It feels like the clamour for Bring Me The Horizon to headline a major festival has been building for almost a decade now. They had something of a dry run at it in 2019 by headlining and curating a day at All Points East, but closing the West Stage at a world-renowned, historically important festival like Reading is surely the biggest gig of their career so far. And, while those of us who have been waiting for this moment for years are bursting with excitement and anticipation, you can bet the naysayers are sharpening their knives and waiting for BMTH to fall flat on their arses.
What we’re saying is, there is a lot of pressure on the Sheffield five-piece to get this right. As the lights go down, the band's opening intro video is full of Matrix and Terminator-esque artificial intelligence tropes, ordering us to initiate mosh pits, before Bring Me The Horizon themselves stride out onstage and burst into Can You Feel My Heart. As introductions go, it’s a seriously strong one, the band recklessly throwing themselves about surrounded by some psychedelic, trippy visuals that are so bold and colourful they would make Rob Zombie feel queasy. We get a massive-sounding Happy Song immediately after, and it quickly becomes clear just how immersed BMTH have become in the world of pop: the presence of backing dancers and some very liberal use of tracked vocals are too obvious to ignore.
While some fans might shake their fists at the sky to see their former deathcore heroes reducing themselves to such practices, the fact is that Bring Me The Horizon are now a huge band and are, quite fairly, prioritising the spectacle of their show over and above anything else. Stamp your feet and scream about it not being “TRVE” all you want: the glitz, glamour and fizz of this performance trumps pretty much anything any other modern band connected with metal are capable of. Bring Me The Horizon aren’t in competition with Bullet For My Valentine or Parkway Drive any more; they’re being judged against Stormzy and Billie Eilish.
It's a fact that is spectacularly rammed home when they bring out Ed Sheeran to perform their collaborative version of Bad Habits, first seen at this year's BRIT Awards. We’re sure he’d get a frostier reaction at Download, but the screams that greet Sheeran's arrival suggest plenty of fans are present here at Reading. Plus, he’s one of the biggest names in music on a global scale, and he’s answered the call to play with Bring Me The Horizon. Whichever way you slice it, that is impressive. The second half of Bring Me's set is certainly tailored more to their newer fanbase, with lighter and poppier moments more the rule than the exception.
Luckily, save for an acoustic run through of Follow You being a rare clunky moment, Bring Me pull it all off with aplomb. Oli Sykes jumping offstage and hugging as many of the crowd as he can during Drown is a lovely moment; Kingslayer proves to be a real anthem; set-closer Throne gets some of the loudest “woah” singalongs of the weekend, popping off one last, massive, bouncing mosh-pit that’s as big as anything Reading will experience. With no pre-Sempiternal material aired, older fans might want to bid them adieu, but Bring Me The Horizon won’t mind at all. This is as accomplished a headline set as you’ll see in 2022 and Arctic Monkeys, having to follow them on the East Stage immediately after, look aged and tired by comparison. Amazing to think that the upward trajectory of this band may still not have hit its peak yet, either.