At the minute, Bring Me The Horizon feel like a band without a home, and it’s not entirely their fault. For the band who’ve spent the best part of a decade performing the most emphatic face turn possible to become a legitimate institution within British rock and metal, it doesn’t feel as though that’s been fostered to its full potential, at least with the benefit of hindsight. Yes, Sempiternal remains their crowning achievement that took them further than ever before, but looking back, the support it received outside of the dedicated outlets can be seen as comparable to any other flash-in-the-pan act, and yes, That’s The Spirit’s hard pivot to electronic arena-rock unlocked opportunities that previously would’ve been totally out of the question, but the alienation of so many long-term fans makes it difficult to determine whether that can be pitched as a net positive. And of course, amidst all of this, there’s been the usual grandstanding from everyone around them, pegging every release as the one to take them to the top, though without the necessary actions to substantiate those claims that could make each feel like typical media puff-piecing. It ultimately leaves amo in a weird place, even if it mightn’t feel like it on the surface; both MANTRA and wonderful life might initially come across as the best possible course correction in the return to a snarling, grittier rock sound, but even if the heavily-hinted Post Malone collaboration doesn’t seem to be here, the presences of synthpop artist Grimes and rapper and beatboxer Rahzel seems to indicate an album caught in flux, and the initial lack of cogent direction can be troubling when it comes from a band of Bring Me The Horizon’s size and status.
With all that in mind though, it’s a testament to Bring Me The Horizon’s skill and ambition as a band that they’ve chosen to approach such potential problems in the way that they have. Their mainstream position may have started as quota-filling, but the fact that it’s blossomed into a truly feasible career path says a lot now, and in that context, it’s hard to think of an album in the sphere from recent memory that’s attempted to swerve around conventionality and swing for the fences as heavily as amo has. That in itself is a fairly loaded statement and is more likely to raise the hackles of those who haven’t been taking to where they’ve been heading lately, but for both Bring Me The Horizon and the sort of tangential pop they’ve currently aligned themselves with, that’s nothing new, and they’re running with it.
And with a frontman like Oli Sykes who’s frequently leaned on dejected, destructive impulses in his writing and who’s made no bones about his boredom at the current state of rock music, it should come as no surprise that amo turns out the way it does. The dark-pop execution has frequently worked well for them, and in an album looking to double down on that darker emotionality, exploring a treacherous and fractious representation of love, it feels all the more natural. It can be a rather bleak canvas as well; there are definitely sparks of light peppered around – mother tongue is probably the most traditional rock ballad about finding new love that Bring Me The Horizon have ever penned – but even its closest sonic touchstone is medicine, juxtaposing clean, arena-rock bombast with the seething cleansing of breaking away from a failed, toxic relationship. Elsewhere, that toxicity manifests itself in cultish desire on MANTRA or misanthropic detachment on nihilist blues and sugar honey ice & tea, as well as swerving towards the lack of love from ex-fans who feel the need to remind the band that they aren’t good just because they’re not heavy anymore on why you gotta kick me when i’m down? and heavy metal. It’s a scattered listen, and one that isn’t always to the band’s benefit (the weird scansion and awkward phraseology can still make wonderful life difficult to get along with), but that feels like the intention, and Bring Me The Horizon always orbit close enough to the main goal for it to work. It helps that Sykes has improved enormously as a clean vocalist, but like so much of the music they’ve drawn from, experimentation is kept in equilibrium with the central theme, and amo executes that without feeling overly fragmented.
That’s a remarkably strong stance to be in as well, particularly when it essentially puts paid to the concerns that opened up this very review, and sees Bring Me The Horizon indulging in by far their most varied and fascinating album to date. The volume of electronic influence is perhaps most key with the glitzy, Porter Robinson-esque drum ‘n’ bass of ouch or the foreboding fresh bruises that shows clear glances at an artist like Burial, but in truth, amo’s primary direction taken is genrelessness in a way that actually feels fruitful and not as a substitute term for flavourless nothing. Mood is the main focus, and when it comes to the icy rave synths and Grimes’ haunting guest presence on nihilist blues, the downcast R&B knock of in the dark, or even the cues from deadened SoundCloud rap on why you gotta kick me when i’m down?, there’s a command of bleak, barren tones that Bring Me The Horizon have to create a hanging air that can hold some real weight. Of course, that’s not saying that the mood can’t shift, and while Rahzel’s genuinely inspired beatboxing breakdown on heavy metal is more than likely to peeve those who the song is actually about, the snippet of deathcore woven into the final few seconds should be the final nail in the coffin for that period of their career, especially as the cinematic scope of closer i don’t know what to say heralds a band on the hunt for much bigger things than even they currently inhabit.
And that’s all good stuff; Bring Me The Horizon’s evolution over the years has seen them take routes that no one could’ve possibly imagined they could, and the fact that they clearly want to continue that is a sign of a band looking to really hit something special. And while amo isn’t that just yet, it’s about as confident of a next step as you can get. The variety is captivating; the themes hold onto legitimate strengths that similar pivots from this band have never done in the past; and for what the final aims clearly were, namely to be a more – for lack of a better term – rock-friendly equivalent of bands like The 1975 or Twenty One Pilots, amo really does push the boat out in a way that’s genuinely admirable. What will come of all this in the long run remains to be seen – whether or not Bring Me The Horizon have slid past the festival-headlining touts with an album like this is likely to be an open question for a long time – but regardless, this is an album that will keep people talking, and that will keep Bring Me The Horizon’s at the peak of modern alternative’s relevance in a way that couldn’t be more fitting.
For fans of: Burial, The 1975, Grimes
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘amo’ by Bring Me The Horizon is out now on Sony Music Entertainment.