Looking at the way they’re currently headlining huge European festivals, you wouldn’t guess that Scottish three-piece Biffy Clyro released their debut full-length Blackened Sky to literally no acclaim whatsoever. Perhaps the best way to give you an idea of how this record was put together is that the band booked a whole week in the studio, but tracked the whole thing in one day so they could spend as much time as possible playing on the studio’s PlayStation. Yeah, we know. In spite of that glorious demonstration of misdirected priorities, this is a record full of good songs, and a few still find their way into the band’s set to this day.
At its core, Blackened Sky is powered by a ’90s grunge vibe that permeates its way through every song. “Joy.Discovery.Invention”, for instance, hints at its darker nature at the start but it’s when the guitars start playing for keeps, oh man, it’s like Metallica and Nirvana made filthy, unshaven love to each other and shat out that riff. Then “27” starts with a tasty tomtom beat and again starts off soft before showing its true colours in the chorus.
Interestingly, the lyrical content revolves around a relationship breakdown that frontman and resident studmuffin Simon Neil endured. It’s entirely possible that this ‘start soft and slow, then kick ’em in the teeth’ composition is an intentional decision to reflect the personality of his ex-partner whom he chronicles so viciously in his lyrics. Seriously, check out closer “Scary Mary”. The opening line is “What must I have become/to deserve all the shit that you gave me?”. That’s not exactly a proposal of marriage.
The singles are the real gems, especially “Justboy”, which is arguably the best song in their entire discography. It’s a top-notch blend of grunge, pop and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s just the best. Then, after that, you have the most schizophrenic song on the album, “Kill the Old, Torture Their Young”. The first few seconds are single guitar strings being plucked and the whispered words of “This. Will. Kill.” and that’s when the snare drum slams and the breakdown starts. Yep, an honest-to-God breakdown with double kick, screaming and everything in between. Then it takes a different compositional approach to the other songs and slams on the brakes. It stays chilled for a good few minutes before becoming a huge, grungy sing-along that fades into a math outro. It’s simultaneously the heaviest and softest song on Blackened Sky, and it makes far more sense than it should.
“Convex Concave” is a great little song that’s got a lot going for it but then “57” appears from nowhere and becomes one of the record’s highlights. This is the poppiest song of the album, outlining Neil’s final ‘over her’ moment. He’s come to terms with the past and is moving on. Drummer Ben Johnston lends his American-toned voice to the chorus, adding a new dimension to the vocals. This is particularly impressive considering that he’s singing this while switching between 5/4, 4/4 and 3/4 at several points throughout “57”. In short, this song kicks all of the ass.
All of it.
Unfortunately, the rest of the songs fail to attain the lofty standard set for them. They aren’t bad, it’s just that tracks like “Justboy” and “57” totally overpower them and make them seem weak by comparison. This leaves Blackened Sky feeling a bit hit-or-miss. Six great songs means six dodgy songs, which is never a good thing and it does limit the album somewhat.
At the end of the day, though, Blackened Sky is a great debut. It’s a bit top-heavy, but the first four songs and “57” are more than enough to justify the sticker price. Songs like “Joy.Discovery.Invention”, “27”, “57”, “Kill the Old, Torture Their Young” and especially “Justboy” spit in the face of the formulaic music industry and show what real talent is capable of. Mixing grunge, punk, metal, pop, rock and hardcore should be an unmitigated disaster, but Blackened Sky is a treasure. Buy it and fall in love with it.