When Bring Me The Horizon finally returned home from their last world tour in December 2011, they’d been on the road for two whole years.
Their third album There Is A Hell, Believe Me I’ve Seen It. There Is A Heaven, Let’s Keep It A Secret had proved both a critical smash and their worldwide breakthrough, smashing into the Top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic and going to Number 1 in Australia. They’d sold out shows across Europe, Asia, Australasia and North and South America. Played astonishing, show-stealing gigs everywhere from the Vans Warped Tour to Reading & Leeds Festivals. Inspired an obsessed army of devotees, not to mention an almost-as-vociferous band of haters.
Now that they had to do the hardest thing for any band in their position – essentially, the hottest breakthrough metal band on the planet – to do: nothing.
For frontman Oli Sykes, the band’s first proper downtime since they formed in Sheffield in 2004 was a much-needed chance to take care of business, both of the commercial (Bring Me The Horizon signed to RCA after three albums on indie Visible Noise) and personal variety (“writing became my passion again”.
Consequently, when the time came to begin work on their fourth album, Sempiternal (an old English word meaning “everlasting”), Oli found himself in a “better position and clearer mindframe than ever before – I was working at 110% whereas before it was always 50%, because there was stuff going on that was hindering me”.
But he also knew that a clear head alone would not be enough to craft a truly game-changing modern rock record. This time around, Bring Me The Horizon were determined to deliver an album that – in the words of guitarist Lee Malia – was “as close to perfect as we could make it”. Before, BMTH albums had often been put together on the hoof between tours, but for Sempiternal they had plenty of time and a license to experiment. It was time to rip up the rulebook and start again.
Previous BMTH albums were no strangers to electronic sounds, but this time around Oli brought in Jordan Fish, formerly of atmospheric electronic-rockers Worship, to help integrate keyboards and programming into the band’s sound from the very start of the process. Initially, he was supposed to play a support role, but soon he was writing with Oli, and bouncing ideas off Lee, and slowly-but-surely he became an integral member of the band.
Jordan jokes about falling on his feet by joining BMTH just as they look likely to become one of the biggest rock bands in the world, though he’s certainly paid his dues (“I’ve done all the shit bits of being in a band, just without anyone knowing about it…”) and he also played a vital role in overhauling BMTH’s sound, his electronic soundscapes adding depth and space to their raw rock power.
“We’ve never wanted to just be beholden to the metalcore thing,” says Oli, who as boss of his own, wildly successful clothing line Drop Dead, has long defied the metal stereotype. “We always said we want to push boundaries, but this time we pulled it off. Jordan opened up a lot of stuff that we’ve always wanted to do, but couldn’t.”
“Before, we used to build up and then go into something super-heavy,” says Lee. “But we’ve moved on a bit from that: it can still sound massive but it’s not just based around a breakdown.”
But they didn’t stop there. Oli also changed up the way he worked, taking singing lessons, spending hours crafting perfect lyrical soundbites and even studying the science of “what makes a melody catchy”.
“The idea behind Sempiternal is that we wanted every song to have a different theme musically and lyrically,” says Oli. “And that whatever song you listen to, you should know what it’s about, at a certain level, straight away.”
And the results of Bring Me The Horizon’s new approach, and the hugely intense recording sessions at Angelic Studios in Banbury (“Whenever we took a break, I could tell it was killing Oli,” says Jordan, “He’d be itching to get back to work”) are splattered all over Sempiternal. An album of astonishing versatility, it ranges from the controlled menace of Seen It All Before to the naked aggression of Anti-Vist; from the bubbling electronica of Can You Feel My Heart? to the metallic attack of The House Of Wolves; from the irresistibly anthemic chorus of Shadow Moses to the uncompromising fury of Go To Hell.
Meanwhile, Oli’s newly-bolstered voice is a revelation, swooping from heartfelt croon to cathartic scream and all points in-between, while his lyrics grapple with both his own personal issues and wider concerns, from the attack on religion in The House Of Wolves (“I had stuff to deal with and there were a lot of people pushing me towards religion,” says Oli, “But I couldn’t stomach it”) to giving a verbal smackdown to keyboard warriors on Anti-Vist (“The whole internet generation drives me insane,” he says, “People think they’ve got a platform to spout any old shit”).
In short, Sempiternal is here to reclaim the word “epic” from the people who save you money on your car insurance. No wonder the band is already attracting unprecedented levels of buzz, not just from the hard rock enclaves where Bring Me The Horizon have long been superstars, but from the mainstream.
Already, since their return, they’ve proved their unique versatility by playing – and conquering – everything from a small Sheffield Leadmill show for hardcore fans to a headline slot at Vans Warped UK to a Maida Vale set for Radio 1’s Rock Week (quite a baptism of fire for new-boy Jordan).
Then, with broadsheets and music magazines alike electing BMTH as poster boys for the UK’s new wave of hard rock, Radio 1 premiered Shadow Moses on daytime radio, not once but twice, lighting up Twitter and providing a rallying point for the whole rock scene in the process. It was no one-off either: weeks later, Bring Me The Horizon are still staples of the playlist.
“What must builders be thinking when they listen?” ponders Lee. “It must be weird for people who never listen to that sort of music… It’s still weird for us!”
They’d better get used to it, because Lee, Oli, Jordan, bassist Matt Kean and drummer Matt Nicholls are poised to become THE rock success story of 2013. And Oli Sykes, for one, is ready for it.
“Everyone starts off listening to pop music but they get hungry for something a bit more exciting,” says Oli, who was converted to the rock cause as a teenager by Linkin Park. “A whole lot of people want that – there just hasn’t been a band that have done it for a while, there hasn’t been that band to get people into better music. I would love Bring Me The Horizon to be that band for this generation.”