Innovative ‘Dead Silence’ makes quite a bit of noise
Music Review | 3 out of 5 stars
Published: Monday, September 10, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 10, 2012 07:09
Melodic Canadian punk band Billy Talent has been performing and releasing albums for thirteen years, but it has yet to hit the mainstream success many fans believe it deserves. The band’s new album “Dead Silence” is unlikely to further their popularity, but the album’s change in sound reflects the band’s ever-present desire to develop and evolve.
Billy Talent began by performing under the name Pezz in 1993, but the band changed its name shortly thereafter due to legal issues. A fascination with the guitarist Billy Tallent of Michael Turner’s novel “Hard Core Logo” led to the band’s new moniker.
The band is known for its fusion of punk, pop and even ska. Its first self-titled, full-length album was mostly anger-ridden punk, but each album since then has seen an infusion of various new musical inspirations that have each made its mark on the band. The band’s new album is the first of its full-length albums that is not self-titled, and the change in their formula is not just in the name. Where Billy Talent was previously relentlessly upbeat — especially in the case of the relentlessly catchy “Billy Talent II” (2006) — “Dead Silence” is slightly longer and less immediately gripping.
With its incredibly unique sound, it has been difficult for the band to release many songs without some musical overlap. Their new track, “Hanging by a Thread,” has a guitar intro that sounds extremely similar to the intro of “Pins & Needles” from “Billy Talent II,” although this is not specifically a bad aspect – especially if you are a big fan of their sound. It is, after all, the melodic mingling of lead singer Benjamin Kowalewicz’s voice and Ian D’Sa’s lead guitar that make Billy Talent so distinctive.
“Lonely Road to Absolution,” the first track off “Dead Silence,” is slow for Billy Talent and, at one minute and fifteen seconds, is clearly just an intro for what is to come. For fans of their more riotous sound, however, the pop-style beginning is somewhat worrisome. The second track and first single released from the album, “Viking Death March,” is more along their usual lines. It seems a slow start just makes for a better moment later on when the slamming guitars of previous Billy Talent albums come back into play. One repeated phrase, “Down on your knees /You don’t look so tall/Cracking the whip on the backs of the poor,” gives a taste of how the band has moved from the meaningless rants of their first album to slightly more culturally and politically relevant lyrics.
“Surprise Surprise” is a return to the band’s more rambunctious roots. A simple introductory guitar riff leads to a repeated chorus of, “Surprise surprise/You’re much better looking when you’re in disguise/Surprise surprise/And this revolution has been brought to you by/Those who seem to think we don’t care/And those who seem to think we’re not aware.” Kowalewicz toes the line between an almost grating voice and a perfectly intense one, but alongside the rough guitar riffs and clipped drumbeats, the entire package tends to work very well.
“Cure for the Enemy” harkens back nicely to the intensity of “Billy Talent” (2003) and changes the progression of the album for the first time to a more minor key. The addition of bassist Jon Gallant and Ian D’Sa’s backing vocals adds a welcome change to the recognizable purity of Kowalewicz’s vocals. This song seems to be the turning point for the album, as the last tracks are enjoyably heavier for a change. Considering the band’s previously excellent work with heavy sound, it is difficult to listen to the lighter version of Billy Talent that dominates the first part of the album while knowing what they could be doing instead.
Overall, “Dead Silence’s” poppy guitar riffs and minor changes in lyrical content don’t detract from the fact that Billy Talent has consistently released a unique brand of excellent punk-rock for over ten years.
This is an even greater feat considering the fact that members of the band have experienced intense health scares along the way to success and that some of their close friends have passed away through the years.
Fans of previous albums will recognize the characteristic sound of Billy Talent throughout the entirety of “Dead Silence,” but there are certainly new aspects to it, which are both risky and engaging.