Looking Back At…BLACKENED SKY by BIFFY CLYRO

Written by Andrew Barr (@weeandreww)

In 2017, it’s hard to imagine Biffy Clyro as anything but the topless, tattooed rock titans who churn out landmark festival headline slots with ease. After playing 2 of the best headline sets in recent memory at Reading and Leeds in 2013 and in 2016, with the small matter of releasing chart-topping 7th album Ellipsis in 2016, Biffy have established themselves as one of the biggest rock bands in the country, as well as arguably the most exciting band in the upper echelons of modern rock music.

However, Biffy’s ascent to the top of these stages was anything but straightforward. If their journey to the top of rock music could be represented by climbing a mountain, Simon Neil, James Johnston and Ben Johnston would have rejected the obvious route of the man-made path, in favour of scaling the most treacherous, hilly surface. 15 years ago, at the very beginning of Biffy’s long and difficult ascent was debut album Blackened Sky, released to little fanfare on indie label Beggar’s Banquet.

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One of the many qualities that Biffy’s legions of fans adore them for is their originality, their inventiveness and sometimes straight-up weirdness. Blackened Sky, while flawed and not the finished article by any stretch of the imagination, was a clear marker of Biffy’s immense potential and Simon Neil’s complex, time signature-bending songwriting abilities.

As for the record’s flaws, they are not major by any stretch, and the band themselves are well aware of these. In a Noisey interview, they were asked to rank their albums and placed Blackened Sky in last place, and Simon Neil said himself “there’s things we would immediately change; there’s that real naivety in not knowing how to make things sound good” with bassist James Johnston following with “We smoked so much hash while we were making it. It’s all so slow.

Despite these shortcomings, Blackened Sky is an enthralling listen from start to finish, and is a record that showcases a more experimental Biffy Clyro than the chart-topping one we know today. There is perhaps no better song (and title) to kick-start Biffy’s recording career than opener Joy.Discovery.Invention. It is a two-part song that most listeners with knowledge of Biffy Clyro would say could only have been written by Simon Neil. The first minute and a half features Neil’s trademark Ayrshire accent singing over finger-picked guitar chords before the song explodes into life for the second half, peaking with an anthemic chorus that wouldn’t sound out of place on one of Biffy’s more recent, commercially successful records.

It would almost be equivocal to sacrilege to speak about the anthemic qualities of Blackened Sky and fail to mention both Justboy and 57. Both these tracks are soaring stadium anthems that somehow fit snugly alongside experimental prog tracks that make up the rest of the record. Justboy especially showcases Simon Neil’s lyrical talent from an early age with the soaring outro of “I am hoping through the dark clouds/ light shall break and bring a bright sky” – a lyric that has been tattooed on countless Biffy fans since the record’s release in 2002. Meanwhile, 57 is perhaps the most “emo” song in Biffy’s entire discography, a breakup song full of heartbreak and vengeance delivered over a roaring guitar riff which encompasses perhaps the best “doo doo doo” singalong of Biffy’s 20-year career. The greatest testament that can be paid to these 2 tracks is that 57 and Justboy still appear commonly on Biffy setlists in 2017 to rapturous reactions from fans, with both tracks showing no signs of aging.

While it would almost be sacrilege to fail to mention 57 and Justboy, it would be almost as criminal to talk about 57 and neglect its more moody and angsty cousin, 27. This track pops up on live setlists more sporadically, and so has gained “hidden gem” status among Biffy fans. Like much of the record, 27 is another breakup track, with a brilliantly dark guitar riff ensuring the verses bubble just below boiling point before the chorus explodes into life with Neil’s vocals backed up by a roar from drummer Ben Johnston, which is present more than a few times on Blackened Sky.

However, while these 3 tracks appear on the odd Biffy setlist, many of the tracks from this debut are just too foreign in comparison with the band’s current material to ever get a run-out in a live show. Biffy like to view their studio albums in trilogies and the trilogy of Blackened Sky, The Vertigo of Bliss and Infinity Land is seen as their wonky experimental phase where the songs would often lack a traditional verse-chorus-verse structure and almost completely eschew standard time signatures and guitar tunings.

