Continuously and successfully shifting style album to album is a feat that not many bands can manage. Bring Me The Horizon’s fifth album, That’s The Spirit, is released just weeks after their fearless sub-headline slot at this year’s Reading and Leeds Festival and is nothing like the band have released before. They’ve transformed massively over their last two records and no longer feel like a band that you might be embarrassed to listen to. Gone are the days of playing a BMTH track in the car and having your mum shut it off before Oli Sykes even has the chance to take a breath before screaming the first line of a track like ‘Pray For Plagues’. In fact, the band say that a lot of parents are really into them. “Our parents have noticed a lot of people their age coming [to our shows] and singing along and it’s just crazy. Obviously they’ve followed the band since we started and they’ve only ever seen kids like our band.”
It’s difficult to pin any particular genre on the band and many people – mainly those who know nothing of their work – lazily label them as an ‘emo’ band. “What even is emo music?” asks keyboardist Jordan Fish. Though they might not agree with every label thrown their way, the band isn’t really that bothered. And why would they be? They’re selling out Wembley Arena, impressing everyone at Reading and Leeds and are being championed on a daily basis by Beats1 DJ, Zane Lowe. “It’s the hair more than anything,” frontman Oli Sykes replies. “Emotional music. It’s just a broad term that’s been misused.”
The five-piece are known for supposedly coining the term ‘deathcore’ which has been used to describe their earlier music by many but falling under a sub genre – let alone that particular sub-genre – is something that Oli seems more than annoyed by. “‘Deathcore’ was just the worst one,” he declares. “People were like ‘oh, you invented the term deathcore’ and it’s just the worst merging of words. Sub-genres are just for dickheads. I think it’s quite close-minded to judge bands on genres because there’s no such thing as shit genres, just shit bands.”
BMTH’s fourth album, Sempiternal, seemed to be the major turning point for the band, which has changed the perspective of many towards their music and has seemingly brought in a great deal of new fans, which has taken even the band themselves by surprise. “Playing Reading and Leeds and seeing the amount of people that were watching our band was like ‘what the fuck’.” says Oli. The introduction of Jordan Fish on keyboard seems to have pushed the band closer to that radio-friendly, more mainstream sound – which they’ve honed – whilst still not taking too much away from their heavier origins. They’re writing anthems that are made for blowing the roof off of every arena in the country. It’s rare that a band as successful as BMTH feel the need to bring in a new face as there’s always a risk of imbalance in the band and upset throughout their fan base, but fortunately, it’s worked in their favour.
With a change of style came a massive amount of criticism, but mainly via online comment feeds on YouTube, Twitter and the like. One comment that stood out was “You sound like the Jonas Brothers,” which is obviously a hugely sweeping and comical statement. “I don’t know what they sound like to be honest. A review the other day said that our new music has more in common with One Direction than it does with Asking Alexandria,” Oli claimed. “And thank fuck,” laughs Jordan, “No [I’m not a fan]. I respect... Well – each to their own. It’s just not the music that we want to make. A lot of people say, ‘oh, this new stuff isn’t metal’. So what? We never said it was.”
Some older fans may feel that the band have essentially sold-out by going through such a drastic change stylistically, supposedly in order to gain radio play, but that isn’t the case in their mind. Many bands fall while succumbing to the expectations of fans, but in Oli’s mind that is what selling-out really means. “That, in my mind, would be selling out, trying to write something just to appease people who like our band. Make no mistake – the music is for us. If other people like it, then that’s cool,” he declares.
“I’m not going to sit here and say I never enjoyed taking them because I’d be lying. At the end of the day, when I started taking drugs, I fucking loved them. But at the same time, there’s a point in everyone’s life where they’ll become not fun anymore and you’re doing them to escape something.”
As well as the addition of a fifth member, Sempiternal also came after a hugely important part of Oli’s life, which had a massive impact on the band. While accepting an award at the AP Music Awards 2014, he admitted for the first time to having a serious addiction to ketamine. He told the world of how his friends, band mates and family alike wanted to “kill him”, but following a successful stint in rehab, their fourth record was born. “[Rehab] was interesting; it was just what I needed, it was more about getting away from everything. To actually sit down and not have any access to drugs and kind of just dump my mind on someone, get it all out there and be around other people who were going through the same experiences was good.”
If you’re familiar with the band then you’ll be aware that Oli has been very vocal when expressing his feelings against religion over the years and the same goes for his way of approaching the fight against drug addiction. “I decided not to do the 12 step programme because it’s very religious and Americanised. It doesn’t make any sense to me so I went on the general ward and I was surrounded by schizophrenics and bulimics, people with gender issues or eating disorders and self-harmers. What’s interesting is they’re all doing different things but the core emotion is very primitive. You’re all sat around talking about something but you’re like, ‘yeah, I know exactly what you mean’. Sometimes that’s just the first step, knowing you’re not mental, or at least that everyone is mental.”
