Reinvention is no simple task. It requires patience, talent and a firm belief in who you are and who you want to be. There has been no shortage of metalcore bands over the past few years to distance themselves from an overcrowded scene in an attempt to join the radio rock masses, some more convincing than others. Finally, a successful blueprint for the crossover has been laid.
Maybe it was learning from the mistakes of their predecessors, or maybe it’s the fact that they’re just that much more talented than their peers, but Bring Me the Horizon have completed their metamorphosis in splendid fashion. Their new album, That’s the Spirit, will make you question everything you thought you knew about the band – right before you realize how much sense this makes.
Bring Me the Horizon’s transformation has been anything but sudden. In fact, the band has been shedding their former selves with each subsequent release, slowly building a rock goliath from unimpressive beginnings. Laughter ceased with the release of 2011’s shockingly progressive There Is a Hell, before the band landed the final blow with 2013’s post-hardcore masterpiece, Sempiternal.
Even as that release forever shifted the dialogue about the band, Bring Me the Horizon were far from finished – or satisfied. Born from the turmoil surrounding vocalist Oli Sykes’ recovery from a drug addiction and hammered home by the band’s self-proclaimed desire to be one of the biggest rock bands in the world, That’s the Spirit indulges itself in mainstream rock propensities and nu metal curiosity. It’s ear candy to the extreme, but it’s also surprisingly smart.
Bring Me the Horizon could have easily chosen someone like David Bendeth to man the boards for such an excursion, but instead decided to keep things in house. Keyboardist Jordan Fish, who played a key role in creating the impressive electronic soundscape found on Sempiternal, worked side by side with Sykes in the creation of their new record. Gone are the brutal breakdowns and guttural screams that were once the band’s calling cards – in are unique electronic samples, showering synthesizers and multi-layered vocals, rich in melody.
Listening to album opener “Doomed” is like hearing the band for the first time. The deep emotional pull found in Sykes’ delivery is still present, but here it comes in forms of restraint, capped by a beautifully dark falsetto as he sings, “I think we’re doomed” during the song’s chorus. This isn’t a generic rip-off – the song sounds like nothing you’ve heard this year, with it’s odd, eerie electronic background. The sinister sonic musings of the band drip from every note, but this time around the packaging is much different.
Lead single “Throne” is a microcosm of the album’s tendencies, relying on a heavy synthesizers and bass and utilizing Sykes’ voice as an exciting new instrument inside the mix. While Minutes to Midnight-era Linkin Park comparisons are almost too easy to make, they’re impossible to ignore. Sykes’ massive chorus of “So you can throw me to the wolves / Tomorrow I will come back, leader of the whole pack / Beat me black and blue / Every wound will shape me, every scar will build my throne” sounds like a moment straight out of Chester Bennington’s playbook.
However, to boil That’s the Spirit down to one influence would be to overlook a vast array of new tricks in the band’s playbook. “Happy Song” immerses itself in post-grunge and alternative rock sounds as Sykes channels his inner Kurt Cobain for the gritty lines of, “If I sing along a little fucking louder / To a happy song, I’ll be alright”. Guitarist Lee Malia digs deep at grimy notes that add to the track’s dark presentation.
The band hits a groove on “What You Need”, flashing pop tendencies with smooth backing vocals and polished guitar riffs. “Follow You” is a beautifully constructed track, complete with programmed drums and exciting samples that create a hazy vibe underneath Sykes’ surprisingly peaceful delivery as he sings, “You could drag me through hell if it meant I could hold your hand”. Meanwhile, “Blasphemy” features a sweet noodling guitar passage before kicking into its final fiery chorus.
It’s hard to poke holes in That’s the Spirit, but if you had to complain, there are moments when a producer likely could have reigned the band in. “Run” feels convoluted with too many moving parts while “Oh No” closes the album with a boring dance beat and cheesy lyrics that don’t fit with the rest of the record.
However, oversight from a Bendeth-like producer is a double-edged sword and likely would have castrated the band’s experimentation and resulted in much more generic output. Seeing as how this is the band’s first DIY journey, it’s easy to overlook a few hiccups when, on the whole, That’s the Spirit is better than almost anything else out there.
What the aforementioned bands failed to realize during their own reinventions is that just because you change your sound doesn’t mean you have to change your identity. This new rendering of Bring Me the Horizon is very much true to the band, regardless of what you hear through the speakers. The same dark undertones course through the record’s veins, but this time, flashes of light break through the cracks. Change is here. And, in this case, it sounds superb.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.