Review Summary: THIS IS... SEMPITERNAL... and surprisingly it is an absolutely perfect album.
It has been two years since the release of Bring Me The Horizon's moderately well received third studio album, There Is A Hell, and both the fan base and the general public have anticipated it heavily. The buzz for this album all began when There Is A Hell hit the stores and many people saw that the band that had previously been among the most hated in the industry had released a strong dose of metalcore with influences of ambient music and some post-rock elements previously unseen from the band. Fast forward to the release of the first single from 2013's Sempiternal, Shadow Moses, and the anticipation for the album only grew given the almost universal praise that song received. Controversy struck when in February 2013 the album leaked two and a half months before the release date and many were pleasantly surprised to hear how much difference in both sound and quality Sempiternal possessed compared to anything the band had put out before.
Sempiternal is still very much a metalcore album with several breakdowns scattered throughout but it also has massive post-rock influence in the sound and a heavy focus on creating an emotional listen fueled by the rage-filled vocals of Oliver Sykes, whether they be screamed or sung. This album introduces an emphasis on this clean singing and, for once, Oli can genuinely be considered a major highlight for this album. His screams have got immensely better from the past two releases with a lot of intensity found to the breakdown of The House Of Wolves and even on the low point of the album Anti-Vist. That being said the clean singing is definitely the best thing about this release. It is scattered across all of the eleven tracks and Oli shows himself to have a surprisingly soothing clean voice on songs like And The Snakes Start To Sing. His performance on this particular song is absolutely tear-jerking and a fine addition to what would be a harrowing experience with the lyrics and instrumental it has anyway. For those who have written Oli Sykes off since Count Your Blessings or even ever since the band's formation, re-think these misconceptions as he has grown immensely strong as a vocalist and carries each of these songs with as much energy as humanly possible.
For possibly the first time ever for an album the breakdowns on this release are actually the center points of their respective songs and add an immense amount of depth to them. Were this your bog standard album they would no doubt be loosely placed in the songs that do nothing for the intensity nor would they fit in with the structure and the vocalist would roar as much profanity as he can during these sections. On Sempiternal this is definitely not the case as is shown best on the second song, The House Of Wolves. This song is an energetic, fast, pissed off song with some great lyrics and a chorus that contains a lot of hardcore punk shouting and a little clean singing. At 1.40 it suddenly changes up and slows down a lot with a much heavier chord-based section and Oli absolutely bellowing the lyrics "and when you die the only kingdom you'll see is two foot wide and six foot deep" several times before ending it with a low grunt. This may not sound awe-inspiring on paper but it is the way the song uses this simplistic breakdown to shift from a fast and heavy song into a short piano-driven clean section before the anthemic chorus comes in again. Other songs with great breakdowns on here would be Shadow Moses for the "this is sempiternal" and Empire (Let Them Sing) with a really awesome one in which Oli screams "let the bastards sing" with so much conviction and emphasis that it is impossible to not chant along to it.
The instrumental work on here is so much more refined and well written than on past material that one has to wonder if it is even the same band playing these songs. Whereas tracks such as Pray For Plagues and I've Read About Girls Like You were flooded with generic riffs and drumming that does nothing fresh and were plagued by bland song structures that mean each one goes absolutely nowhere, this album is a completely different kettle of fish. The opening song, Can You Feel My Heart, is a little distracting from the rest of the album with the dubstep introduction and is the softest song on here, but the rest of them really do have some killer instrumental work. Anti-Vist is the weakest song on here and even that has a ballsy riff to open it up that gets the song moving along at a brisk pace and a cool piece of drumming before the vocals start. Go To Hell For Heaven's Sake has a great drum beat to kick it off which continues through the first part of the verse despite how slow-paced it is. It has a really tribal feel to it and is enough to get your head moving on its own, before the song shifts into a soft piano driven section that precedes the chorus and could not have been better integrated into the song. The band has really developed a knack for structuring their songs so that no riff feels as though it is played too many times and so that the sections that SHOULD be emphasized really do come to the front of the song. It is also a highly memorable album with some awesome songs.
And The Snakes Start To Sing is the stand-out track from this album and tops anything the band has ever put out before with ease. It opens up very softly with a piano and Oli singing his heart out with some rather depressing and dark lyrics and it is here where the album really comes into its own. Oli's voice in the opening lines to this song is absolutely heart-melting and the instrumental that backs it with a piano and soft but preemptive drum beat that suggests the song will pick up and a guitar noodling around in the background. The chorus is where the song gets a little heavy and it would have been really easy for the band to *** this section up but Oli takes this in his stride singing the lines "and the snakes start to sing" before the real killer line of the album, and the one that is tear-inducing, is spewn out. "Heaven's full and Hell won't have me" and "I'm just a woulda been, coulda been, shoulda been, never was and never ever will be" speak so much for the state of life that many lead today and hits your emotions very hard. The lyrics to much of this album really play with the human mind and emotions and this is another aspect that it really succeeds at. The song gets softer again before a much heavier section towards the end involving Oli shrieking his lungs out and sounding absolutely tormented and demented that is the perfect way to finish off this song.
2013's Sempiternal is perhaps the finest album of the year so far and an early candidate for Album Of The Year for sure, with emotional lyrics and powerful instrumental work and one of the best vocal performances anyone has done in years.