They say there are two types of Biffy Clyro fan. Old and new. Before and after. Pre and post.
Like many, my love for Biffy has a watershed in Puzzle.
It’s not so much a judgement on the band as a function of the way my taste has changed – as Biffy Clyro brought their music to an enraptured mainstream I was craving heavier and heavier sounds.
My first exposure to this band was seeing them in a support slot at a venue at Southampton University in 2002, sandwiched between InMe – the flavour of the month at the time – and a surprisingly confrontational alt-rock band, Serafin.
My second was Blackened Sky. Biffy’s full-length debut was released in the spring of 2002 just as my world was perilously poised on a precipice it would soon embrace. It’s funny how albums stick with you after the worst of times.
Blackened Sky is a curious little so-and-so. Quirky and spasmodic, it somehow hinted at everything that later made Biffy Clyro an arena-filling rock band without giving any real indication of the future that was ahead of them.
Now, almost two decades removed, the band’s debut is recognisably Biffy and yet not. Despite its mixed response it remains my favourite work of theirs by some distance.
Right out of the blocks this tremendous album flits from infectious melody to furiously organic noise. Opener ‘Joy.Discovery.Invention’ boasts the first of countless transitions from one to the other; even today I can see Simon Neil stamping on the switch to make it happen out of nowhere.
In ’27’ Neil triggers the transition vocally rather than with a pedal and it’s impossible not to get carried away in the emotion of the moment. ‘Justboy’, which followed it as a single just as it does on the album, is a soaring rock classic with a chorus of oceanic proportions.
From its tremendous opening combo this record winds its way through highs and lows, louds and quiets, without ever displaying its seams.
‘The Go-Slow’ is the towering, organically glitchy early Biffy archetype and ‘Convex, Concave’ is a lo-fi but affecting canvas for Neil’s poetic, collapsing lyrics.
’57’ is the last of the album’s single releases. Its outstanding chorus, melodic chops and disarming optimism – musically, if not thematically – are difficult to resist.
This is an album of huge dexterity and bottomless imagination, utterly unlike anything else. Most importantly of all, the songs give as much in quality as they do complexity. Not a shred of Blackened Sky is gratuitous. Great rock tunes rule the day.
It is a special kind of cruel that Biffy’s later success causes Blackened Sky to be overlooked. Heavy without being heavy, smart without being smug, emotionally charged without being mawkish, it’s a stunning debut.
Fans of the band when it came out in 2002 might have been surprised when Biffy Clyro became what they became. But, on the evidence of this first record, none of us were surprised that they became something.
Blackened Sky came out in 2002 on Beggars Banquet.