To acquaint myself with Billy Talent, I had to first recognize their status in the Northern border. The band manages to chart consistently high in Canada, where they are considered punk-rock legends; in the US, they break with generally the same consistency, only in lower numbers. And with the notable exception of their newest release: Crisis of Faith, it would be simple to interpret the numbers surrounding this release as the result of a legacy act trying to appease hardcore fans after a nearly 20 year run but after listening to the album, it becomes clear that this is far from the reality.
Billy Talent stays committed to their formula for invigorating punk, but the band shows an eagerness to experiment. The horns are cued, Rivers Cuomo is featured, and lead singer Ben Kowazelic reflects on his misadventures while “Hanging Out With All The Wrong People.” The sound of this band is as brash and male as ever. The needs of this audience speaks to the catchy camaraderie of the band’s songwriting. There is even room for a moment of tenderness. “I Beg To Differ (This Will Get Better)” is the band’s stab at maturity and compassion. It’s a friend with plenty of life experience trying to talk someone down.
“Forgiveness I +II” opens the album with risks in instrumentation and song structure but it is led with the punch that veteran listeners would expect out of a Billy Talent album. The additions are unsurprising, the band is only just cementing a period of albums that are not self-titled. No longer bound by name, but still accredited as commercial punk giants, they are able to stir their somewhat predictable formula of dad-friendly punk with some more nuanced production choices that add an air of drama. Kowalezci’s voice maintains its urgency through the majority of the album. Softening slightly for the unflattering love song “For You.” The faster, more urgent cuts that make up most of the album are better depictions of the craft the band has made and the ease with which they perform it: a familiar combination of authenticity and embarrassment. In defense of the band, well respected acts from the scene have doled out and swallowed their fair share of embarrassment. If The Damned are still living and thriving, then surely Billy can too…just to a lesser extent.