Why Bring Me The Horizon’s amo Was The Best British Album Of 2019
“Everything boils down to love in the end,” Oli Sykes told Kerrang! several months before the release of amo. As anyone familiar with the Portuguese language (the tongue of Oli Sykes’ wife) will tell you, it’s a title that means ‘I love’. Interestingly, it translates as ‘master’ too, which is also appropriate, given that Bring Me The Horizon’s sixth album examines that most complicated of emotions from all sides, including its ability to enslave us. Or, as Oli put it at the time, “[covering] every aspect of love, the good and the bad and everything in between, and how it changes your whole life”.
While amo’s predecessor, 2015’s That’s The Spirit, had changed Bring Me The Horizon’s lives, putting them in arenas, it’s safe to say love had done a number on them as well. Oli had got divorced from his first wife, a period he described as “turbulent”, while multi-instrumentalist Jordan Fish’s son had suffered a brain haemorrhage at just four days old, from which he has thankfully recovered. Oli was initially reluctant to write about what had happened to him, having found happiness with his second wife, who he married in July 2017. He soon realised, however, that he’d lived a lot of life in a short time and that his experiences provided his creative wellspring, whether he liked it or not. “I’m not the kind of writer who can make things up to talk about,” he reasoned. “Politics? I’m not interested – I have worldviews, but not enough to write about. Even if you’re no longer bothered by something [like getting divorced], you still carry those scars.”
The musical treatments of such personal subjects therefore required the band – completed by guitarist Lee Malia, bassist Matt Kean and drummer Matt Nicholls – to broaden their sonic palette like never before. Incorporating everything from pop and electronic to EDM and trap into their sound in a bid to change perceptions of what metal – and BMTH themselves – can sound like, they quickly found themselves in very different waters from those they’d ever previously swum. “It’s not that we’re not the band you know anymore,” explained Oli. “With this album, we didn’t just want to rest on what we do well; we wanted to challenge ourselves. We’re not betraying our fans, but the new album doesn’t sound like what we’ve done before. And honestly, without any disrespect to That’s The Spirit, when you put these songs up against the old ones, every song just smashes the old ones out of the park.”
The first sampling of this brave new world was MANTRA, released ahead of the band’s surprise sets at Reading & Leeds 2018. Written at the Sheffield HQ of Oli’s Drop Dead clothing label, amo’s first single framed being in love as membership to some sort of secret society, with the opening words ‘Do you want to start a cult with me?’ But although the song wasn’t a full-blooded return to the heavier sounds of old, neither did it hint at just what was in store for the rest of the album. That was a surprise that would come later. What was clear, however, was that Horizon were operating in a bigger league than ever before.
Their skills had already begun to open unexpected doors. Oli and Jordan’s status as self-sufficient producers, having done That’s The Spirit themselves, had caught the attention of their childhood heroes in Limp Bizkit. And while the experimental sessions for that band’s long-gestating album that may or may not still be called Stampede Of The Disco Elephants ultimately went nowhere, the Bring Me duo didn’t leave the experience empty-handed. Instead, they took one of the almighty riffs they’d kicked around with the nu-metal legends and incorporated it into next single Wonderful Life. A look at those times when love is absent, in the lyric, ‘Alone, getting high on a Saturday night / I’m on the edge of a knife’ it’s also, in part, an ode to Oli’s past excess, as well as feelings of isolation, even when you don’t actually want to be part of what everyone else is doing.
While the original plan had been for Oli to perform the song alone, somewhere along the line the frontman had the idea of recruiting Dani Filth. After some Instagram DMs, which the Cradle Of Filth frontman initially took to be someone taking the piss, it was on. So was the video, in which Dani, in full stage-gear, goes to the supermarket, while the band carry out mundane activities.
He wasn’t the most surprising guest, though, and elsewhere Nihilist Blues saw the band collaborating with experimental Canadian musician Grimes. Jordan has called it “an example of us really going for it on this record”, while both he and Oli have described the dark-bellied rave workout as their favourite track on the record. Not only did Nihilist Blues illustrate the band’s broad musical outlook, it was evidence, too, of how other artists, far and wide, now view them. “[Grimes is] someone we respect,” explained Jordan, “and not someone you’d expect to find working with a metal band. Or a rock band. Or whatever it is we are.”
Indeed, amo captures Bring Me The Horizon at a point that it’s more difficult than ever to define what they are. Medicine and Mother Tongue, for example, showcase a shameless pop ear, yet there’s a wilful strangeness to the band’s collective filter that makes their execution deliciously off-kilter, meaning there are hooks for the crossover crowd and an ever-evolving eccentricity for those who’ve been there since day one.
Upon its release, the album went straight to Number One on the UK albums chart, their first album to do so, knocking The Greatest Showman soundtrack from its long-standing perch at the top spot. Four months later, on May 31, the band finally reached festival headliner status when they topped the bill at All Points East in London’s Victoria Park, curating a bill that also included Architects, IDLES, While She Sleeps and, in a display of their wide appeal, Run The Jewels.
Already at the top of the British rock pile, 2019 was the year BMTH truly flew high. And amo was the perfect waymarker on a journey that continues ever upward.
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