While Blackened Sky isn’t as experimental as the two records that followed it, it’s balls-to-the-wall (to borrow a phrase from Simon Neil) heaviness and directness are the qualities which make this so memorable. Kill the Old, Torture Their Young is a 6-minute track which opens with the whispered words “this will kill”, before a guitar riff explodes into life and Simon Neil’s criminally underused scream takes the fore. The Go-Slow rivals the previously mentioned track and shows the strong influence of Nirvana on Biffy’s early material and on this album. The heaviest track on this album is penultimate cut Stress on the Sky, which peaks in a scream-off between Neil and drummer Ben Johnston, where the lyrics are almost indecipherable, but they almost don’t matter; the sheer power of this song alone makes it a standout.

However, elsewhere on the record, the lyrics take up a role of vital importance. Many Biffy fans like to conveniently forget that while Many of Horror (from 2009’s Only Revolutions) has gone down as one of the best rock ballads in recent years, it was also hand-picked by Simon Cowell as Matt Cardle’s X Factor winners single (and was then completely butchered). Despite the cover, the choice to use this song is testament to how stunning Simon Neil’s songwriting and lyricism can be; and there are tracks on Blackened Sky which show these qualities at their very best.

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While it is so much more than a break-up album and there are countless facets to the lyrics on this record, Blackened Sky is actually the only Biffy record that has concerned itself with break-up, so many lyrics on this record are less abstract and more direct than on other Biffy releases. The aforementioned 27 features the simple but brilliant imagery of “thoughts once pure are now diluted”. The best lyrics are reserved for the only 2 real ballads on this record, The verses in Christopher’s River should serve as a lesson in lyrical storytelling, while Scary Mary overcomes teenage cliché (what must I have become/to deserve all the shit that you give me?) to close the album on a poignant note, with the record ending on the quite brilliant “give time to your heart/give time to your soul/ release them all”.

On Blackened Sky, Biffy Clyro announced themselves as a band with stratospheric potential, but also one with more than enough talent at present. It places festival-ready anthems comfortably alongside some of the most obscurely brilliant tracks the band has ever written, showcasing the band’s massive potential but also their unwillingness to scale the mountain in any way but their own.

Not bad for a record made by 3 teenage stoners from Kilmarnock.


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Biffy Clyro: Fan Favourites!

Originally posted last December to tie in with their trio of special Barrowland gigs, this post started off as a list of my favourite albums until I thought of something better: asking every other biffy fan for their favourite! Although it was possibly the hardest question any of them could face, there was a great outcome which resulted in one of the most fun pieces of writing I’ve ever had the pleasure of making. So as Infinity Land celebrates its 11th birthday this month and Biffy prepare for their Hogmanay gig, here’s a blast from the past! 

2014 has undoubtedly been an important year for Biffy Clyro. Not only have they released another album, B-Side compilation Similarities, but they’ve been extensively touring the world, bringing their unparalleled passion to festivals around the world. From their 10th appearance and first headlining set at T In The Park, where the Kilmarnock born rockers careers took off, to their staggering performance at the Belsonic Festival in Northern Ireland, band mates and lifelong pals Simon Neil (Lead vocals, Guitar) and twin brothers James (Bass, Vocals) and Ben Johnston (Drums, Vocals) have worked their fingers to the bone to please their huge army of avid fans. With a set of upcoming gigs for the Barrowlands this week coming up, which will have the band playing the majority of their massive back catalogue, I thought it would be a great idea to see what everyone thinks of their career so far and ask them a difficult question; which Biffy album tops them all?

Joined Eighth 0% each

It wasn’t surprising to me that the majority of B-side albums weren’t shown as much love as their superstar counterparts. Although they didn’t receive the same appreciation in the poll, it’s clear to anyone that the following albums are still well loved by those who have listened to them with material like And With The Scissor-kick Is Victorious off of the Vertigo of Bliss B-side compilation being a strong fan favourite.

