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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bring Me the Horizon -- There is a Hell, Believe Me I've Seen It, There is a Heaven, Let's Keep it a Secret

I hate when people say, "Hindsight is always 20/20." It isn't. Even though the cliche is intrinsic to the word's very definition, I can think of hundreds of events in my life, that while clearer now, still make little sense to me--more like 20/40 at best. Still, time and reflection usually do clear things up a bit. I don't like reviewing music unless I can find, at minimum, some translucency on what my opinion of that music is. Time and reflection are the best tools in this process. This album, which I will from here on refer to as TIAHBMISITIAHLKIAS--just kidding, I am only going to refer to it as "this album"--came out in October of last year, and I am now only realizing what I truly think of it, and why it is so divisive. How divisive? I am a big fan of the music news and review website, Decoy. One of the editors wrote a 5/5 review for this album and received a lot a flak. So much flak that another editor from the same website re-reviewed it and gave it a 1.5. On my first batch of listens, I gave it a 2/5. Why is it so divisive? Maybe because Bring Me the Horizon look like this:
Maybe it is because the vocalist has been accused of performing the same illegal acts as a certain someone awesome enough to compose an entire R & B Opera about being trapped in a closet. Or maybe it is just because of the complete audacity of this album. First off, just look at the album cover. It is at the top of this entry. Go ahead, look at it. Look at it again. It is ridiculous. No one in their right mind can take an image like that seriously. At the same time, I can't think of any single image that can sum up what this album sounds like. Not one. Same goes for the title. It is an awesome mess, and by that I mean that any admiration I have for this album revolves around how big of a wreck it is.
The first track is titled "Crucify Me." People with Christ complexes are irritating. The speaker in this song seems to think he is pretty important. Everything about this song seems to think it is pretty important. It starts off with a pretty picked guitar which suddenly turns heavy (think of the two sides of the woman on the album cover). Then vocalist Oliver Sykes starts screaming. He doesn't really take a break, either. If you don't believe me, just google the lyrics for this song and cut and paste them into Microsoft Word. You will be looking at more than one page. This song changes gears about 50 times before it ends. A choir pops up. The choir gets attacked by digital effects. Sykes voice gets attacked. The drums sound like they get attacked. The digital victim of the choir becomes a key component to the song. The guitars get pretty again. They get heavy again. Canadian artist, Lights, comes in and lends her voice and keyboard. Everything comes in and out of the speakers a few times. Everything stops and only Lights' voice and an acoustic guitar carry the song out. "Crucify Me" is an entire album's worth of ideas in one song. Out of six minutes and nineteen seconds, three minutes and nine and a half seconds work.
The next track, "Anthem," introduces Sykes favorite word. He likes this word so much, he named the fourth track after it. The lyrics follow the same self-centered, "I'm a disaster and you are all somehow involved" line of thought, and the music heavily jumps around until the final minute, where it turns into a beautiful ambient passage. It's moments like this that make completely slamming this album impossible. For all the turdage in the song, the final minute is flawless, and leads directly into "It Never Ends." This track combines most of the disparate elements of the album into the best package it can present. The ambient passages are well-integrated, the sudden choir sounds nice, as do the keys and violin (I guess that's a violin), the screaming hook is good, and the cathartic outro is excellent. The only thing that knocks this song down a peg is the screamed "OH!" and chugga-chugga breakdowns tossed in throughout that can be found in 30 or 40 thousand other songs.
This song leads into (don't worry, this song by song breakdown is about to end) the track named after Syke's favorite word, which is all about its literal use. All the chaos of the previous songs can be found in this song, but as in the aforementioned songs, something comes along and saves it. In this case, it's a beautiful hook sung three-quarters of the way through by guest vocalist, John Franceschi, which continues until he is further backed up by Syke's scream and a piano. Of course, there's a piano. And then everything falls out and there is just a solo violin. Of course, there's a solo violin. The violin segues into power ballad, "Don't Go", which finds a screaming Sykes dueting with the return of Lights' beautiful voice...until she starts kind of half-rapping...and what? Then there is this awesome 80's metal bridge and then...okay, I give up. But then, so does Bring Me the Horizon.
After all of this ridiculous experimentation which produces almost as many fine moments as duds, BMTH settle into four songs of heavy sameness. Don't get me wrong, these songs are still just as chaotic as the first five tracks, but they don't have any of those tracks' saving graces. At first this is almost a breath of fresh air--the end of the bi-polar first half means things can move along more smoothly--then again, without all of the left-field surprises, nothing really sets most of the second half apart. The band don't really do anything distinctly different from their peers here, just the same chugging, ADD riff-switching, with a few sung parts tossed in and a quiet moment here or there. Adding insult to injury, the songs all linger on far too long--none come in under the four minute mark.
By the ninth track, "Blacklist," you may have blacked out, and when the light guitars of ambient instrumental tenth track, "Memorial" kick in, you may wake up and think you have died. Not only is this track a beautiful three minutes, it is also a welcome respite from Syke's constantly bellowing voice. We finally arrive at the last two tracks. The first, "Blessed With A Curse," sounds like it could have made a home in the first half, with enough gorgeous orchestration and ambient sections to set it apart, and a cathartic bridge that serves as one of the most powerful moments on the recording.
The album closer, "The Fox and the Wolf," serves as a lesson the band needed to heed more often. It follows the guidelines of most of the second half--fast, heavy, and more straightforward--but holds an important element that all those tracks lacked: brevity. Josh Scogin, a Nicsperiment favorite, cameos in a vocal duel with Sykes, the point gets made, and the track ends in a minute and forty-two seconds. If BMTH had kept the other less experimental tracks as brief and fun as this one, they could have given us a decent forty-minute album instead of one that approaches an hour.
But that sums up this whole bloated mess. It is just too much of everything. While skipping around to favorite moments is rewarding, listening to the entire album is a chore. While all of the experimentation is admirable, a little restraint and discernment could have made those moments more special. While Oliver Sykes vocals are undoubtably passionate, he could have screamed a little less and let the instrumentation lead the songs more. While the confessional lyrics can be intimate, their self-centered, profanity-leaning laziness distracts from any kind of revelation. Every positive to this album has a negative, just like that stupid dichotomic excuse for an album cover expresses. Six months after TIAHBMISITIAHLKIAS has been released, I am sure of at least that.

LAZY COMPARISON: Like Underoath, Poison, the Brodsky String Quartet, Lights, Anberlin, and Rise Against PLAYING AT THE SAME TIME.

2010 Epitaph Records
1. Crucify Me 6:19
2. Anthem 4:49
3. It Never Ends 4:34
4. Fuck 4:55
5. Don't Go 4:58
6. Home Sweet Hole 4:37
7. Alligator Blood 4:31
8. Visions 4:08
9. Blacklist 4:00
10. Memorial 3:09
11. Blessed With a Curse 5:08
12. The Fox and the Wolf 1:42

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