This is Sempiternal: how Bring Me The Horizon made this generation's definitive metal album

Oli Sykes in the Shadow Moses video
(Image credit: Bring Me The Horizon)

As we entered the 2010s, Bring Me The Horizon were comfortably the most divisive band in metal. When they arrived on the scene as a group of youthful, obnoxious deathcore teens in the mid-00s, they left a trail of drunken debauchery, screaming girls, irate metalheads and hairspray behind them wherever they went. Despite their musical output getting more accomplished with every release, it seemed as though they would never truly be fully accepted by the wider metal community. But in 2013, their fourth album arrived, and not only did it shove the “boyband with breakdowns” accusations down the throats of their detractors, but it also became their finest musical statement, saw them achieve monumental crossover success and inspired an entire generation of BMTH copycats in its wake. 

Ten years after its release, it’s undeniable: Sempiternal is the most influential metal album of its generation. How in the hell did that happen?

Metal Hammer line break

In 2012, Bring Me The Horizon were in something of an unusual position. Having finished touring in support of 2010’s There Is A Hell Believe Me I’ve Seen It, There Is A Heaven Let’s Keep It A Secret, an album that had been rapturously received by much of the rock press but had still seen the band confronted with outright aggression from metal fans, their next album was penciled in for release at some point that year. BMTH, though, seemed aware that they were in a make-or-break situation, and so decided to delay the release and take a full year off to write their crucial next chapter. 

They also pulled a slated release of an album of remixes of There Is A Hell... material and parted ways with longtime label Visible Noise, signing instead with Sony subsidiary RCA. "It's important not to overhype – that's crucial," said RCA's MD, Colin Barlow upon signing the Sheffield squad - before doing exactly that, telling The Guardian that getting the band was a "landmark deal; it's as important as when Sony signed AC/DC or when Metallica was signed to a major." 

Vocalist Oli Sykes was clear that his new boss was barking up the wrong tree, telling The Guardian in 2013 his reply to hearing this was: “You’re gonna be disappointed, mate. At the end of the day, we're not Metallica, we don't sound like Metallica, we don't want to be Metallica, we're not going to be Metallica. We want to be our own mind." "We're never gonna sell out arenas," added guitarist Lee Malia. "If you get that in your hopes, you're only gonna be let down."

BMTH did no press at all during 2012, instead holing themselves up in Angelic Studios in Brackley, Northamptonshire, writing material and listening to scores from movies as inspiration, with the 28 Days Later soundtrack proving a particular favourite. They were joined by producer Terry Date, a man responsible for capturing the sound of some of the most definitive metal records of the past 30 years: Vulgar Display Of Power, Astro Creep 2000 and Badmotorfinger to name just a few. But it was Dates' work on Deftones White Pony and Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water that really sealed the deal, BMTH believing Date could make them sound like an entirely different band. 

He certainly could, but it wasn’t Date who proved to be the key contributor in helping Bring Me the Horizon find their new identity. Jordan Fish had begun working with the band as a session musician for the album, adding keyboards and samples to the new songs. But as their desire to use more electronics grew, so Fish’s role increased, to the point where, as Sykes told Rock Sound, he had become “One of the leaders in terms of composition.”

Fish’s confidence grew as the recording went on, and he began to dictate the sound and feel of the new material. Where initially he would play what he was told, he was now going back to Sykes’ house after a day spent in the studio and continuing to write with the vocalist and Malia, away from the rest of the band. 

This clearly led to some tension within the ranks of BMTH, with an announcement two months prior to the record’s release that guitarist Jona Weinhofen had left the fold and that Fish was now a full-time member. 

“He’s amazing,” Sykes told The Independent of Fish. He’s got loads of style, he’s got loads of ideas and he listens to music that I don’t listen to. We connect on a very similar level, even if we don’t know the same bands and music, we both know the same elements of music and what makes a song good. I don’t think many people find people like Jordan in life, someone you can trust to do something like that. It was a turning point for the album when he got involved, he’s responsible for a big part of that new sound.”

