I recently decided to play Bring Me the Horizon’s latest single, “Medicine”, back-to-back with “Pray for Plagues”, their 2006 deathcore breakthrough. The shock value of hearing those two tracks in succession highlights the unfathomable songwriting growth the band has experienced over the past 12 years while serving as a reminder of frontman Oli Sykes complicated past – something he still seems to be trying to outrun.
By now, you’re surely aware that Bring Me the Horizon’s new album Amo is unlike anything you’ve ever heard from the band, something that feels wholly unsurprising in light of 2015’s alt-rock excursion, That’s the Spirit. That the band have completed a full metalcore metamorphosis into something nearly uncategorizable is phenomenally impressive. That they’ve done so from within a cocoon of their own making – no producers, no co-writers – is jaw-dropping.
The breadcrumbs leading to Amo can be traced back to the addition of keyboardist and engineer Jordan Fish on 2013’s Sempiternal. While the band showed their first signs of life on There is a Hell in 2010, it’s now unmistakable that the songwriting vision of Fish made an unequivocal impact on the band’s trajectory – he and Sykes now serve as one of the most fascinating duos in alternative music. Just call them the new Stump and Wentz.
It feels like years have passed since “Mantra” was released last August as Amo’s first single – a red herring if there ever was one. We can now realize that grungy track as just one ingredient in a concoction that finds Bring Me the Horizon exploring electronica and pop rock in equal measure. That “Mantra” is immediately followed on the album tracklist by “Nihilist Blues” featuring Grimes (without a doubt the most ambitious and peculiar song the band has ever written) feels perfectly appropriate.
For most listeners, new and unexpected sonic explorations like “Nihilist Blues”, “In the Dark” or “Why You Gotta Kick Me When I’m Down?” will take multiple spins to fully digest. Oddly enough, the schizophrenic nature of Amo and its constant genre leaps serve as the perfect entry for a fully streaming generation, yet still functions best as a sum of parts, especially when including the blippy, 1975-ish interludes.
Album opener “I Apologize if You Feel Something” sets the stage for the story Amo wishes to tell, often dealing with the confusing and sometimes messy nature of relationships. It’s here that Sykes first delivers lines that seem in response to the dissolving of his marriage with Hannah Snowdon, the hazy-yet-troubling details of which still hover over Sykes and the rest of the band. It’s clear that he’s still searching for the culprit, often finding his own reflection, as on “Wonderful Life”: “’Lone, getting high on a Saturday night / I’m on the edge of a knife / Nobody cares if I’m dead or alive / Oh, what a wonderful life”.
We’ll all find our own ways to process what we know of Sykes and whether his self-deprecation is worth of empathy. Is it a complicated kind of progress when he finds a sensitive side on tracks like “Mother Tongue”, which implores his wife Alissa Salls to speak in her native Portuguese when expressing her love? At a bare minimum, it feels like the right kind of growth. Whether in words or sound, Amo is rife with the kind of palpable inner wrestling that is unavoidably compelling.
When Amo loses its footing, it can be tied solely to the band’s decision to self-produce. Tracks like “Sugar Honey Ice & Tea” highlight moments when a producer could have taken a chorus or melody to another level. Instead, Sykes sometimes finds himself stumbling over awkward phrasings or nearly nonsensical lyrics. Even in those moments, the band’s sudden pop sensibilities are hard to deny – by my third listen, I was singing along to nearly every song.
All of this brings me back to “Medicine”, a track that caused an uproar amongst old guard fans and once again solidified Bring Me the Horizon as one of Britain’s most essential rock bands. As the sonic inverse of first single “Mantra”, “Medicine” finds the band very coyly trolling us all. As the ying and yang of an album that now has to be considered when discussing the band’s best releases, Bring Me the Horizon have proven that great songs can come in a variety of packages and great bands can still find new ways to get even better.
The fact that Bring Me the Horizon’s metalcore days are far behind them will continue to be a bitter pill for some people to swallow. For the rest of us, a dose of levity and melody are a small step toward salving old wounds.
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.