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Bring Me the Horizon Go Beyond Metal on 'Amo'
Photo: Joshua Gordon
On August 9, 2018, billboards began appearing in major cities around the world, asking: "Do you wanna start a cult with me?" Amongst some occult imagery, only a phone number was offered. Callers heard a calm voice imploring, "Don't think, don't question, just believe." Fans quickly deduced that this was a tease for new music from Bring Me the Horizon.
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The speed with which the connection was made suggests that far from starting a cult, BMTH already were one, with a vast and loyal membership eager to hear new offerings, in the form of the band's sixth album, Amo.
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Given their career trajectory, from brutal deathcore to their current electronic-laced pop-rock, it's unusual that the British band have maintained and consistently grown their fan base through six albums — particularly because, in an aggressive music scene that values genre loyalty to a fault, BMTH have eschewed such an approach at almost every turn. As their sound became more influential, they changed; as they got bigger, they evolved; as their community grew wider, they reached beyond it for more unusual connections and collaborations.
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Amo isn't an end result for Bring Me the Horizon, merely another step in the journey. They didn't set out to make an album that features beatboxer Rahzel and pop experimentalist Grimes any more than they planned to have dubstep producer Skrillex on an album, but here they are. The cult has only grown with every creative reach.
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"For us, doing a more poppy record is a risk anyway," explains keyboardist Jordan Fish, who joined the band for 2013's Sempiternal. "What seemed like the safest option was to stick to what we'd done on the last record, because it'd worked. In terms of risk, it felt like our hands were tied. We just went with our gut and with what we wanted to do and hear."
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Fortunately for BMTH, doing what they want is fine with their devoted fans. After all, it's not easy to leave a cult, despite this current sound being vastly different than the church they signed up for.
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Vocalist Oli Sykes even uses a cult metaphor to relate Amo's themes of love and heartbreak: "Even after the cult's disbanded and everything's done and even the leader's dead and stuff — it's almost like black and white that this person was taking advantage of them and using them for their own gain — they still worship the ground they walk on. They still cry when they talk about that person."
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Listening to their 2004 debut EP, This Is What the Edge of Your Seat Was Made For — full of skronky, chaotic metalcore — you'd be hard-pressed to identify them as the same band that made Amo. Deathcore became more prominent in their sound for Count Your Blessings in 2006; it garnered them a young fan base as enamoured with low growls, melodeath riffs and brutish breakdowns as they were with the band's swooped haircuts and colourful tattoos. Atypical merch, including a purple shirt emblazoned with "I partied naked with Bring Me the Horizon," set them apart from the likes of Cannibal Corpse. "All the scene kids love the death metal aspect of what we do," Sykes told Alternative Press in 2007, "but to us it's a form of party music."
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Their next party, 2008 Epitaph debut Suicide Season, chugged with groovy mosh metalcore vigour and split their fan base down the middle like a wall of death; Sykes recently revealed (via a since-deleted Instagram post) that Amo has been their most similarly polarizing effort in a decade. But while some weren't pleased with moves away from metal, the band once again outsold their previous effort — a trend they've continued to this day.
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The band dove headfirst into the world of electronic production, first via a remix album of Suicide Season, then on 2010's There Is a Hell, Believe Me I've Seen It. There Is a Heaven, Let's Keep It a Secret. which featured programming from Skrillex.
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The next steps in their evolution — pop melodies, clean singing and the influence of new member Jordan Fish — happened under some new pressure. After inking a deal with RCA, the label proclaimed "Signing you is as important as signing Metallica." Sempiternal was still plenty heavy, and Sykes' desire to "sing from the rooftops" after kicking a ketamine addiction was tempered by still-present screaming, and fans stayed with them through an album that soared as much as it smashed. By the time they reached 2015's That's the Spirit, BMTH were more Linkin Park than Parkway Drive.
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Their move to rock is still being copied by metalcore (ex-)peers, like fellow Brits Bullet for My Valentine and Asking Alexandria. In that way, Bring Me the Horizon are this generation's Eighteen Visions?and Avenged Sevenfold rolled into one: the group who did it first and rode it to the top of the charts. Rather than rest on their laurels, they've made the next move, one that will almost certainly be widely copied.
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Lyrically, Amo is all about love — and as singer and primary lyricist Oli Sykes points out, falling in love is a lot like joining a cult.
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"You might meet someone, you might move country, you might move city, you might buy a house with them, you might have kids with them. There are so much things you put into a relationship, just like a cult, that once it's over, you can almost find yourself completely lost again, because you put so much into something that almost in an instant has disappeared."
