With the cheerful chant of “S-P-I-R-I-T!” still ringing in our ears, to be on the cusp of something new from Bring Me The Horizon felt akin to Christmas Eve. The Sheffield quintet’s That’s The Spirit album has had undeniable staying power since its 2015 release, allowing for the band to stay relevant and already/still on tips of tongues when “MANTRA” released in August last year.
Swiftly following with news of an album on the way, we learned of amo, and I appreciated the title’s multi-layered meaning of love, bullets, and also feminine ownership, depending on what your Google searches uncover. With a wrinkled heart-printed ziploc bag and torn sticker album artwork, this un-pretty image conjures up an affectionately and long-kept mix CD, shared with a lover. It’s no perfect red heart shaped and flowery box; it’s raw and real love without fanfare or Hallmark perfection. Not yet having listened to the album as I type this, I wouldn’t be surprised to soon discover that amo is a mix-tape of Bring Me The Horizon’s (or frontman Oli Sykes’) stories of real life and love.
Diving into amo late last night, the first track “i apologise if you feel something” is one heck of a tone-setter. There’s something otherworldly about its use of sounds and samples that might alert listeners to expect nothing at all/anything. I love this track’s feel of standing on the precipice, as well as the sonic expansion/drop that vibes like a leap into the unknown, with wings and all. Hovering above reality (and mind) for a moment, the gorgeous track speaks like wondering if there’s something more within a relationship, and a searching for hope for the two. Though it blossoms and grows with intensity, icy electronics, and swelling symphonics, we return to the simple instrumental beginnings and perhaps reality itself. What an opener. I love this.
In comparison to the floaty sense of curiosity, “MANTRA” is direct and barrelling and pulls the listener into it; easily inspiring a strutting confidence with its massive guitars. The production byon this (even via Spotify streaming and Apple in-ear headphones) is gorgeous, full, and clear; positioning us in the room with Oli Sykes as he questions unsettling observations of unworthy/unqualified/unsafe gurus.
Compared to how I soaked “MANTRA” up as a single, hearing it on the album shared its message in a broader sense. Tying into “i apologise if you feel something”, it feels more like hoping for another to break out of their ‘abyss’ or personal state of isolation. The chorus shines focus toward the habitual blinders-on fixation upon a meaningless mantra which avoids the guts of an issue. It’s a reminder of the fact that in order to truly change and grow, we might need to get uncomfortable and (as the lyrics literally say) get pissed off for a bit. The bridge also becomes something of a frustration dense pleading toward someone to drop their guru fixation and to get real with themselves.
In the lens of amo and love, “MANTRA” (why’s this capitalised in amongst the other lowercase stylisation, by the way?) could be understood as an attempt to encourage a lover to drop the spiritual bypassing in order to do the dirty work of self-honesty in order to move through a challenging time and (as in the previous track) feel something raw. This semi-tongue-in-cheek track (“Wait – How do you spell epiphany?”) now comes across as a call for a relationship to be rescued, which isn’t necessarily pretty or zen.
Surprisingly dancey, “nihilist blues” feels dense and thick in an EDM world before eventually clearing. We’re immersed in a fog-laden rave with Bring Me The Horizon as they recognise with concern how so much within them is unable to be expressed; vocalised as “we are lost in a labyrinth”. Is there a way out? Are we just to accept that we’re lost?
Despite how unexpected this sound is for BMTH, I found myself loving how this sharply produced electronic slice of the band still extracted something from me emotionally. From the bridge onward is where I really found myself enjoying the fuck out of this tune with its darkness and cavernous invitations into something far more than an easy dance song. Tense and uncomfortable, but also deliciously moreish of sound, “nihilist blues” could be taken as further reminders (as in “MANTRA”) to face the truth of oneself and one’s existence, even if it’s something negative like nihilism.
Grimes is amazing on this track, adding to a conversation feel between two, as well as a smaller sounding voice adding to this feeling of being stuck or trapped. Her singing of the final chorus feels satisfying in this presentation of tortured beings in an experience of life, regardless of gender. The backing vocal of “ohh-ohh-ohh-ohh” keeps things somewhat within relatively expected Bring Me The Horizon land, even though this is clearly completely different to what we’ve heard before.
Though I loved “nihilist blues”, I found “in the dark” didn’t grab me at all. Despite feeling the emotional conflict that was being shared, I found its light and bouncy sound to be at odds with the nature of a lyrical/vocal back-and-forth argument. The guitars of the chorus were a satisfying feature in their strength and fullness, but I didn’t feel excited about much else going on.