The first listen to this new sound that fans got was on January 4 2013, when Daniel P. Carter debuted the song Shadow Moses on BBC Radio 1. If you were one of the people to hear it that day, then you can probably remember having to scrape your jaw off the floor in the immediate aftermath of the song finishing. Even if you were a fan of BMTH already, you couldn’t have seen it coming: Shadow Moses’ inescapable chorus, gang vocals, groove-heavy riff, stirring synths and seemingly endless supply of hooks was everything that Bring Me The Horizon had ever promised to be in a perfect four minutes and three seconds. Ten years on, it remains an absolutely bulletproof song.

In the aftermath of Shadow Moses, the hype for Sempiternal went supernova; Epitaph Records (the band’s US and Canadian label) were forced to release the video for the song early, and on February 23 the album was leaked online a whole two months ahead of its release date. The band acknowledged it with a tweet, stating: “Due to the phenomenal demand of Sempiternal we have some very exciting news coming this week. We are stoked you’re all loving it. Fuck yea.”

The band began to stream the album on their website themselves, and the official release date was brought forward from the April 29 to April 1.

Sempiternal was an immediate smash hit upon release, landing at number three on the UK album chart and number 11 on the US Billboard Top 200, eventually going Gold in both countries. Critics also loved the album; Metal Hammer's own 9/10 review said at the time: “Put plainly, Sempiternal isn’t simply the best album of BMTH’s career. It’s one of the best albums of recent times – metal or otherwise. The time to embrace the genre’s modern trailblazers has come.” 

Indeed, even outlets that were traditionally harder to crack for metal bands were happy to acclaim the album, with NME's 8/10 review declaring BMTH were “Ready to break noisily out of the underground...the quintet have made one of the year’s most accomplished metal albums.” Although the band were still the whipping boys of some corners of the metal internet, a grudging respect was beginning to seep through from many fans of heavy music who had (sometimes fairly) pooh-poohed Bring Me The Horizon previously.

Going back to Sempiternal today feels like a slight-of-hand trick: surely a record that still sounds as forward-thinking, fresh, innovative and chock-full of absolute bangers cannot be a decade old? It says much about the quality of the record and just how far BMTH sprinted ahead of the pack that it indeed is.

From the second those booming, swerving synths rattle your skull on now iconic opener Can You Feel My Heart, standards rarely drop. Empire (Let Them Sing) takes nu metal bounce and turns it into a glorious, bombastic, rapture; Sleepwalking is Linkin Park brought up on Poison the Well; album highlight And the Snakes Start To Sing brings sexy gothic balladry to modern metalcore with spectacular results; gorgeous closer Hospital For Souls sounds like Depeche Mode after being exposed to loads of Boston Hardcore and smashed with an adrenaline shot. The potty-mouthed Antivist has perhaps aged a little poorly, but in terms of criticisms, that’s all we’ve got.

In the aftermath of Sempiternal, many bands from the metalcore scene have tried to ape BMTH’s blueprint, which often amounts to nothing more than adding a bloke on keyboards to the ranks and hoping he’ll write some good pop rock songs. This bandwagon-jumping isn’t uncommon in rock music: a load of thrash bands tried to write their Nothing Else Matters when they heard The Black Album, and countless 90s metal band went and got dreadlocks, donned sportswear and started writing songs about their “pain” when they saw how it worked for Korn. 

Suddenly, all the things that people said Bring Me The Horizon could never do were happening. In December 2013, they decimated London’s Brixton Academy in one of the finest performances ever seen at that venue, leading to the announcement of a one-off date a year later at Wembley Arena. That kiddie deathcore haircut band? In arenas? Even BMTH themselves didn’t believe it could happen. Looks like Colin Barlow was right after all.

It was no one-off, either. Bring Me The Horizon built on the momentum, and are now comfortably established as one of the biggest success stories in British metal history, opening The BRITs, singing with Ed Sheeran while headlining Reading, scoring number one albums and, finally, this summer, headlining the UK's flagship rock festival, Download

None of it could have happened without Sempiternal: the album that finally rewrote the narrative around Bring Me The Horizon, and that took them to greatness.

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.