The Greek island of Santorini: setting of the musical Mamma Mia!, home of sun-smooched black sand beaches, donkeys tied to posts, bored tourists in nylon shorts comparing diving tour operators; and, for the past couple of months, site of one of the most startling transformations in British metal history.
In 2013, Bring Me The Horizon’s ‘Sempiternal’ saw them push beyond their metalcore roots, with singer Oli Sykes actually singing rather than emitting the death growls he’d preferred on their earlier albums. “That worked, then,” he confirms. “But this time round, the challenge wasn’t just for people to be impressed that a screamer’s learned to sing. We had to come back with something that would be impressive for people who had no idea of the history of the band.” After two months in the studio, that ‘something’ now spans 12 tracks.
Its roots lie in their decision, late last year, to release a tester single, ‘Drown’, indicative of a new, more polished direction. “That seemed to go down well. So we continued in that direction,” says Jordan Fish, the band’s newest member and Sykes’ co-writer, who acted as unofficial producer throughout the recording.
“Producers are fine,” Sykes acknowledges. “But they want to justify the importance of their jobs sometimes, so they say things to you like: ‘Oh I know – why can’t you do it in the swimming pool?’ We know enough now that we were like, ‘It’s not that hard. Let’s just lay everything down the best way we can, and get on with it.’”
“Plus,” says Fish, “they cost a lot of money.”
They’ve spent part of the money they’ve saved on hiring a personal trainer. “We’ve been going for runs in the mornings, that’s been really nice.” Fish goes on, “We’re just soaking it up – we’ve been hiring quad bikes to go round on, hanging out at a few local bars, going down to the beach.” Somewhere in all that downtime, Skyes has also bought a puppy – a white alsatian female he found at a legendary local sanctuary for abandoned dogs.
They found the unusual studio they used to make the record by Googling ‘world’s most amazing studios’. Straddling the crest of a hill, it looks down past volcanic cliffs on to two sides of azure Mediterranean bay, owned and run by an affable silver-haired man called Costas.
The sessions have been going so well that, in the second month, the band has been dialling their workload down rather than desperately hurtling towards deadline. But prior to Santorini, there was a three-month writing period in early January that Fish describes as “the most intense of our careers. We’d decided to take some time off after Christmas, but then we got a bit bored, got back together and it all started happening. Of course, now we regret throwing ourselves back into the whole whirlwind again so soon…”
The album is to be called ‘That’s The Spirit’ – a loose concept album about life’s darker moods. “It’s a celebration of depression,” Skyes explains. “A way of making light of it. ‘That’s The Spirit’ – it’s quite a depressing phrase when you think about it – the sort of thing you only ever use when you know there’s no positive answer to the situation.”
The music expands the broader range the band has shown since Fish joined. ’Happy Song’ – described by Sykes as an ‘unofficial title track’ – features cheerleader chants, and throughout there’s brass, violins and cello, a lot of classic metal licks, but overall a much wider palette of influences. Some tracks carry whispers of Jane’s Addiction, others seem to dab towards Panic! At The Disco or even Interpol, while the opener’s complicated percussion dips as far down the chin-stroke spectrum as late-period Radiohead. While thematically it keeps faith with the metal crowd, texturally it’s a radical departure from their past, and a giant leap towards the Radio 1 A-list for the Sheffield five. Soon, the horizon may not be enough.