Sound — 8
When a band decides to go in a different musical direction, it is always a risky move that has the potential to divide fans. Canada's Billy Talent will likely find its fans feuding as well with its latest release, Billy Talent II. As a follow-up to its 2003 major label debut, it might just have too much of a new sound to keep all of its original fans. While the new album succeeds in often being melodic with a hard edge, it also has a much heavier helping of what many listeners may dread - love songs.
Is the album chock-full of oozing sentiment? Not at all. But it is toned down from the band's debut? Yes, but not enough to lose all its steam. Fans of the debut record may have enjoyed vocalist Ben Kowalewicz's trademark screams as a highlight in most of the songs. This time around, the screams are still there, but singing is given the priority. The songs are structured around the melodic guitar lines of Ian D'Sa and the vocal harmonies of Kowalewicz, which may give the impression to some that the band has lost some of its edge. But while Billy Talent (rounded out by bassist Jon Gallant and drummer Aaron Solowoniuk) has taken a different path, the band still has a few very memorable songs.
One of the standout tracks is Worker Bees, an anthem seemingly dedicated to nonconformity, strikes the right balance between a solid musical base and punk-rock angst. The song's intro and verses incorporates several different rhythmic changes that eventually build to a harmony-filled chorus. The introduction features a nice blending of the instruments, with the bass, drums, and guitar each making their own unique entrance to the song - you can almost see the drones marching in one by one along with the instruments.
It will be interesting to see fans of Billy Talent's first record react to a balladic song like Pins And Needles. The clean guitar intro, soon followed by a lower tempo beat, is a suitable backing given the topic of the song: love. What will follow is a heartfelt take on an imperfect relationship, but perhaps too much of a contrast to the band's scream-filled earlier hits. For the skeptical punk rockers who may be frightened of Billy Talent's softer side, the presence of a full-on ballad may be a tad disappointing. And while it's far from being a perfect ballad, the band members do deserve credit for being men enough to show their softer sides.
While there are songs like Worker Bees and Devil In A Midnight Mass, which are both catchy and filled with powerful rock elements, the CD also has a few songs that just don't have much to offer musically. It was probably not at all the band's intention, but Surrender has an uncanny resemblance to the Red Hot Chili Pepper's Otherside at the start of the song. Unfortunately, Surrender never goes anywhere interesting enough to establish its own unique sound.
Lyrics — 8
When you read the title of the opening track, Devil In A Midnight Mass, you might think that you're in store for a punk twist on, say, Iron Maiden's Two Minutes To Midnight. But the song carries a more newsworthy meaning, written about a priest who molested more than 150 kids over a 30-year period. Even with its contemporary meaning, the band still wisely wrote music with a driving energy that could fit amazingly well in a horror film. When vocalist Kowalewicz shouts, Silent night for the rest of my life, his emotional delivery allows the listeners to feel a bit of the real terror that the priest's victims felt.
With all the rage that was heard on Billy Talent's debut record, it is admittedly a bit surprising to hear a song like Pins And Needles. The tune about love gone wrong lays it all on the line with lyrics like, Is it worth the pain, with no one to blame? For all of my insecurities; How did I ever let you go? If you enjoyed the raw anger of The Ex off the first CD, this sudden change in tone may leave you longing for the angrier, screaming side of Billy Talent.
Overall Impression — 8
Say what you will about the band going soft, Billy Talent have not completely failed in its mission to find their more melodic side. While the band's harder edge has been shaved off a bit, there are still plenty of creatively inspired moments. The first song Devil In A Midnight Mass features probably the best guitar riff on the record and is the perfect example of what an opening track should sound like.
When a band includes so much screaming in a debut record - and wins plenty of fans over because of it - the sudden absence of it may leave listeners confused and annoyed. But hopefully the band's fans will not completely toss Billy Talent II aside simply because of a few more harmonies that were placed where angry rants might have been. Anger is a great selling point, but even a semi-punk band has a right to take a breather from the screaming sometimes.