Band creates own Guitar Hero

Despite their guitar heroics and fretboard wizardry, Billy Talent has always been excluded from the fraternity of bands featured in rhythm-rock video games.

Members of Billy Talent perform at the 2007 Juno Awards in Saskatoon

Despite their guitar heroics and fretboard wizardry, Billy Talent has always been excluded from the fraternity of bands featured in rhythm-rock video games.

So the Streetsville, Ont., rockers have taken matters into their own calloused hands with new album, Billy Talent III, which is available Tuesday in two versions.

For an extra $10 or so, fans can pick up the deluxe version which includes a second disc of the album’s 11 songs stripped of guitars and the notes for all the tracks, so budding musicians can play along and try to match guitarist Ian D’Sa riff for riff.

“We thought (the idea) was amazing right away because no one else had done it before,” D’Sa said.

“We’d never had any songs in ‘Guitar Hero,’ so we decided to make our own, in a way.”

Of course, the gimmick also gives fans an incentive to actually buy a physical copy of the new disc, even though Billy Talent has never really had any trouble selling records.

The first two instalments in the band’s trilogy of self-titled albums were certified platinum a combined five times over in Canada, and Billy Talent III seems similarly primed for commercial success.

Featuring hard-hitting riffs buffed to a glossy sheen by superproducer Brendan O’Brien, III downplays the band’s pop-punk leanings in favour of a more visceral, classic-rock approach.

The band says O’Brien — who has produced records by Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, AC/DC, Stone Temple Pilots and Rage Against the Machine — contributed to the shift in sound.

“The album’s got more layering and it’s more dynamic than the last couple records,” said bassist Jon Gallant.

Yet the album’s slick sound is tempered by lyrics spun from a rough period in D’Sa’s and lead singer Ben Kowalewicz’s lives.

“When me and Ben were writing lyrics, both of us were going through some tough times — I’d just come out of a four-year relationship and he’d just lost someone close to him,” said D’Sa, later noting that a family member of Kowalewicz’s had died.

“It’s just a little more personal of a record.”

Devil on my Shoulder, the album’s blazing opening track, is about a friend of D’Sa’s who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

And first single Rusted From the Rain — which is currently No. 14 on Billboard’s Canadian Hot 100 singles chart — is a “metaphor for a guy who’s been beat down in a relationship,” D’Sa said.

The United States is one of the few markets Billy Talent has yet to crack, even though the band built a sizable fanbase in Germany, and was featured on the cover of U.K. music mag Kerrang, which announced a “transition from mass cult appeal to mainstream stardom is about to begin.”

While D’Sa concedes that finding a way to break through south of the border is a goal for the band, he believes that they’ll continue to be successful even without stateside attention.

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