Billy Talent is a band that can’t be pigeonholed. If you’re a fan of the band, you know that already. “Afraid of Heights” is the follow-up to 2012’s “Dead Silence” and it’s a highly politicized, substantial album that makes it even more difficult to classify their sound.
The first three songs on the album barrel along in restrained fury. ‘Big Red Gun’ starts off with a big bassline. It sounds like the initial rumblings of a building about to collapse. Then, it launches into a ferocious anthem that will embed itself firmly into your skull; prepare to sing your heart out when they tackle this one live. The next two songs continue in this vein. ‘Ghost Ship of Cannibal Rats’ uses the tabloid story of a ghost ship of rats heading for shore as an allegory for the moral panics created by the mass media. As the opening salvo retreats, the album starts to open up and incorporate different musical styles and sounds. ‘Louder than the DJ’ bears more than a passing resemblance to The Cramps with Kowalewicz’s delivery even containing a hint of Lux Interior at his most maniacal.
‘Rabbit Down the Hole’ is the undoubted centerpiece of the album. It begins with a finger-picked guitar refrain that wouldn’t sound out of place on side two of ‘Physical Graffiti’… that is until the colossal riff kicks in. If the band can pull this off live, it will take the enamel off your teeth.
Kowalewicz’s voice is in rude health throughout, hitting previously unheard of heights. Sounding equal parts Mike Patton and Bruce Dickinson, he manages to perfectly vocalize the chaos going on around him. The lyrics themselves are the usual mix of social and political issues but never sound like flippant sloganeering. There is a weight and heft to them that compliments the barrage of guitars and battered drums.
The album is a perfect blend of its influences with no two songs sounding the same. It’s an album of substance and with the current state of the world seeming so fragile, it is especially apt.