It didn’t seem possible, but with album #6, Bring Me The Horizon have once again taken their game-changing brand of metalcore mania to the next level (or, like, the next three). Ahead of the band’s Australian tour in support of it, guitarist Lee Malia gives us a first-hand look into the weird and wonderful world of Amo. Words by Matt Doria.
Few things in life are truly inevitable – like politicians with shockingly few brain cells actively destroying the planet for a quick cent; your child’s migraine-inducing teen angst phase, in which you develop a newfound respect for silence; and, of course, Bring Me The Horizon dropping a new album to a fanbase split between unequivocal adoration and sheer, seething rage.
From the moment they chased Count Your Blessings (a cut-and-dry deathcore album with blast beats in abundance, guttural breakdowns and an ear-busting surge of churlish squeals) up with Suicide Season (a glitchy, synth-infected metalcore mecca slicked over with tight and meticulous production), the South Yorkshire mainstays have been simultaneously praised as Gods and slandered as heathens of the highest disgrace. But 15 years deep, the fivesome have only grown more confident in their defiance.
Among other things, Amo is a big, juicy “f*** you” to the saltier half of their following. Oli Sykes and co. have embraced the fact that they’ll never please everyone, and as a direct response, stuffed LP6 with a clashing chasm of atmospheric textures, skull-numbing breakdowns and dancefloor-ready EDM drops. It’s the type of album that only a band like Bring Me The Horizon – one so audacious in their pursuits to shake things up that critics sweat at the thought of slapping them a definitive genre – could have made. And ultimately, it’s the type of album they needed to make.
“We just wanted to push ourselves,” declares guitarist Lee Malia. “We didn’t want to do something that we knew we could just bash out on autopilot, because that wouldn’t have been interesting for ourselves. If you look at That’s The Spirit – we could’ve written more songs like that quite easily if we wanted to, and have ten tracks that sound like the average verse-chorus radio-rock song. But when it came to this CD, we just knew it had to be different again. We had to take ourselves out of our comfort zones.”
The end result is an LP where no two songs are even similar, let alone the same; Amo is so chaotically dynamic that not only are repeat listens crucial to soak in every quirky synth and gurgling riff at play, but to fully appreciate the spider’s web of genre mashups and sonic contumacy, you’ll need to strap yourself in for a full, dedicated playthrough, headphones cranked to 11 and your phone set off to the side.
“I think some of the songs only make sense once you’ve listened to them in the context of the album,” Malia agrees. “It’s definitely not the kind of album where every song is supposed to be a single. It’s all over the place, and the songs go in all sorts of directions – there are certain songs where if you heard them on their own, you’d be totally confused by them. We want people to actually sit down and listen to [Amo] as a proper album, and not just a couple of tracks in a playlist.”
The discordancy of Amo sans context was especially clear in its pre-release months. To fans of Bring Me The Horizon’s earlier work, singles like “Wonderful Life” and “Medicine” painted two conclusively anomalous pictures: one that promised a throwback to the fiercer, more remorseless Bring Me, and one that saw them dive headfirst into the pop sphere, complete with glossy keyboards and wispy autotune. Guitars are crammed into every open crevice on Amo, thankfully, but not in the way many would expect. Where previous records would have Malia reign mightily in the front end of the mix, tearing shit up like no tomorrow, Amo has him take a step back and work with more deliberate and cerebral doses of stringwork.
“It might not be as guitar-focussed as some of our other albums,” Malia admits, “But when there is a guitar in the mix, it’s an integral part of the song. There’s a lot of pressure on that part at that time, and recording the guitars like that made it really challenging for us. We had to make sure all the tones were there, and that every part really served a purpose to the songs.”
With the album written and produced largely by frontman Sykes and keyboardist Jordan Fish, the band would gather in isolated bursts throughout 2018 to collaborate on the pair’s demos, which were often built up almost entirely of samples. Such made for an interesting challenge in Malia’s eyes, as he was tasked with bringing a sharp, guitar-driven rock edge to a project that was otherwise lacking one.
