We’re a long; long way from Count Your Blessings. Deathcore, once upon a time appearing poised to infect the mainstream, is now all but banished to underground purgatory, Suicide Silence its sole surviving genuine heavyweights. But while the genre they’ve long since abandoned decays around them, its one time poster boys Bring Me the Horizon have never been as popular or as talked about – and the scorn and derision once thrown at them has for the most part given way to a wave of adulation unseen for a rock band since the emo boom. While their second and third albums did much to restore their reputation thanks to straightforward metallic bangers and hitherto unexpected vulnerability and melodic tact respectively, it was 2013’s Sempiternal that truly turned the tide.
A flawless modern classic record that reshaped what metalcore could represent and propelled BMTH to the top of and then beyond the scene’s table, Sempiternal changed the game. It remains the best rock album of the ‘10s so far. Concluding its tour campaign with the release of a 30 Seconds to Mars-sized single “Drown” (now re-recorded into an even huger incarnation) and sold out headline show at London’s legendary Wembley Arena, the band could have been forgiven for taking some time away to plan the next move that would inevitably make them a genuine mainstream concern. Instead, a mere nine months after that pivotal performance, That’s the Spirit has been unleashed.
“Expect the unexpected” has become the key to approaching a new Bring Me the Horizon album, and never has this been more the case. The thunderous staccato riffs and screams of desperation that once characterised their sound are now all but nowhere to be seen, resigned to the scrapyard as child’s play. “Happy Song”, replete with cheerleader chants and more of a likeness to Breaking Benjamin than Blessthefall, is nonetheless the closest thing to a metal song here. This isn’t, though, a total reinvention of musical identity in the way that some have described – “True Friends” has touches of “It Never Ends” in the ways strings slash over jagged riffs, and the glitch vocal samples and synth atmospherics most prevalent on “Run” have been a BMTH cornerstone since There is a Hell, they’ve just been brought more to the fore time around.
Across their career Bring Me the Horizon have thrived not through total genre overhauls but by steadily putting less focus on the hardcore aggression that was once their bread and butter and more on subtle, hyper-modern synthetic production and melodic passages. To go with this transformation, Oli Sykes now delivers his vocals almost exclusively as clean singing, and while the rasp from his Sempiternal performances at times remains he’s vulnerable and soft more often than he is abrasive. As someone who’s come at singing from a non-traditional route he’s blossomed into a unique talent. “Follow You” pushes the band’s evolution to its most extreme point yet, a full-on romantic ballad with a falsetto-lead chorus and alt-J inspired flourishes.
While Sykes will probably as ever be the principal talking point, keyboard wizard (and producer on That’s the Spirit) Jordan Fish cannot be given enough credit for how he’s expanded this group’s musical scope. The juddering synths of “Throne” may invite comparisons to a certain Linkin Park hit but they’re so huge it’s hard not to get swept away in them; “Doomed” echoes “Can You Feel My Heart” as an opener through its journey from electronic wizardry to a big, guitar-driven chorus. It works because Fish isn’t overriding the six-string attack of Lee Malia, but augmenting it on the confident heavy-Britpop of “Blasphemy” and “What You Need”, which embraces My Chemical Romance playfulness in the bridge in particular as well as killer two-part choruses, on might be the album’s best track.
It fights for that title with “Oh No”, the other greatest stylistic leap of That’s the Spirit. Unfolding gracefully over five minutes, a 90s house-inspired beat and washes of ambient beauty perfectly compliment a lyric lamenting those who cannot abandon the hedonism of their youth. It’s as far from “Football Season is Over” as you could imagine. A gorgeous saxophone section puts the cherry on top, hammering home the fact that though this is an album built on big radio-ready pop hooks and anthemic song structures, its musicianship and imagination is also top quality, right down to the career-best bass work of Matt Kean (“Avalanche”) and the always perfectly judged drum work from Matt Nicholls.
Have Bring Me the Horizon made an album better than Sempiternal? On present judgement, probably not – there’s nothing here to rival the sheer euphoria of the peaks of “Shadow Moses” and “Sleepwalking”, no one song as perfectly crafted as “And the Snakes Start to Sing”. That That’s the Spirit nonetheless leaps to the forefront of the ‘Best Albums of 2015 So Far’ list (with ease, mind you) is testament to how far ahead of the rest of their scene this band is. Less than ten years from their much-scoffed at dud of a debut LP they’ve produced an album perfect for mainstream consumption that simultaneously displays all the ambition and emotional intensity of any of their previous work. If Sempiternal was modern metalcore’s White Pony, That’s the Spirit might just be its Black Album. Those who doubted Bring Me the Horizon had it in them can stop now. It’s over, they’ve won.