Being an addict and having to go through rehab to put your life back on track can easily leave people with a blinkered view of you. People who hang around former addicts may feel like they’re treading on eggshells when drinking alcohol or just bringing up the subject of drugs or booze. But according to the two, the effects of Oli coming off drugs have had nothing put a positive impact on the band. “You wouldn’t know that Oli ever had a problem. That’s part of the reason why you can tell there’s nothing to worry about,” says Jordan. “When he first came out and had the odd drink, I was like, ‘shit, is this ok?’ because he’d never really drank that much. But when you’re in a band and you’re around other bands, then you’re going to be around that all the time.”
In an environment that’s full of people getting fucked, it’s probably easy for someone like Jordan to worry about their recovering band mate, but that’s not the case at all. Oli claims that he’s happy now and doesn’t feel that addiction is something that is ever going to bother him again. “To be honest, if I wanted to do them, then I wouldn’t have any qualms. I wouldn’t have any worries because I’m a happy person and I’d never ever want to go down that lane again. I can freely drink and I can hang out and party with people. I’m constantly faced by people with drugs. Someone could rack a line up now and I wouldn’t be like ‘I’ve gotta get out because I wanna do that’. I’d be like ‘whatever’”.
It’s not uncommon that following a bad experience – particularly substance abuse – a former addict will come out and preach about how people shouldn’t go down the same route as them and make the same mistakes. He’s not exactly condoning the use of drugs, but Oli doesn’t believe that it’s wrong to experiment. After “putting his foot in it” during a Metal Hammer interview where he said “everyone should try acid” he seems keen to clear the air. “I don’t want to tell everyone to do drugs, but they are an experience. I’m not going to sit here and say I never enjoyed taking them because I’d be lying. At the end of the day, when I started taking drugs, I fucking loved them. They are a laugh and as long as they’re still a laugh then you’re not in any big problems. But at the same time, there’s a point in everyone’s life where they’ll become not fun anymore and you’re doing them to escape something,” he says.
Using drugs as an escape can lead to many different endings – death is the final answer, but the path to it seems a lot more hurtful. Addiction takes over your life and getting hold of drugs becomes your main priority – often taking its toll on relationships more than anything else. People began to fear for his life but that was the last thing on his mind. “I think the drugs it stopped me from fearing death,” Oli muses. “When you become a drug addict you don’t really care about anything but drugs, so death doesn’t really come into it. You’re kind of aware that that could become an eventuality.”
Following his month-long spell in rehab, he came out the other side more resilient, and began taking more control with the recording process of their work. The band “pretty much” produced Sempiternal and took the reins completely when recording That’s The Spirit. We’ve also seen a massive shift in the frontman’s vocal abilities. He’s given up screaming, instead choosing to sing, and since coming off drugs, he sounds more refined. He also feels more rewarded himself when seeing people singing along to his lyrics. “Screaming is cool, but to sing well and to pull it off with everyone singing along with you is just better. It’s all new to me, so it’s something that I’m progressively getting better at,” he says while placing his full bottle of water on the floor after Jordan breaks the sad news that it’s fizzy.
Seemingly harking back to his troubled times, many of the band’s lyrics are about people doing him wrong and letting him down. I wouldn’t hold my breath if I was you / Cause I’ll forget but I’ll never forgive you / Don’t you know? Don’t you know? / True friends stab you in the front, he sings in ‘True Friends’. There are also strong messages of condescension throughout ‘Happy Song’ that suggest that people maybe didn’t care quite as much as they could have: Just sing along / A little fucking louder / To a happy song / I’ll be alright. Those lyrics are conveyed in an extremely sarcastic tone, Oli explains. “It’s totally sarcastic. The album is all about making light out of dark, you know what I mean? With That’s The Spirit, I like it because it sounds very positive but if you scratch the surface there’s quite a dark sentiment. The saying is only ever used in a situation that’s quite bleak. You only ever say it to someone who’s just got to get on with it and you don’t really know what else to say.”
Fortunately, however, for Oli, Bring Me The Horizon, and fans alike, he’s kicked the addiction. And since, the world has been blessed with two incredible albums in the form of Sempiternal and That’s The Spirit. With a huge world tour spanning four months in support of the new record, including one massive show at Alexandra Palace in London, the band have stated their intentions: they’re set to take over.
Words by Jack Collins
Photography by Tom Russell