Crisis Of Faith

Billy Talent

Crisis Of Faith

Arriving 20 years after the release of their DIY debut EP, Billy Talent’s Crisis of Faith provides ample evidence that the Toronto alt-rock veterans can still spark a raging circle pit with the drop of a power chord. But it also shows just how far they can stretch their punk roots without making them snap. Originally, Billy Talent’s sixth album was intended to be a sort of greatest-hits compendium of new tracks that the band began releasing periodically online in 2019. “We wanted to release songs individually as they were done, and then eventually put them all together,” frontman Ben Kowalewicz tells Apple Music. “And then the world fucking shut down.” But even though the pandemic scuttled that release strategy, Crisis of Faith retains a mixtape approach, veering through sax-powered prog-rock odysseys, funky indie-rock jams, and Weezer homages (complete with a Rivers Cuomo cameo) while still giving old-school fans plenty of opportunities to stage-dive.
Such eclecticism is reflected in the album’s topical concerns, which, according to guitarist Ian D’Sa, “essentially sum up what happened from 2016 up to this point.” That includes big-picture proclamations on climate change and social justice, deeply personal reflections on both losing a parent and becoming one, and at least one song inspired by binge-watching trashy TV shows. “You have all this emotion and anger and strife in the songs, which are really important to us as a band,” Kowalewicz says. “But we aren’t just that. We have a little bit of this ambidextrous, chameleon feel—we can move in and out of different sonic places, but it still feels like us. I love that this is a 10-song record, and I love that it has all of these different kinds of paints that you can choose from.” Here, Kowalewicz and D’Sa take us through Crisis of Faith, one color at a time.
“Forgiveness I + II” Ian D’Sa: “The whole song is about a journey, so we wanted to take the listener on a musical journey as well. That’s why it’s a seven-minute, up-and-down type thing. The first half was definitely inspired by a lot of prog music like Rush, and then the second half is very mellow and more Pink Floyd-y. I got my friend Dennis Passley—who’s with the Arkells—to play the sax.” Ben Kowalewicz: “We’re at a point in our career where we can do songs like this, and it just shows another dimension to the band. And it was fun to not really be constrained by what a normal rock-radio single should be. We never would’ve considered a saxophone solo before, but now it’s just like, ‘Well, why the fuck not?’”
“Reckless Paradise” ID: “This was inspired a bit by the Sandy Hook shooting and just reading about this kind of thing happening over and over again and nothing being done about it. But it’s also about climate change, of course, and the Australian wildfire.” BK: “Words are words, but at a certain point, we need to start taking action. And I think that this song is a realization that we can sit there behind our computers and say, ‘Oh, that’s awful,’ but you need to take the time out of your life to actually implement some change—whether it be within your own circle of friends or your household. It’s important to keep that narrative going, because god knows we need brighter days for all of us.”
“I Beg to Differ (This Will Get Better)” BK: “This one almost felt like ‘Nothing to Lose, Part Two,’ in some ways for us. It’s about knowing that you’re not alone and knowing that there’s people out there that love you, and that when things feel like they’re going to bottom out, you need to keep going and keep trying.”
“The Wolf” BK: “This is a song about being told you have an ailment and figuring out how to navigate that. It’s about loss.” ID: “Shortly after this was written, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, so the song really hit home for me, because it was kind of telling the same story as what my mom was going through. It’s a hard song for me to talk about. But it’s also about remembering the light that person brought into this world.”
“Reactor” ID: “At the time I wrote this, everything going on in the news—with the Black Lives Matter protests and George Floyd being killed—was really affecting everyone. And I was thinking of my own experiences with racism, and that came out in the verse lyrics about how [racism] is an invisible poison that gets spread around. And this relates back to the whole rise of nationalism and everything that Trump was doing. So, the verses are a commentary on that, and then the chorus is more about how we can fight that together.”
“Judged” ID: “We wanted to hearken back to a Black Flag delivery on this one—that raw anger. The first line, in particular, is directed at Trump.” BK: “The song embodies that emotion of people making their decisions about you before you even walk in the room, just because your partner may be different than what the norm is, or your skin color may not be the same. We need to drop these preconceived notions and stereotypes that we have about people and just start accepting people for who they are. We’re so quick to judge, and we need to start treating people with a little bit more ease and respect and try to be a little bit more open-minded.”
“Hanging Out With All the Wrong People” ID: “This is a lighter one. It’s really just a collection of stories in one song that all kind of stemmed from the theme of getting duped or hanging out with all the wrong people. Because of the pandemic, I was obviously watching a lot more Netflix, and shows like Dirty John and the NXIVM cult documentaries—you think to yourself, ‘How do people end up in these situations?!’ So, this song kind of grew out of that idea.” BK: “It has a Cake/Strokes kind of vibe, and it has a little bit more of a lightheartedness to it, and I think that’s an important angle to show as a band, because that’s really who we are, as people.”
“End of Me” (feat. Rivers Cuomo) ID: “I had the song and it sounded to me like Hendrix-meets-Weezer, and Ben was like, ‘We should get Rivers on this!’ And I’m like, ‘He’d never do that, man.’ And sure enough, we did reach out and he loved the tune.” BK: “It’s a very strange thing—when [Weezer’s] The Blue Album came out, we were just starting to figure out our instruments and used to cover ‘My Name Is Jonas.’ When Ian played me this song for the first time, my jaw dropped—it embodied that ’90s alt-rock Pinkerton vibe to me. We finished the song—it was mixed, mastered, done. But then, I had this epiphany moment, and I was just like, ‘We’ve got to fucking get Rivers.’ We’re not the kind of band that collaborates very much. But luckily, their manager knew us, and he was like, ‘Sure, I’ll send it to [Rivers].’ And then, we just didn’t hear anything for six weeks. But we checked our inbox one day, and he had fuckin’ sung on it. That was a pretty cool day for us.”
“One Less Problem” ID: “Lyrically, this is like a midlife crisis type song—but it’s upbeat. It’s really about questioning where you are in life. And that’s happened to all of us in the pandemic—everybody had a lot of time to reflect on where they were in life and what they could do differently.”
“For You” BK: “This was the last song that we wrote. Ian and I had been working on the lyrics for a while, and we felt like we got sandbagged and boxed ourselves in. So, we just scrapped everything that we were working on because we weren’t hitting the nail on the head directly. But because the song itself is just beautiful, it came to be about true love—me coming at it from being a new father, and Ian coming at it from losing his mother, and realizing that love is still there. No matter if it’s a new life or if it’s the end of a chapter, that love is still the same. It ended up being this really beautiful song, and I think it’s probably my favorite song on the record.”

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