Missing Pieces

Released: May 14th 2009

Infinity Land B-Sides

Released: 24th September 2012

Vertigo of Bliss B-Sides

Released: 11th June 2012

Blackened Sky B-Sides

Released: 2nd April 2012

Fact: The band were formed in 1995, originally called Screwfish. “Mon the Screwfish” doesn’t have the same kind of ring to it.

Joined Seventh 1% each

Similarities

Released in July of this year, Similarities not only features B-sides from sixth album Opposites but an unreleased track, Children’s Limbs. Personally I think it’s one of the weaker albums. By that I don’t mean the tracks on selection are awful, Milky starts off with a instantly loveable country riff and ends in a blazing finish reminiscent to 2009’s Bubbles, but during the album I felt like it was a bit too safe and few of the tracks stuck out to me as anything utterly mind-blowing.

Lonely Revolutions

Arguably the best B-side album, Lonely Revolutions came out in the summer of 2010, less than a year since the release of Only Revolutions. It’s not hard to see why so many people prefer this over OR as the tracks on offer could have been released as its own follow up album. Once An Empire features a great range of absurd lyrics that’ll bring back memories of A Day Of… and Robbery will keep fans of the band’s new found sound after their first 3 albums extremely pleased. All in all, a fantastic album that is well balanced and a joy from start to finish.

Fact: No one knows for sure what Biffy Clyro stands for. Explanations for it have varied from a pen named after Cliff Richard to the name being an acronym for “Big Imagination for Feeling you ‘Cause Life Yearns Real Optimism.”

Sixth place 3%

Opposites: Live From Glasgow

Released just last month, the album is pretty much self-explanatory. With 14 live recordings from the band’s gig at the SECC last April, the album captures the consistent quality of their performances though the album does miss out some killer tracks that were played such as There’s No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake.

Fact: Biffy were concerned when they allowed X-Factor winner Matt Cardle to cover their song ‘Many of Horror’. Simon Neil told Kerrang : “We don’t want to be too closely associated with (X Factor).

Fifth Place 4%

Revolutions: Live At Wembley

Another live album, this time better done with the full length of the gig recorded, no track left un-played. Not only does the album come with a CD, it also comes with a DVD that shows footage of their Wembley arena gig as well as their T in the Park set from 2010. Oh, and band commentary, so there’s really no excuse to not pick this up if you’re a fan.

Fact: Robbie Williams asked Biffy to play football and collaborate on his new album. Neil explained: “I got asked to play a solo on his record too, but I turned it down. I wish all the best for Robbie, but I don’t think he needs my help. Bizarrely, I think Slash is going to play the solo now, which makes the whole thing cooler.”

Joined Fourth Place 9% each

Opposites

Released: January 28th 2013

Opposites is the band’s sixth album and their first double album, a point that was heavily discussed from the album’s early days by Neil who was divided on whether or not it should be a double or triple album. I was lucky to get the album on release and was anxious for the result. Thankfully, Biffy released not only a great album but one of their finest albums that can sit along with the likes of Puzzle and Infinity Land. Different People can only be described as being a stadium anthem and is definitely one of the best tracks on the album with Victory Over the Sun being a personal favourite of mine. One of the strong points of the albums is the energy that you can practically feel when listening, probably due to the amount of years they have been in the business for. Although it’s only a year old it’s already loved by music fans and has been a stepping stone into the band, allowing them to dwell into their deep back catalogue.

Infinity Land

Released: October 3rd 2004

Now this I can see pissing off a lot of people. Infinity Land is arguably the most creative album Biffy have come out with, even the song titles alone are stellar, and it’s one of the two albums that always get brought up during the subject of which album is the best, the other being VOB. It’s no surprise to see why when you first give the album a listen and hear opener Glitter and Trauma, a track that is eponymous in natures as synths twinkle over scratches of impending doom. There’s a lot more to the album than just that one track, the first three tracks alone account for one of the best beginnings to an album I’ve ever experience, but from that first track you’re strapped in and ready to experience something surreal. Despite its low position, it should be listened to by anybody at least once.

Fact: Biffy Clyro have frustrated aspirations to become a hip-hop crew, according to Simon Neil. “We’ll always be a rock band, but I want us to move in different directions,” he told NME. “If I could rap, I’d be rapping on the next record. The Kanye record [‘Yeezus’] blew me away! Hearing that made me think, Fuck we could be messing around with sounds like that!”