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A lot of the lyrics on Amo — "to love" in Portuguese — concern recent travails in Sykes' love life, particularly the dissolution of his marriage after he discovered his wife was having an affair. "I think as humans, it's almost harder for us to accept that we've not seen the truth, than it is to accept that we did, so a lot of the time when you find out things like that, your first instinct isn't to be like, 'I'm gone, I'm leaving ya, goodbye.'" When his ex-wife was hospitalized after the revelation, he remained by her side.
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Ultimately, he did move on, turning pain into catharsis in the form of Amo songs "Medicine," "Nihilist Blues," "In the Dark" and "Ouch."
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"When love is fresh, you go through all these weird feelings: feeling sick or feeling you're on some kind of drug or starting to feel panicky or jealous or weird. I was hesitant to write an album about love, because I thought it was just so cliché, but it's not an emotion that we'll ever understand fully. Hate can be defined, you can kind of understand why you hate, but with love, it's such a weird thing."
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He almost didn't get that catharsis, as he was worried about bothering current wife Alissa Salls, a Brazilian model he started dating shortly after his breakup and married in July 2017. She's been supportive of his decision to sing about it. It's not like he's exclusively been wallowing; he also penned an ode to their whirlwind romance, "Mother Tongue."
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BMTH have grown with every album and evolved on their own terms, musically speaking, but they are aware of how bands who don't hew to their closely guarded genre boundaries get treated sometimes, something they address explicitly on Amo song "Heavy Metal." Not because it pulses with beatboxing from former Roots member Rahzel, but because it's a jokey song about turncoat fans who think music ain't shit if it isn't metal, complete with a cheekily brutal ending.
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The band as a whole are thrilled to continue exploring possibilities beyond the Gothenburg melodic death metal that influenced early releases. Fish excitedly describes the grime beat that opens "Why You Gotta Kick Me When I'm Down?," pointing out the way that triplet-heavy rap flow in the verses builds tension, which releases via a chorus combining a trap beat and "doomy kind of stoner riff." Oh, and a bit in the second verse that he likens to Beyoncé.
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Fish casts a wide net in general, comparing various parts of Amo to, at different times, Justin Timberlake, Calvin Harris, the Verve and Massive Attack.
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They even recruited art pop artist Grimes for "Nihilist Blues." Fish reveals that she really showed off her producer chops with how she approached her contribution. Her interpretation and delivery of her lines was varied, plus she included a bunch of ambient backing tracks — all meticulously organized — including whispers, weird reversed sections and chopped-up bits, should they choose to deploy them.
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Sykes and Fish are the electronic fans in the band; the latter cites house, garage, IDM, techno and "weird electronic" (in the form of Four Tet, Bonobo, Aphex Twin and Moderat) as influences. And Fish can prove his expertise in this area — this isn't a case of simply swapping breakdowns for breakbeats — he points out that "Nihilist Blues" takes the straight kicks of Berlin techno and darkens them with an industrial vibe.
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"In the second verse [of 'Nihilist Blues'] we had the idea that we could do almost what feels like a metal breakdown, something that just goes real bass-heavy, one note with reasonably fast rhythms that almost feels like what a metal breakdown would be, but just with 808s, so it's super clean. You get kind of a heavy feeling, almost like a drop with real drums, but it's not. That's an example of trying to do something that feels like something we would normally, but in a completely different way."
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As their sound has evolved, so has their community. Back on 2008's Suicide Season, guest shouts came from their "core" community, like Architects and Deez Nuts. The 2010 followup expanded the styles of their guests — from electro-pop artist Lights to the varied vocalists of pop punks You Me at Six and chaotic metalcore band the Chariot — but remained connected to the Warped Tour scene. (Even Skrillex rose to prominence in post-hardcore act From First to Last.)
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The time around, the goal for the three guest vocalists — Grimes, Rahzel and Cradle of Filth screecher Dani Filth — was to paint a picture of the album's diversity. Sure, they easily could have gotten peers on a track, but that wouldn't be fresh. As Fish explains, "We wanted it to feel different, otherworldly."
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That was more or less their goal with the entire record. Sykes notes his favourite tracks include "Nihilist Blues" and "Fresh Bruises" — tracks where they're "taking rock in a completely different direction" and incorporating things he loves, but almost felt had no place in rock.
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"We've done things that I've always wanted to do, but always been too scared or too worried about it failing. I think just blending all these elements together — I've always wanted to do a record that did everything, that had the heavy songs, that had the fully pop songs and had the experimental songs, all together. And I feel this is our best work in that regard."