Bring Me the Horizon has always been a band with an eye on the future operating within the confines of an industry desperately clinging to the practices of the past. It began in 2004 as a group of British teenagers playing a particularly aggressive form of metal known as deathcore. In 2019, it is a group of 30-something men six albums deep into their career whose music is more suitable for a rave or FM radio than a mosh pit. To understand Amo, you need to understand the context of the band.
First, the members grew up as part of the first generation to have easy access to music through the internet. Thanks to illegal file sharing and, later, streaming, all kinds of music became as easy to access as top 40 pop and radio rock. For this generation — and I am a part of it — genre is merely a musical descriptor, not a mindset or form of identity. You can listen to punk without having to be a punk, or listen to hardstyle techno without being a candy raver draped in fluoro beads.
Second, frontman Oliver Sykes recently divorced, and then remarried within 18 months. It’s more accurate to view Amo — Portuguese for “I love” — as a playlist themed around love rather than an album in the traditional sense. Its cover art features a blank CD in the kind of zip-loc bag used to package recreational drugs, but you can buy a padlock-shaped USB drive pre-loaded with the audio files. Emotionally, it covers heartbreak and betrayal — Sykes’s ex-wife had been unfaithful — new romantic love and grief over the death of a friend. Musically, it jumps from pop to trap to radio rock to trance and even an acoustic ballad.
Thinking of Amo as a playlist rather than an album is the best way to avoid whiplash from all the genre-hopping. The best parts are when the band fully immerses itself in electronic arrangements. Nihilist Blues (a club anthem with trance-y lead synths and additional vocals by electronic musician Grimes), opener I Apologise If You Feel Something and the interlude Fresh Bruises carry the same kind of tension and darkness as the band’s deathcore work, but in a new format.
There are plenty of radio-friendly singles among the weirdness. Lead single Mantrais catchy alt-rock, follow-up single Medicine has a chorus made for countless gym-friendly remixes and Mother Tongue is a saccharine pop ballad. Heavy Metal — featuring an appearance from former the Roots beatboxer Rahzel — pokes fun at the portion of the band’s existing fanbase on social media that is vehemently opposed to Bring Me the Horizon’s musical evolution. “I keep picking petals / ’cause I’m afraid you don’t love me any more / ’cause a kid on the ’gram said he used to be a fan but this shit ain’t heavy metal,” sings Sykes before cheekily ripping into the banshee scream that was his signature sound on the band’s early work. No, Amo is not heavy metal. It’s much more interesting than that.
It’s hard to imagine Irish rock group the Cranberries without charismatic lead singer Dolores O’Riordan. Her accidental death last year prompted an outpouring of grief from fans around the world and left her three bandmates in a quandary: what should they do with the new material they’d been working on?
The result is the band’s eighth and final studio album, and its best work in more than a decade. With permission from O’Riordan’s family, long-time producer Stephen Street worked with the band to salvage vocal takes from demo recordings. It’s a testament to O’Riordan’s talent that these practice runs were so easily polished into a finished performance.
The singer’s death does cast a long shadow over this album, and if you try hard enough you can find a way to relate every single song to the events of her passing.
However, it’s important to remember that many of these songs were written while the quartet was having quite a nice time touring in support of Something Else, its album of acoustic rerecordings of its back catalogue. This, combined with the unusual situation with O’Riordan’s posthumous vocals, means In the End is heavy on the acoustic guitars and light on alt-rock stompers.
That’s not a bad thing. Fans of mega-hit Dreams will find a lot to like in lead single All Over Now, and O’Riordan’s plea of “fighting’s not the answer, fighting’s not the cure” on the grungy Wake Me When It’s Over feels like an echo from the tanks, bombs and guns she sang about in the band’s famous protest song Zombie 25 years earlier.
The album’s most tender moment is A Place I Know, a love song (and apology of sorts) to her teen children.
By proceeding with the recording and release of this album the surviving members of the Cranberries have done O’Riordan proud. In the End is a poignant and beautiful swan song to mark the death of their friend and the end of the band’s career. Fittingly, the last note on the album comes from the woman herself:
“Ain’t it strange when everything you wanted was nothing that you wanted in the end?”