Review Summary: Something old (Anti-vist), something new (clean-singing), something borrowed (post-rock), something blue (Breakdowns).
Bring Me The Horizon, not Bring Me The Hairspray, have a history about them for putting out shameful releases that everyone despised except me it would seem. Until recently when their third album got them quite a bit of positive attention. The band has taken this in their stride with Sempiternal and put out the strongest album in their career so far. It is an album that contains a lot of emotional lyricism and the vocal performance is a strong enough one to carry it forward and hopefully change the opinions of many who previously put them down, wrote them off of completely ignored them.
Sempiternal starts off with a rather cool mix of dubstep and post-rock elements and is the fitting introduction to this. The song is a fresh start for the band, a chance to purge the sings they supposedly put out on their past albums. It opens up with loud electronic noises that flow seamlessly into the piano driven verse and the fantastic chorus is really just the icing on the cake. The album has a knack of doing this, of making the most of combining different styles of music. And The Snakes Start To Sing is a good song to hear this contrast on as it opens up really soft and with strong vocals from Oli Sykes but by the end Oli is screaming his lungs out and it is a rather frightening shift in mood from the opening.
Going out on a limb and calling this a masterful accomplishment for the band would be a wrong move but saying that the band has definitely made a good evolution since their early albums could be seen as a fitting statement. Whereas Count Your Blessings had its moments with some solid riffs and was focussed on maintaining a heavy sound, Sempiternal is more about the atmosphere it develops. The band has taken pointers from bands such as Agalloch at how an album does not have to be crushingly heavy to create a dark atmosphere and a mood-driven sound. To single out the album's biggest accomplishment would be to point straight to the mood on the album.
The actual instruments themselves are nothing special. The band uses the same two guitar set up that nearly every metal band of today uses but do not really do it particularly well on this album. There are a few solos on songs like The Anti-vist but they do not feel part of the song structure and lead to a disjointed feel. The riffs themselves are heavily influenced by hardcore punk bands in the same vein as There Is A Hell, Believe Me I've Seen It. As such the riffs are just there to create a loud sound for the album and to dictate the overall level of aggression at any given time. If the pianos are playing around it is a good pointer that Oli is going to be clean singing but if there are fast paced riffs such as in The House Of Wolves then the song is guaranteed to be driven by screamed vocals and an angry nature.
As this is still very much a metalcore album it still contains a mass of breakdowns and they are every bit as tired and re-used as most breakdowns. The one diamond in the rough would be found on The House Of Wolves where the song dissolves into a frenzy of bizarre screamed lines from Oli. Aside from this they are definitely nothing new or fresh. The band has clearly made an effort to progress though as Oli definitely shows with his vocal performance. This time there is an even split between clean vocals and screams, with a lot of gang vocals found throughout as well. His screaming is a lot more intense than it was on Suicide Season or There Is A Hell and adds a whole new dimension to the music for once. In place of the shrieking style he took on the past two albums he actually spends most of the album sounding really intense as though he has swallowed a collection of sharp implements.
The clean singing takes center stage on a few songs such as the opener Can You Feel My Heart and the song And The Snakes Start To Sing and is really good and suits the album's sound a lot. Oli pours his deepest thoughts into some of these songs and it is only right that he sounds ready to burst into tears when he delivers lines such as:
"I'm Just a would have been, could have been, should have been
Never was and never ever will be".
He mainly sticks to a middle range for the clean vocals and they are beautiful and pretty and really nice to listen to and he is actually very soothing. Hospital Of Souls almost sounds like a lullaby with Oli's voice down your ears and it truly is a nice change for the band from the non-stop aggression found on previous albums. This time there are no cameo appearances from electro-pop artists such as on There Is A Hell and only Oli to keep the album going and this is something he really did a good job on. He shows that a vocalist does not need the widest range nor the most stunning falsettos to succeed at creating an emotional showcase.
Sadly there is some unrequired nostalgia for Suicide Season on this album in the form of The Anti-Vist which is the only song that either detracts from the flow of the album or feels completely out of place. Anti-Vist is a song that embodies what was previously hated about the band including the emotionless screams and the immature lyrics including one highly unnecessary use of the C-bomb. Just when you thought the band were starting to grow up they went and put this song out, which was also a single, to kill off those feelings. It recoups itself nicely with Hospital Of Souls and The Crooked Young so this really is only one blip though.
Bring Me The Horizon have grown leaps and bounds on their latest album from the past material they put out and Sempiternal feels very emotionally powerful. Oli's vocals are at their absolute best so far on here with some nice interchanging screaming and singing to make for an album that has a lot of variety. Were it not still infested with breakdowns and if Anti-Vist were cut this album would be pushing toward territories approaching perfection. This is still a great album and one that is highly recommended.