From the halfway point/bridge where things become more tangled and layered and climbing instrumentally was a moment that felt ‘right’, matching the complication. In attempting to understand where BMTH were coming from, I could see the song as an attempt to try to get through a pretty and candy sweet facade about something serious. Again, it could be understood as earnest attempts to get honest and real which are denied in preference for something lighter and prettier.
Though I wasn’t sure how to take “wonderful life”‘s casual/weird vocal introduction when it released as a single, hearing it on the album felt kind of perfect – at least in my perspective of amo‘s themes. In the aftermath of trying to break through to a lover who is refusing to get their hands dirty and fix the relationship, there has been a return to normalcy but perhaps in a numbed or zombie-like fashion. Scattered and dozy and wondering what day it is, it’s a “I’ve forgotten what I’m on about” state of mental mess.
The rock fullness to “wonderful life” doesn’t feel jarring in its position on the album, and the building wildness of sound and feel to the song is endearing to me. The Dani Filth feature in its feral and gravelly darkness is both amusing and satisfying as this numbed lifestyle turns into a “fuck you all” fire. Compared to the single release, I liked the song even more on the album, especially with such a satisfying/free-falling/horn-playing ending.
Seeing its 1:49 track length, I’d already mentally written off “ouch” as potentially filler instrumental before I’d heard it. Big mistake. Huge! I wasn’t ready for this tiny song to contain the ultimate clap-back to the adoration expressed in “Follow You”; turning sweet promises on their head with savagery.
With this sixth track, I’m wondering if we’ve slid into the “I’ve tried to fix this, but fuck you” phase of amo’s lifecycle of romantic relating. “ouch” is scattered and messy as well as being sonically polished at the same time. Capturing a downward slide, it takes the experience of being cheated on and turns it back into a weapon. Despite its weirdness, I have a fond affection for this song.
“I know I said I was under your spell
But this hex is on another level
And I know I said you could drag me through hell
But I hoped you wouldn’t fuck the devil”
Early January was when “medicine” dropped as a single, accompanied by a video that’s both fascinating and creepy. Visually it’s a computer generated Oli Sykes being impacted/smothered by tiny black people that seem to form this toxic sludge that is at times being swallowed or spewed. The track is a fitting next chapter; where attempts to remedy a relationship have been given up on and the two are separated. Lyrically and thematically it’s a decision to play a game they never wanted to play but have no other choice to, in order to rebuild themselves.
Though the track is another light and poprock-vibing moment on amo, it’s more interesting to me than “in the dark”, and I found it easier to immerse into it and its incredibly catchy choruses. I’m a fan of the repeated use of the “some people are like clouds you know” lyric, and how the track vibes as both revenge and acceptance. In amongst the pop beats, it’s clear that this is a line-drawing when it comes to what will be taken. It’s a gear-shift in assertively handling something toxic, instead of figuratively swallowing it.
“sugar honey ice & tea” is another track of amo that I found hard to get into. Though I loved the sizeable riff and “wonderful life” reminiscent sound, it didn’t inspire much of a reaction within me. I found some of the lyrics a tad clichéd, including the chorus/title and lines like “got my head running 24/7”. My main take-away from this track is there being a sense of trying to work out what’s going on before deciding to give up on thinking or relating completely. Oli echoes the frustration by amping up into more of a yell on this track, with the end of the song then coming across as amused and defeatedly exasperated at the same time.
From this, I appreciated that the defeated state continued into the album’s ninth track “why you gotta kick me when i’m down?”. I also appreciate how amo‘s emotional themes have been able to link together a lot of different sonic approaches and still keep them connected. “why you gotta kick me when i’m down?’ seems like amo‘s version of That’s The Spirit‘s “Throne”, courtesy of its “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” messages. This theme unfortunately comes with a more lyrical lines that feel a touch predictable (“Don’t you know I’m a seed? I won’t stop at the roof / Go ahead, bury me; this is how I grow, it’s how I thrive”), but you could say the same for “So you can throw me to the wolves / Tomorrow I will come back / Leader of the whole pack”. The latter is still enjoyable to sing! Maybe this will be too?
This more urban take on Bring Me The Horizon’s sound seems to direct the lens of love toward the fans, and the weight of criticism that can come toward the band – perhaps (based on the “when I’m down” factor) when Oli is already trying hard to cope with personal struggles. Musically, I enjoyed the bridge in particular, where darker orchestral sounds combine with a sense of alarm, layers of kid voices, and Oli verbally trying to understand the negative reactions to him. Compared to the moments of vulnerability here (which are enhanced with children’s voices as backing), there’s reminders of the inspiration that can be found in fighting back and in taking on the role of the underdog. I’m not entirely sure why there’s a breather before returning to an instrumental section at the end of the track.
