Right around this time last year, we thought we figured out Bring Me The Horizon. Their third full-length Sempiternal was the perfect blend of the rowdy, party-metal from Suicide Season and Count Your Blessings with the mature, haunting sounds of There is a Hell, Believe Me I’ve Seen It. There is a Heaven, Let’s Keep it a Secret., and the melding of those two sounds made way for an introduction to more electronics and synth lines with the addition of Jordan Fish. The melodies were still present, but so was the bold, brash lyrics of frontman Oli Sykes, and while they were excessively profane, they also depicted a man at war with himself, which made it easy for fans to cling to. All was right in the world, and Bring Me the Horizon was safely atop the metalcore scene, selling out a show at England’s world-famous Wembley Stadium long before they even took the stage.
We thought we had it all figured out. Then, in October of 2014, Bring Me the Horizon released a new single called “Drown,” and everything changed.
Powered by an arena-ready chorus, “Drown” saw Bring Me the Horizon take an even more melodic turn than the one they took on tracks like “Can You Feel My Heart” on Sempiternal. The track was a jarring shift in sound, but given the fact that it was only a single, there was speculation that it was merely released to tide fans over before the band’s next full-length, which would likely go back to the aggression fans were used to. The resulting full-length, That’s the Spirit, is not what you’d expect, no matter what you were expecting.
The shift in sound that “Drown” exhibits is still present on That’s the Spirit, which finds the band experimenting even more with electronic elements and synthesizers. There’s album opener “Doomed,” for example, with its techno-esque synth line providing the backbone for the first verse, delivered by Sykes in a very subdued tone. The slowed-down love song “Follow You” finds the band implementing a minimalistic synth akin to bands like The XX. Fish brings a very new flavor to “Run,” which opens as if it were a glossy pop track before guitarist Lee Malia and drummer Matt Nicholls enter the fray during the chorus, turning back towards the sound fans are used to hearing from Bring Me the Horizon.
While there are very obvious examples of the band experimenting with their sound, there are still tracks for fans of the band that have a more “vintage” feel to them. Pounding single “Happy Song” shows that Sykes has maintained his same bravado, with a drudging, pessimistic look at the use of music to cope. “True Friends” is cut from that same mold, using a catchy chorus and Sykes’s harsh screams to accent a driving riff from Malia that gives the track a real bite. “What You Need” begins with an introduction that features bassist Matt Kean, before erupting into the song’s chorus. The song’s finale ends with Malia ripping a solo before the last repitition of the chorus, showing that a newfoud love for electronic effects and keyboards has not diminished the roles of the other musicians.
Somewhere in between the tracks that show a complete shift in sound and the tracks that are reminiscent of the band’s older material are a few tracks that attempt to do both, some of which producing the best moments of That’s the Spirit. “Throne,” a track about overcoming adversity and betrayal, uses vocal sampling to accentuate its chorus, and creates a chorus that can be sung along to instantly. Beginning with a blistering beat from Nicholls, “Avalanche” showcases the band’s ability to flow from a fast-paced chorus to a set of understated verses, changing pace without any notice. Then there’s the track that started it all, “Drown,” which finds its way onto the back half of the album. Rather than simply throwing the track on in an attempt to attain more album sales, Bring Me the Horizon took their most massive single to date back into the studio to fine-tune a few things. The result is a track that contains even more intricate instrumentation, particularly from Malia, who shines brightest on the track.
As talented as the musicians in Bring Me the Horizon are, the buck ultimately stops at the feet of Oli Sykes, who continues to be one of the most interesting lyricists in the scene today. Most of his themes on Sempiternal are still present, from his comtempt for religion (seen on “What You Need” and “Blasphemy”), to his bleak view of his own life (“Doomed,” “Drown,”), or his general disdain for the world around him (“True Friends”). However, he’s definitely writing from a few different perspectives this time around, as he shows a sense of optimism (“Happy Song,” albeit the track feels like it’s meant to be sarcastic). Sykes also creates a track that will become a battle cry for many in “Throne,” and actually writes a love song (or at least his version of one) on “Follow You.” Now that he’s focusing more on a melodic vocal delivery, which takes many different forms throughout the album, it appears he’s trying to reflect that change in his lyrics as well. The results of his lyrical shifts are a mixed bag, as he comes off as heavy-handed on tracks like “True Friends” or “What You Need.” A lot of the tracks will have lyrics that sound like you’ve heard them before, but these can be chalked up to the inevitable growing pains of a band who’s tinkering with its sound as irrevocablyas Bring Me the Horizon are.
By the time “Oh No” ends, the listener will be left with little doubt that the entire scope of Bring Me the Horizon’s career has changed. This bears both positive and negative consequences, as the band’s more melodic approach helps to showcase the talent of its musicians, but there will certainly be criticisms that the album strays too far from what made Bring Me the Horizon so successful in the first place. However, the band’s main ideology has remained the same, even though their sound has undergone a near-complete transformation. There are evident growing pains with all of these changes going on, which makes That’s the Spirit a very uneven listen, but there are certainly plenty of memorable moments to keep any fan of the band interested. While the verdict is still out on whether these changes will prove to be better or worse for the band, That’s the Spirit further affirms that Bring Me the Horizon is a band that will garner a great deal of attention and showcase their vast array of talents on each release.