What's in a haircut?
It's saddening to think that in this modern day and age of metal appreciation, we've come to a stage where we have to ask this question to people who now judge bands solely on their appearance, particularly with their dress sense and, well, hairstyles. And no band has had to face the brunt of this more than Bring Me the Horizon. From their dress sense, to their hair, to their tattoos and the general personality of frontman Oli Sykes, everyone looking to judge the band seems to be looking at every quality apart from the music. And who can tell you if this is the right way to look at things. It might have been in 2006 when they started out with a dog-eyed cover of Slipknot's Eyeless and their gargled deathcore debut Count Your Blessings, yet as they moved on with 2008's Suicide Season and 2010's game-changing There is a Hell, Believe Me I've Seen It, There is a Heaven, Believe Me I've Seen It, the hi-jinks stopped and the music got more serious, yet the hatred continued and much of it still comes down to the fact that they wear trendy clothes and look like people that have actually had a shower in the past ten years.
And it only means one thing at the end of the day, the people that refuse to look past these things are the ones missing out. They could step into today's album without knowing anything of it and be impressed, however in a context like mine, looking at the band's fourth full length album Sempiternal as someone that's really come to know and love the music of BMTH over the years is an album examination that fills one up with a certain sense of pride. And that's because it tells you something about the band that once made you headbang mindlessly to Chelsea Smile when you were fifteen years old. Those Sheffield boys have finally grown up.
It takes a while to come up with some basic description of what has become of the band's sound on Sempiternal so I'll keep it simple at first and say that everything has changed. And opening on a song like Can You Feel My Heart is a big sign of intent that this is not a band concerned with being brutal and creating the meatiest breakdowns as they once were. With the departure of guitarist Jona Weinhofen and recruitment of keyboard and synthesizer man Jordan Fish, you could guess that this kind of thing was going to happen, but as the song itself opens with floodlights of grand synthesizer and the creation of warm spacious textures, it becomes apparent that the band probably don't even care if no one wants to refer to them as a metal band anymore. Of course, following an array of electronics that wouldn't sound out of place on a Crystal Castles album, the song moves into a main rhythm that brings pleasant memories of Deftones at their most tranquil. You should probably get used to the Deftones comparisons because the fact that BMTH have turned from Britain's answer to Job for a Cowboy to Britain's answer to Sacramento's modern metal pioneers is extremely remarkable.
Of course, one of the most remarkable things about the evolution that the band show is in Sykes himself. While the band's musical performance evolved for There is a Hell... Oli's raspy screams remained the same, and when they were last heard during his guest appearance on Architects' Even if You Win, You're Still a Rat, it became apparent that they were weakening, or at least hopelessly unable to compete with the similar stylings of Sam Carter. Thankfully, that much needed change has taken place and when he begins the album against this chilled backdrop, his ability to produce something melodic for the first time really takes you back. Much of this melody is executed in rough clean vocals that still lean towards screaming, a style that Corey Taylor has perfected over they years. However, when the opening track hits it's first instance of purely clean vocals, listeners like myself that have adjusted to BMTH's sound over such a long time won't really know what to make of it, or how to react. Against such a delicate backdrop, it's either the extreme tone of fragility and vulnerability they emit, the unmistakable sound of his own Sheffield accent or the fact that this is a style of singing that we've waited eight years to hear from Oli that triggers a powerful emotion response from listeners. And I never imagined that I could say Oli Sykes produced tears in my eyes without me being a teenage girl. As the clean vocals progress they become more dimensional and by the time they open And the Snakes Start to Sing, Sykes has turned from an unidentifiable death growler to Britain's Chino Moreno. I told you the 'Tones comparisons would happen.
Of course, all around the band's songwriting has sharpened up. They may not be concerned about trying to be the heaviest band around any more, but if the density that that Lee Malia and Matt Kean can summon up on guitar and bass is as heavy as it is without even trying, they truly are some of the most destructive musicians in modern metal. The grooves constructed on the likes of lead single Shadow Moses and Empire (Let Them Sing) are so tight and bouncy that the heaviness makes them utterly shatterproof. And with more production emphasis put on Matt Nichols' powerhouse drumming makes them hit you even harder. The immense heaviness proves just how vital a name in modern metal producers Terry Date remains to be. But once again, this is not an album that is about trying to be as heavy as possible in the same way that Suicide Season was. With all that weight also come memorable choruses and mass sing alongs. If you don't believe that Sleepwalking isn't going to have stadiums chanting out loud, you're wrong. Plus, Image of the Invisible, Part 2, I mean... Go to Hell, For Heaven's Sake has a chorus that truly defines why emo songwriting became such a phenomenon throughout the 2000's. Because it rips off Thrice. In the nicest way possible.
Obviously, this is a band taking themselves very seriously now, and there could never be any room for previous tricks like vocal "Dun dun dun's" and guest appearances from J.J. Peters of Deez Nuts telling us to "Party til you pass out" and "Drink til your dead!" but if you want a fun metal song, you're going to have a whale of a time with Antivist and it's crowd chants of "Middle fingers up, if you don't give a fuck!" and pre breakdown statemnet of "You can say I'm just a fool, that stands for nothing/ Well to that/ I say you're a cunt!", a statement that you know is made by Sykes and aimed at those who detract him and his music, most likely due to his tattoos. Of course things end on a serious and heart rendering note with the intense balladry and grace of Hospital of Souls that achieves all the grandeur that There is a Hell... achieved as an album in one six minute take. It proves that heavy music, whether you want to call it metal, or even post-metal, is still beautiful.
And Sempiternal is beautiful in it's entirety. It's still a little difficult to work out just how I can fully explain how I feel about this album. It's in the way that you could play Van You Feel My Heart beside 2006's Pray for Plagues and be totally unable to even identify that the same band is even playing. And personally, having discovered the band when I was aged fifteen and only wanting heavy bands I could headbang to, I feel like BMTH have now grown up with me and as I've come to appreciate more progressive and graceful music that owes it's dues to electronic music as it does downtuned guitars, the band have made that move to become a band that can provide that to be, and have become a band I can't look away from a disassociate myself from. And it's still such a shock to realise that you can now compare a abnd that used to be about making big breakdowns to the likes of Deftones, Thrice, Glassjaw, Tool and Marilyn Manson at his most sophisticated and dirgy and that they can make that step up that makes them a recognizable force on their own and make a massive step up in their own right that makes the musical evolution taken between Suicide Season and There is a Hell... look like AC/DC. This band has followed their own paths to make the musical album they want, without any care of it not being what the fans want or being heavy enough. And they've made something that they can put their hearts and souls into. And it's one of the most awe-inspiring demonstrations of what a band can achieve when they put their full minds and eclectic tastes to it and do it for themselves in the face of aggressive hatred and the demand to make an album just like everything else they've done before.
So to answer my original question, there's nothing in a haircut. It's more about the brains that lay beneath them. And Bring Me the Horizon's have caused them to write the best album of the year so far.
Bring Me the Horizon's Sempiternal is out 1st April via Epitaph. The abnd will tour the UK in from April to May with Crossfaith and will play at Reading and Leeds Festival from 21-25th August.