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Wolves Of Winter

by Biffy Clyro

I originally sat down to critique Blink 182’s ‘Bored To Death’, but (fittingly enough) had to admit defeat after an hour’s fruitless searching for anything more interesting to talk about than the song’s jet-flanged drum intro! So it was with a palpable sense of relief that my ears subsequently settled upon this track instead, which, despite considerable sonic commonality with the Blink 182 record, immediately offered greater entertainment value by hopping playfully between 4/4 and 7/8 meters. To be fair, this is hardly a new departure in the history of rock, but what I particularly like in this case is the way the arrangement works to misdirect the listener about the metric changes on a number of occasions, effectively wrong-footing you with a downbeat that appears to come too early. Let me clarify what I mean…

My favourite example is the lead vocal in the first bar of each verse (0:50 and 2:05), which sets up a very clear alternating strong-weak stress pattern (eg. “how you gonna feel when there’s no-one to sup-port you?") and thus mugs you into thinking you’re listening to a 4/4 bar. It’s only when the band unexpectedly hit their downbeat seemingly an eighth-note early (under the last weak vocal syllable) that it becomes clear retrospectively that you missed the switch to 7/8 at the start of the verse. However, the use of deliberately mechanical ‘machine-gun’ eighth-note stabs during bars two and four of the first verse (and indeed during the outro chorus from 3:40) further confuses matters, because it obscures the natural musical stress patterns that normally allow listeners to distinguish between primary and subordinate beat divisions, and thereby identify the nature of the underlying metre — stress patterns which are, by contrast, much clearer from bar five of the verse at 1:01.

And it’s also nice to see two of my favourite guitar-solo arrangement tricks on display here too. The first involves setting up the expectation of a certain degree of rhythmic independence between what the soloist and and the backing parts are doing, and then briefly bringing everything back into rhythmic alignment for dramatic effect. In this instance, you can hear how the guitar progressively begins to go its own way from about 3:27, while the backing sticks to the riff pattern already heard at 3:14 — but then the kick, cymbals, bass, rhythm guitars, and solo guitar suddenly fall into step with each other for the five emphatic triplet eighth-notes at 3:32. Pure rock theatre! And the second hoary old trick is to drop out the whole band briefly before the end of the solo section, leaving the solo guitar in the spotlight as a momentary fill before the return of the subsequent full-band chorus texture — as you can hear Biffy Clyro doing at 3:38 here. An oldie, but nonetheless still a goodie.