Year 5, Day 2: Billy Talent asks “What are you afraid of?” With “Afraid of Heights”

Year 5, Day 2: Billy Talent – Afraid of Heights

front-cover-digi-cd-copy

Track List

  1. Big Red Gun
  2. Afraid of Heights
  3. Ghost Ship of the Cannibal Rats
  4. Louder Than the DJ
  5. The Crutch
  6. Rabbit Down the Hole
  7. Time Bomb Ticking Away
  8. Leave Them All Behind
  9. Horses & Chariots
  10. This is Our War
  11. February Winds
  12. Afraid of Heights (Reprise)
  13. Half Past Dead (Japanese bonus track)

About the Album

Afraid of Heights is the fifth studio album from Canadian punk rock band, Billy Talent. The album was recorded from January to April 2016 and released on July 29th 2016 through Warner Music Canada/The End Records. It is the band’s first album in four years (since Dead Silence in 2012) as well as the band’s first album without  drummer Aaron Solowoniuk, when he suffered a relapse in his MS and is taking a hiatus to recover. Jordan Hastings of Alexisonfire recorded drums and performed on the subsequent tour with the band. The album peaked at number one on several charts around the world included: Canada, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The album is nominated for a Juno Award  for Best Rock Album of the Year.

Thoughts on the Album

There few bands whose newest releases I eagerly await. Billy Talent is one of those bands. Their fifth studio album, Afraid of Heights was well worth the four year wait. I love when bands take their time in recording albums, and turn into annual releases like a Call of Duty video game. You get to see how much work and how much the band’s sound and style has changed from the last album.

What you get from that four year time span between LPs is arguably their best LP to date. Afraid of Heights takes the catchy anthems of Billy Talent I and Billy Talent II and fuses them with the gravity and weight of Dead Silence. As mentioned previously, this is the band’s first album without founding member and drummer Aaron Solowoniuk. With Solowoniuk’s blessing, Jordan Hastings of Alexisonfire filled in (both in the studio and on tour).

The album is centered around the two-piece title track, Afraid of Heights. It is the album’s centerpiece and the best tracks on the album as well. The single version (and second track) is a melodic-punk bomb whose thesis is about conquering your fears and taking that one (big) step into the unknown. Afraid of Heights makes the statement that anything can be conquered through unity: fear, hatred, destruction, addiction, etc. The second part of Afraid of Heights is the power rock ballad reprise. The reprise slows it down a notch and launches into a sweeping and (rather) uplifting guitar solo. The lyrics change from the original version, with a sense of hope and security that replaces a sense of fear, hesitance, and apprehension. It closes out the album beautifully and emotionally.

(Side note: it seems that this album perfectly matches the and rising of populism in 2016)

There seems to be prevalent questions that echoes throughout the album: what are you afraid of? Why are we still afraid of the heights of openness and humanitarianism, especially since we were promised by our parents and grandparents that we would never have to be afraid of anything in western society? The lyrics capture this moment in time perfectly.

The album marks a maturation since the days and II. The six minute long, Rabbit Down the Hole highlights this, tackling the issues of drug addiction and religious zealotry The track highlights not only a matured sound, but matured lyrics as well. The song reminds me of White Sparrows from Billy Talent III.

Tracks like Big Red Gun and This Is Our War take aim at some of America’s biggest political landscape and issues. The irony is not lost on the fact that they come from north of the border.This Is Our War was seemingly written in response to last year’s poisonous election cycle/year. Big Red Gun, tackles America’s trigger happy love for guns and firearms and the subsequent toll that this freedom has taken on our society.

Other highlights: Horses & Chariots has some heavy, Muse like influence on it, sounding almost like Muse‘s Knights of CydoniaLouder than the DJ is a classic rocker that cranks up the volume to 11 and proudly declares that rock’s demise is premature. Not my favorite track on the album, but it gets by.

Conclusion

It seems like the 49th parallel has been a challenge to conquer for the Canadian band. They are massive in their home country, and in Europe, and in Japan. But in the States, the band is relegated to playing small venues. Afraid of Heights is the band’s challenge to conquer the 49th parallel. Afraid of Heights is the band’s strongest album to date and arguably their most political as well. It is a cohesive album that is deeper and represents a more consistent maturation that should net the band success in the States.

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