“Don’t you try to fuck with me
Don’t you hide your love”
More than three minutes is lengthy for an interlude, and I’m surprised at how much I like “fresh bruises”. The title coupled with the repeating lyric (above) and the atmosphere of hanging in limbo reminds me of the sensation I’ve felt before I’ve committed to fully going into something new. Daunting and fearful, I could see this track and its sentiment to be fitting for the experience of falling in love with someone, while recent history is still humming and reverberating in the mind. There’d be questions as to whether you’re going to be hurt again, cheated upon, manipulated..
The state of “I’ll be your gravity, you be my oxygen” (from “Follow You”) crumbling into nothing is metaphorically where a new relationship is arriving. This track and its repetition, although really different and unusual for BMTH, makes perfect sense when you look at it through the eyes of new love; scared shitless that this is all going to go badly and trying to make sure that it doesn’t.
“mother tongue” is the result of the risky leap forward and I love its sweet and anthemic ‘new love’ self. It seems like Oli is shunning the (flawed, limited) use of words in the romantic bond, for something more indisputable and fundamental. I’m personally reminded of the sparkle that you see in your lover’s eyes, the electric touches, the warmth when you’re together.. These are things that words can’t create artificially and will either be present in a relationship or not. I understand the track to be asking for love to be expressed how it naturally and organically will, as opposed to thinking about how to express it and coming at love unnecessarily intellectually.
Though I’ve seen a lot of negativity shared about this track, I find it to be a beautiful celebration of love. The soaring sound and falsetto vocals of the chorus are a perfect fit for the sentiment. I was surprised upon first listen that I was as moved as I was by “mother tongue”, and how despite the polish of the track that it carried as much honest emotion as it did. I adore the shared concept of wordless love, where the two are so bonded that the truth is felt and literal explanations aren’t necessary.
“It’s hard to explain
I know you know me
You don’t have to show me
I feel your lonely
No need to explain”
Putting the romantic angle of love aside, “heavy metal” looks at the love/hate for the band themselves, which is fitting on this album of songs that are exceptionally different to their old stuff. Lyrical references to the fickle nature of fan love (“picking petals”: She loves me, she loves me not, she loves me, she loves me not. And “It’s now or never, but there’s no pressure”) show a dark side of manipulation; where the ‘fans’ will only back the band if they are the kind of band that they want them to be.
Seeming to take this concept and push it as far as they can take it, “heavy metal” combines so many different sounds, including the beatboxing of Rahzel. A sweet music box melody leads to a hefty riff and catchy chorus, before the band close the track with a last gasp of heaviness.
Final track “i don’t know what to say” felt emotionally moving to me, even from 30 seconds in. Whether that’s due to the violins, the fact that Oli’s voice evoked a heavy sense of sadness, or both, the song feels like we’re being invited into something personal. My listen to this had me become progressively more moved, being handed the uncomfortable truth that what lives (and what we love) must one day die. Heart-wrenching and orchestral, “i don’t know what to say” is a tough way to end amo, but also fitting in the lifecycle of love where even the sweetest beginnings have eventual endings.
From where I sit, you’re going to have a bad time if you have any expectations as to how Bring Me The Horizon create. The album carves an unpredictable path, sound wise, and I relied upon the emotional thread to follow amo‘s metaphorical story. Looking back, what has been captured feels full and complete, open and honest. Regardless of where Bring Me The Horizon went sonically over the duration of the thirteen tracks, they went all-in. It was only a couple songs that felt limited or disinteresting to me, which may or may not change with repeated listens.
Even with the polish and production of amo, Bring Me The Horizon have the ability to share relatively profound thoughts while still retaining a sense of casual and down to earth genuineness about them. I can’t fault the lyrical honesty of amo, and I’ve no personal gripes about how the quintet have musically decided to express themselves in this new release.
amo effectively and creatively chronicles the experiences of love in its many forms and flavours, seeming to be from Oli Sykes’ personal perspective throughout. A tumultuous romantic storyline that bled into the band’s professional reception unfolds over the course of the album, and we’re in the front row witnessing quests to connect, push-backs, break-ups, cheating, new love, and creative pressures.
There’s been countless creations inspired by love, and amo joins them as a modern day raw and unfiltered view that includes the darker and more difficult perspectives of love and relating to others. Picture that ziploc bag and its CD in a time capsule, for people of the future to extract what it was like to love and create in 2018/2019.
Incredibly and courageously honest. Creatively unboundaried.
Some of the tracks ("in the dark" and "sugar honey ice & tea" for example) fell flat for me.