Third Place 13%

Only Revolutions

Released: 9th November 2009

I’m not so surprised to see this album receive this big a chunk of the votes but I wasn’t expecting it to trump IL, that’s for sure. However, in a way, it deserves it. Puzzle might have put Biffy on the map but Only Revolutions put it in font size 34 in bold Arial writing with a saltire oozing out every character. The album from start to finish is never, ever boring. The Captain? An explosion of instruments tries to silence the shouts and war-cries of the biffy boys. That Golden Rule? An onslaught of guitar riffs and drums smashing with the trademark Simon Neil vocals that are so unashamedly loud yet beautiful they give the hadron collider a run for its money. I could go on all day but all that needs to be said is Only Revolutions is a cracking record.

Joined Second Place 17% each

Blackened Sky

Released: 10th March 2002

“This will kill you” whispers Simon Neil over a slow patter of drums before a pearl harbour size assault takes place. This is it. The album that started it all. From the album title alone it’s clear that there’s not going to be any happy songs, instead grim songs of heartache and angst. The sound quality is raw. Neil’s voice seems to deteriorate with every scream. Ben Johnston scrambles around on the drums. And that’s what makes it all so perfect.

Fact: Biffy Clyro wouldn’t exist without Kurt Cobain, claims Neil. “Kurt Cobain taught me as a 12-year-old that you didn’t have to be a great guitarist to write a song or to say something, so as a songwriter he’s my biggest influence.”

Vertigo of Bliss

Released: 16th June 2003

The follow up to their sinister and superb debut, Vertigo of Bliss took everything that Blackened Sky did right and then some. Out goes the gloom and in goes a bit more light-hearted goodness albeit not by a lot. This doesn’t harm the quality of the album though as each song, to put it simply, is bloody fantastic. Vertigo of Bliss is the most accessible of all of the older biffy albums and for good reason. Opening track Bodies in Flight starts off pretty non-menacingly but before long, it becomes a hurricane of hectic chords and harmonies, as stable as a 3 legged but all the more interesting for it. I could go on for hours about how much I love this album but words can’t do it justice. Listen to it and you’ll never regret it.
Fact: While touring the American east coast in 2013, the band took a fan up on her offer to host a Biffy gig in her basement to just 25 people. James later described it as one of their best ever shows.

First Place 26%

Puzzle

Released: June 4th 2007

For many this is the first biffy album that they bought. I know it was for me anyway. I can clearly remember going out to get it around the time I started getting the bus into town, listening to my MP3 player with one song on it: Machines. I played it religiously and still play it whenever I get the chance. That’s what I love most about Puzzle and it’s not nostalgia affiliated. It’s that every track holds some special quality, whether it is the entirely unique Living’s A Problem or the heart-breaking and beautiful Folding Stars, a track that is in its own league when it comes to the emotion it evokes from the listener. There’s nothing really else I can say, other than Puzzle is a masterpiece.

Fact: The band has pledged to continue to perform shirtless, even into old age. Simon Neil thinks that it’s “highly likely that you will see us at 55 years old with big pot bellies and our shirts bouncing around the stage, going fucking crazy.”

So what are your thoughts about the Biffy album ranking? Happy? Angry? What’s your favourite album? Leave your thoughts in the comments below since I’d love to see what you think. Also don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @blinkclyro for some more fanboying and also go like my Facebook page (we’re so close to 100 likes!!!).

Biffy Clyro – Rank The Albums

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Well, this’ll be difficult. After all, Biffy Clyro are one of the few bands I can recall having a consistent delivery of high quality music over their career though that may be a bit bias seeing as I’m a huge fan of them. Initially I thought this list would be a lot easier as I know my favourite yet here I am, shuffling the albums in my mind on a metaphorical table hoping to come up with my definitive choices.Oh and I’m not putting any b-side albums down since I’ll be here for ages making a decision so put down your pitchfork/torch and have a read, the mob isn’t set to arrive for another hour.

