Sheffield, UK’s Bring Me The Horizon are a controversial band in metal for many reasons, first and foremost for their role in the popularization of deathcore on their 2016 album Count Your Blessings. In the years since, the metallic edge sloughed off, seeing the band move through metalcore, alt-metal, nu-metal, and eventually going mask-off pop-rock on 2019’s amo. Longtime fans voiced their discontent with the band’s stylistic journey (which was seemingly shaped by vocalist Oli Sykes and keyboard player and programmer Jordan Fish co-producing the band’s works since 2015’s That’s The Spirit), but it’s arguably been a successful evolution which has seen the band become one of the largest rock acts on the planet. It doesn’t hurt that amo was a genuinely good record, either.
So after amo, it might have been wise to set expectations towards more of an indie pop vibe a la CHVRCHES or The 1975, or perhaps even a continued exploration on the alt-metal / pop metal formula in which the band have found great success in the 2010’s. Certainly, no one could ever expect the band to go back to being heavy after covering Billie Eilish for BBC Radio, and to do so would be setting yourself up for disappointment. However, we never really counted on the one thing Bring Me The Horizon have been doing consistently since their inception, and that’s doing something unexpected and choosing artistic growth and experimentation over the safe bet.
But here we are a year and a half removed from amo and nine months deep into a global pandemic, and we’ve got a new Bring Me The Horizon record co-produced by DOOM Eternal‘s Mick Gordan which opens with cybergrind riffs, throat-ripping howls, and a ripping Kerry King impression. What happened?!
A flirtation with cinematic and experimental alt-metal found on the act’s new EP POST HUMAN: SURVIVAL HORROR had in fact been forecast in 2019 with the single “Ludens,” which was written specifically for and included on Hideo Kojima’s game Death Stranding. The track features a typically massive chorus hook and an overall vibe as grand as the game that inspired it, but takes an interesting turn in its bridge which flirts with glitchy breakdowns, blastbeats, and harsh vocals. The band’s love of videogames is no secret, either; 2012’s Sempiternal features single “Shadow Moses,” a direct reference to Metal Gear Solid, Hideo Kojima’s magnum opus.
Likewise on SURVIVAL HORROR, we get “Parasite Eve,” taking the classic Playstation RPG’s concept and flipping it to apply to a modern pandemic. Incredibly, the track was written before COVID-19 became such a pressing global catastrophe, but was serendipitous in informing SURVIVAL HORROR‘s direction as a narrative concept that runs parallel to our own current affairs as we face the looming threat of fascism and its misinformation, manipulation, and propaganda while also addressing topics such as feelings of isolation and the dissolution of relationships during quarantine, and ultimately, the larger endgame of climate change and mass extinction.
The fascination with dystopian videogames and its influence on the band’s sound and aesthetic no doubt extends to the DOOM franchise, and Mick Gordon suddenly becoming free right after DOOM Eternal dropped amidst the first wave of COVID-19 shutdowns wound up being a fortunate turn of events, as his signature “cyberpunk” sound (as the band have been calling it) is felt all across SURVIVAL HORROR and is a cornerstone of its essence. The aforementioned opening track, titled “Dear Diary,” feels like a cut from the DOOM soundtrack, with darting industrial synths and thick metallic riffs. Between the adept songwriting of Sykes and Fish and the presence of Gordon, SURVIVAL HORROR is a perfect marriage of IDM, industrial metal, alt-metal, and (to a certain degree) pop.
The real star of the show, where it all comes together, is “Kingslayer”, featuring Japan’s most endearing metal export BABYMETAL. The track is hyperactive and chaotic, and easily the heaviest thing the band have done in a decade. Sykes breaks out various harsh vocal styles over breakdowns and blastbeats, serving as a counterpoint to the saccharine and over-the-top vocal contributions from BABYMETAL, tied together with darting synthesizers that keep the momentum throughout. The collaboration scratches an itch that we didn’t know we had. Can anime-core be a thing, please?
Even when the band aren’t going aggro, the songwriting and production are incredible all across the record. “Teardrops” is a radio-friendly banger that is one rap verse away from sounding like early Linkin Park. “OBEY”, featuring up-and-coming pop superstar YUNGBLUD, listens like an industrial pop-punk track, sonically feeling like a version of Powerman 5000 with more versatile and melodramatic vocal performances. “1×1,” featuring Nova Twins, is a nostalgic throwback to the mid-to-late 2000’s post-grunge and nu-metal radio rock where bands like Three Days Grace, Breaking Benjamin, and Skillet reigned supreme, but with modernized production and executed far better than any of those bands are and were capable.
The EP closes with the apocalyptic ballad “One Day The Only Butterflies Left Will Be In Your Chest As You March Towards Your Death…” featuring Evanescence’s Amy Lee. The track is unlike anything the band has ever done before, and feels like Danny Elfman‘s The Nightmare Before Christmas score, elevated by the surprisingly effective interplay between Lee and Sykes. The track is an emotional and political high point for BMTH, depicting Lee as a Mother Earth type character and Sykes as mankind as they mourn their doomed romance in a clear allegory for climate change. An initial spin might find the track underwritten and needing a resolution to the song’s chilling climax, but considering the concept and the cynical and nihilistic lyrics (as the title not-so-subtly indicates) — just as the case in reality — there’s no satisfying resolution possible, which makes the track all the more haunting.
SURVIVAL HORROR is not only incredibly poignant for the political and ecological era we find ourselves in, it’s also the most infectious and well-written and produced material the band has ever released. It marries the band’s various experimentations in metalcore, alternative rock, electronica, and pop music to great affect, made all the more sonically powerful thanks to the contributions from Mick Gordon. Hopefully this partnership continues and the band explores this direction further, because the band sounds as invigorated and inspired as ever. It wouldn’t be wise to hold your breath on that though, because SURVIVAL HORROR is plenty evidence to not expect the band to stand still for very long.
POST HUMAN: SURVIVAL HORROR is out now on Sony / RCA. Physical editions will be available January 22nd, 2021 and can be ordered at this location.