by Robert Defina
Billy Talent

Billy Talent
Afraid Of Heights
Warer Music Group

Billy Talent’s self-titled debut was somewhat revolutionary for its time. The raging “River Below” caught eyes of Punk, Rock and Alternative fans alike. Instant fame caught on quickly for Billy Talent, which produced more smash hits with its second go-round on Billy Talent II. Its third record, Billy Talent III, lacked the same popularity, and its mid-tempo appeal came up short in comparison to its predecessors. On album four, “Viking Death March” brought back the old sound, accompanied with many other Pop-inspired tracks on Dead Silence, which also failed to gain much traction. Billy Talent’s career has succeeded regardless, though. The troupe of Canadian boys has managed to keep a consistent fan base throughout its entire 13-year duration.

Four years after its last record, Billy Talent presents Afraid of Heights, a collection of songs that the band hopes will restore its image as a group of Punk Rockers, thematically arranged to deal with the troubles of commitment. The irony of the album’s name is that there is not too much new ground broken, and the band still seems un-evolved from the sounds it succeeded with in 2003 and 2006 with its first two records. In typical Billy Talent, and to a broader extent, Punk-Rock fashion, songs that don’t revolve around matters of the heart are politically fueled in the vein of “Viking Death March.” “Ghost Ship of Cannibal Rats” is the most obvious manifestation of this. If the name wasn’t enough of an indicator, the lyrics do a good job of selling that old Punk-Rock mantra with, “Don’t be afraid of the few from the economy class.” Instrumentally, there are tinges of “River Below,” but anything comparable to the first record sort of pales in contrast. Lead single “Afraid of Heights” finds ways to be a unique inclusion. Admittedly, the track caters to a catchier beat and is far more Pop-driven than the rest of the record, but it feels refreshed and nods to Billy Talent II without feeling overly imitative. Where things go awry is on “Louder than the DJ,” whose chorus is so schoolyard immature that it’s sure to do well in certain markets but its message is diluted by its juvenile sound. The band is attempting to throw non-Rock genres under the bus but using “Louder than the DJ”’s incessantly irritating chorus to make the point sort of voids it altogether. Afraid of Heights’ more positive moments include the brilliant verses of “The Crutch” (although the chorus thwarts all that comes before it); the Metallica-tinged “Rabbit Down the Hole,” which feels more natural than expected; the pianos on the chorus of “Horses and Chariots” add a nice touch; and the raging electrics on “February Winds.”

Afraid of Heights is not a bad album, and has a lot of worthwhile music on it. The problem is Billy Talent is overreaching in its message that Rock music is still going strong. Unfortunately, Afraid of Heights, like Billy Talent’s last two records, showcases the limits associated with this genre – everything you’re hearing, you have likely heard before in one way or another. After five records, it’s a little disappointing to see a band with so much promise still playing the same chords and vocal notes, and perhaps even more disappointingly, treading over the same lyrical content time after time. This fifth installment (if you don’t count Watoosh!) will please hardcore fans of the band, and will likely be more memorable to the rest than Billy Talent III or Dead Silence, but it still feels far more afraid of heights than the band would like to admit.

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