6.Only Revolutions

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Favourite Song : The Captain

Well this choice was one of the easier ones but don’t get me wrong, OR was a good album full to the brim with stadium anthems and the sing along lyrics that you expect from a Biffy release. So why the bottom position? Out of all the releases that the boys have released, OR felt paper thin both lyrics and sound wise. The other records felt like they had more depth to them which may sound odd but I can’t describe it any other way so let’s move on to….

5.Puzzle

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Favourite Song : Get Fucked Stud

Puzzle is, to put it simply, the album that got me interested in Biffy. Beforehand I had a very limited and abysmal music taste that consisted of Basshunter and Scooter but that was 2007, a skidmark on the towel that is my life. As soon as I put my earphones on and listened to Get Fucked Stud, I knew that I had stumbled across something great. The tracks on offer feature a few classics that need to be seen live to truly be experienced but enough of that, let’s focus on…

4.Infinity Land

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Favourite Song : Glitter and Trauma

This was the first pre-puzzle I got my hands on and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. Glitter and Trauma? Classic. Weapons are Concealed was like no other Biffy song I knew of and The Atrocity is far from disastrous. Anyway, let’s avert our attention to…

3.Opposites

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Favourite Song : Different People off of The Sand at the Core of Our Bones and Spanish Radio off of The Land at the End of Our Toes

Now this one was forever swapping places with Infinity Land but at the end of the day, what’s better than one biffy album? A double one, that’s what. A while before Opposites came out, I thought the quality wouldn’t hold up as well as there was more of a running time which is a challenge for any artist.Thankfully this wasn’t the case as fans and music lovers alike loved the new album and what it had to offer. I was lucky enough to see them live last year and the tracks survived the transition from album to concert incredibly well. Now to the runner up…

2.Blackened Sky

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Favourite Song : Joy.Discovery.Invention

The one that started it all off and what a way to kick off. Biffy’s early sound was very different to their current one but that obviously doesn’t make any current releases worse for it as you can see from Opposites. Blackened Sky was, to me anyway, musically raw and was all the better for it as every nimble pluck of a guitar string by James Johnston, every crack in Simon Neil’s voice and every attack of drums by Ben Johnston were all great indicators of a band that were different from any other in Britain at the time. Finally….

1.Vertigo Of Bliss

imageFavourite Song : All of them?

Last but by no means least, Vertigo of Bliss is simply every great aspect of Biffy multiplied by 11. Every track on this album grabbed my attention as soon as I put it on and some of the best tracks I’ve ever heard feature on this, be it Toys Toys Toys Choke, Toys Toys Toys which has a barrage of screams and cymbals or All The Way down that shows that even when the pace is slowed down, their quality still shines undeniably. Out of all the albums I’ve listed, this is the one that always sticks out in my mind and the one that I could listen to for hours upon hours.

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Biffy Clyro – Opposites

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Now this is a long overdue review. I’ve only recently started reviewing music and only have one article under my hypothetical belt so where better to start than the latest album from Biffy Clyro.

Biffy Clyro are a rock trio from Scotland and originate from the area where I live. They’re not a new band and have been making music for more than a decade now and are one of the best live bands currently in the music business, recently touring with Muse in America. Opposites is their sixth album and their first double album, a point that was being discussed from the album’s early days by front man Simon Neil who was divided on whether or not it should be a double or triple album. I was lucky to get the album on release and was anxious for the result.Thankfully, Biffy have released not only a great album but one of their finest albums that can sit along with the likes of Puzzle. Different People can only be described as being a stadium anthem and is definitely one of the best tracks on the album with Victory Over The Sun being a personal favourite of mine. One of the strong points of the albums is the energy that you can practically feel when listening, probably due to the amount of years they have been in the business for. One problem with any double album though is the strong possibility that the tracks may be thinly spread about, dipping in quality but thankfully songs like The Thaw provide sweet relief from the hard rock songs.

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Biffy Clyro have managed to produce a great album that’s only downfall is the quality of some tracks manage to make others feel minuscule in comparison, a problem that many may have feared in the build up to the release of Opposites but at this stage in 2013, Opposites looks like the Rock album of the year.