of the early 2000’s. Their third and fourth albums struggled to capture that same energy as their early releases, which a few select tracks being stand out but everything feeling mostly stale. Fortunately, their latest endeavor, Afraid of Heights, has shaken off that curse. They are very aware of what makes them great, and have found ways to breathe new life into that intense sound they have cultivated.
The album opens with Big Red Gun, a not-so-subtle commentary on Right To Bear Arms defendants in the United States, as well as those glorifying guns and violence the world over. They have always picked a winner to album their albums with and this is no exception. Be prepared to nod your head to this banger of a track. This falls right into the title track and lead single, which has already proven to be a winner with crowds across the country.
The first big surprise comes with Ghost Ship of Cannibal Rats, a song that is far funkier than a Billy Talent song has any right being. Bassist Jon Gallant and Jordan Hastings (drummer for Alexisonfire who has been filling in for an ill Aaron Solowoniuk) form a tight groove that allows the verse to pop and bounce without losing aggression. Louder Than the DJ may just be the inspiration for the entire album. Ben Kowalewicz howls for three-and-a-half minutes about how rock isn’t dead, just sleeping, and hopes he can use this album to wake her up again.
Ben Kowalewicz screaming at a secret show in support of Afraid of Heights at The Horseshoe Tavern
It becomes very clear that Billy Talent is working with a new drumming engine when you hear Time-Bomb Ticking Away. Hastings channels early Alexisonfire with his rhythm, which may explain the very call and response style vocal work between Ben, Ian and Jon. And strangely enough, Horses & Chariots seems to channel late System of a Down in terms of bombast and lyrical content, while sounding very much like a departure from most of BT’s earlier sound, with a sudden emergence of synth stylings. Ian D’Sa plays a very low-key guitar on this album, with most of his riffing and work acting as support for the composition instead of it soaring over the tracks as it has in the past (with the exception of a very heartfelt solo during the reprise of the title track to close the album). It’s an interesting choice, but I wish D’sa had more time to shine on this album, because he is the only thing this album is missing.
Afraid of Heights is a mosaic of everything that has brought Billy Talent to this point. Their early intensity mashes joyously with their now matured compositions and natural talent for song writing. You can hear 23 years of rock history and influence in this album. There are hints of bands they’ve toured with or are friends with bleeding into their sound without it feeling jarring or stolen. It is thesis to a paper they’ve been working on for two decades: Rock is here, it’s still loud, it’s still angry, and it’s still needed.
Rating: 4 / 5