“It’s really cool,” Malia says of his newfound position as a synth-oriented metal guitarist. “I get to experiment with a lot of pedals and effects and stuff, which is fun when you’re a gear nerd like me. I just think we’ve cracked the code when it comes to making the guitars and the synths sit together. Nobody’s like, ‘Oh, that’s a guitar part and that’s a synth part’ – it just sounds like one huge thing. You see people saying stuff like, ‘Woah, there’s no guitars on this track,’ but we’ve just gotten them to work so well with the synth sections that you literally cannot hear the difference between them. And then we did stuff like side-chaining the guitars, and compressing certain parts so that the chords pulse with the kick drum.”
In the past, Malia would toy with a limited spread of gear, mostly restricted to his signature Les Pauls and whatever pedals the band could unearth in rummaging through their studios’ drawers. But with the experimental ethos that permeated Amo at every stage of its inception, the options became endless. One new flavour that Malia developed a taste for was the ripping, stadium-ready crunch of the humble Fender Stratocaster.
“There are a lot of tones on songs like ‘In The Dark’ that are just straight, single-coil Strat,” Malia tells us. “I used the coil tap and the neck pickups on my [Les Pauls] a fair bit, but the Strat obviously has such a signature sound. There were so many times in the studio where we’d look at a guitar part and just go, ‘Yep, that needs to be a Strat.’”
For his skill-testing mission of weaving around the album’s electronic sections, Malia looked to the venerable Electro-Harmonix Synth-9, which became an instant favourite for its dirty, rave-ready analogue synth emulation – something which, in the right hands, can make otherwise unmistakable guitar chords sound like they were plucked straight from a weatherworn Moog circa 1983. Malia’s tinkering with the Synth-9 is best heard on “Nihilist Blues”, a seedy deep-pop banger with a chorus drop ripe for the sweaty enclaves of an underground London nightclub where you need a secret password to even know what street it’s on.
Elsewhere, Malia’s go-to rig included a Fulltone OCD and a handful of kit from Earthquaker Devices – the choice pick being a Fuzz Master General for the gravelly, wall-of-sound juts on tracks like “Heavy Metal” and “Mantra”. For the occasional bursts of that unmistakably classic Bring Me crunch, Lee’s preferred overdrive setup was a Klon Centaur rigged into Wizard Modern Classic amp – a souped up 800-watter that Malia pushed to its absolute limits.
“Whatever there was lying around in the studio, we’d try it,” Malia says. “We didn’t really worry about whether it was practical, to be honest – if it sounded cool, I’d use it, and then we’d melt down the settings and narrow down what pedals I used. By the end of it, I was like, ‘Oh no, I’m gonna have to buy a whole new pedalboard for the tour now!’”
Speaking of the tour, it’s no surprise that Amo has reinvigorated Bring Me The Horizon’s inimitable (and inimitably insane) live show. The band are set to bring their refined brand of chaos Down Under in April for the unethically massive First Love tour – their first time tackling full-blown arenas on local soil, with a jaw-dropping stage production and two-hour set sure to make it one for the history books.
And although Amo prides itself on lashings of digital trinketry, Malia promises an unquestionably authentic performance from the band (fleshed out to a six-piece with rhythm guitarist John Jones). After all, they’ve racked up all the wacky and wondrous equipment you could think of to make it happen.
“We’ve had to rack mount all my pedals because it was getting a bit ridiculous how many I had on the floor,” Malia chuckles. “It’s all rigged up to a MIDI controller so we can manage it a little more fluidly, and then I use an 800 for my main distortion sounds and a JTM45 for my cleans. I also have a spare 800 though, and we’ll run a Kemper through the power amp on that, then run all of that through a cab.”
Bring Me The Horizon
Wednesday April 10th - Entertainment Centre, Brisbane QLD
Friday April 12th - Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney NSW
Saturday April 13th - Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne VIC