Thrash Hits

August 8th, 2012

Let’s read between the lines of Bring Me The Horizon moving to a major label, shall we?

Just over a week ago, Bring Me The Horizon announced they’d moved to a major label? Big deal, or so what? Or both? Hugh Platt is here to mouth off.

bring me the horizon 2010 promo photo thrash hits visible noise new album

So Bring Me The Horizon have moved from the relative smallness of independent UK label, Visible Noise, the relative gigantism of the multinational Sony Music Entertainment, by way of the major’s RCA Records subsidiary. RCA, of course, has been the past and present home to everyone from Justin Timberlake and The Strokes, to Mike Posner (aka the pop guy featured on Warped Tour’s No Room For Rockstars documentary) and perennial Thrash Hits not-really-metal-but-we-still-loved-them-mob The Cooper Temple Clause, and now Oli Sykes and co. are also calling it home. But so what right? Band moves label. Big frickin’ deal! Right? Right?

Wrong.

In the myopic world of internet dickery, it’s easy to lose perspective on how big Bring Me The Horizon are. Let’s forget about subjective questions about whether or not we like their music or not, and look at some raw numbers. Their last album sold over 20,000 copies in its first week in the USA alone. Their album before that was still shifting more than 1,000 copies a week over a year after its release there. If those figures don’t impress you, go check out some of the other US sales figures on Metal Insider’s regular sales column. Sure, there’ll be some regional variations, but the general sales trends are for the most part replicable all over the metal-listening world. In the very small pond that “heavy” music dwells within the larger marshland that is the entire music industry, BMTH are a significantly bigger splash than most “respected” artists. Your opinion of their music at this point is moot – in a world of ever-shrinking sales numbers, BMTH are as profitable and reliable as you’re likely to find, when it comes to emerging metal bands of the last decade.

Now, the reasons behind BMTH’s success are many and varied – so many in fact, I could easily write an entire column just about them. They make music that’s (relatively) easy to digest. They have a young, pretty-faced frontman. In Oli Syke’s Drop Dead label, they have the archetypal band-with-their-own-clothing-line. They irritate the living fuck out of neck-beards and Serious Music Fans (capitalisation intended). They have Kerrang! – arguably the closest thing the British metal sphere has to being The Establishment – as a near-permanent flag-bearer. The magazine did orchestrate a publicity-hoovering “protest” outside the Mercury Prize nominations announcement when BMTH’s last album wasn’t included in the shortlist, after all. And above all, while BMTH cause enough controversy to keep the column inches coming, but just enough controversy not to get too badly done over when they allegedly piss on their fans.

Watch Thrash Hits TV: Bring Me The Horizon at Download Festival 2011:

But I’m digressing – the point I’m trying to make is that by whatever quantifiable metric you choose to use, BMTH are arguably a “successful” band. However – like so much in the music industry – “success” is a relative concept. “Success” when you’re a British band signed to a British independent label is completely different to “success” as defined by an international major label imprint. This is where the dreaded concept of The Glass Ceiling comes into play. WTF do I mean when I talk about The Glass Ceiling in this instance? And how on Earth does it play into our mulling over where BMTH are going?

On their last headline tour, BMTH played Brixton Academy, a 5,000-capacity venue, as well as the various regional analogues – the Manchester Apollo, Nottingham Rock City, et al – which will have capacities of varying degrees, but will essentially range from 2,000 to 3,000. Barring the Iron Maidens of this world, that’s as big as any British metal band has really gotten in the last twenty years. Okay, technically we can include Bullet For My Valentine in the list of bands that have broken through that barrier, but is it any surprise that they did so touring their least “metal” album. And while detractors would happily lump Matt Tuck’s mob alongside Bring Me The Horizon as “emo fag bullshit” (c/ o comments on the Thrash Hits YouTube channel), anyone who is capable of pulling their head out their own arse for long enough to listen to the two bands will recognise that BMTH and BFMV have more in common when it comes to their acronyms than they do when it comes to anything musical.

No matter how much irrational anger Ollie Sykes haircut causes you, you’d have to be pretty dense to describe his vocal style as clean singing. Likewise, whatever your take on BMTH music, whether it sends you into a bizarrely-misdirected rage or causes you to embarrassingly join spurious publicity-stunt campaigns to have their albums nominated for the Mercury Prize, it most definitely can’t be described as “radio-friendly”. Having already reached the size of venues that marks the career highlight of most bands, The Glass Ceiling in relation to BMTH is simple – is there the desire in the heavy music market space for a band of this ilk to grow beyond their current size? Bands like Machine Head, Marilyn Manson and Deftones have all seen brief windows where their individual popularities peaked and they headlined venues greater in size than Brixton, but they all came creeping back eventually. And BMTH are arguably more a niche prospect both within and outside the wider heavy music sphere than any of those bands. Does this put a stranglehold on BMTH potential to grow even bigger – which we can guarantee RCA will be betting on – from the off?

Watch the video to ‘It Never Ends’ by Bring Me The Horizon:

Not necessarily. Visible Noise have a pretty strong pedigree when it comes to marshalling young British talent and turning it into something pretty damn successful. It’s what got BMTH to this point, after all. Also benefitting from  Visible Noise’s talent-nurturing are Lostprophets, the aforementioned Bullet For My Valentine, and Your Demise, all of whom have all been guided significantly by Visible Noise during their careers. This doesn’t mean that BMTH leaving Visible Noise represents a kick to the label’s teeth – I’m not sure just how much bigger Visible Noise could’ve taken BMTH. If we look at the label’s previous big success story, Lostprophets, we can see a clear career peak for the band around album no.3, Liberation Transmission. Lostprophets, a band far more mainstream-friendly in terms of sound than BMTH, reached the dizzy heights of Wembley Arena and a Download Festival headline spot, only to later flail and fail to sustain that level of interest. True, by the time of their decline, the band’s connections with Visible Noise were somewhat reduced and they were working with other labels in the USA, but I think it still stands as an example that Visible Noise’s true strength has been nurturing UK talent before it really hits the upper echelons of success.

Is that fair on Visible Noise? Maybe so, maybe no. Is it fair to them that they nurture talent, only for them to then see someone else come in with a bigger chequebook and bigger promises, who’ll take advantage of said nurturing to then reap the rewards of giving a fully-formed commercially-successful unit an extra push into even bigger profits? Possibly – from an outside perspective, it could quite easily be seen that way. Then again, you could also look at it that Visible Noise know and play to their strengths – is it a co-incidence that over the last few years, Visible Noise has been grooming Your Demise to step up to the next level? Visible Noise are among the best of what they do, and BMTH vacating the label gives the team working there more time to work on other, fresher acts. The cycle of the music industry continues, and all that.

With regards to BMTH’s move to a major, it’s important to recognise that this isn’t the same situation as when Warner Bros signed Gallows. Unlike BMTH circa 2012, Gallows circa 2007 were still a fairly embryonic affair, and the fact that they signed such an enormous deal because of the enormous swell of hype that accompanied them. Unlike BMTH, who have reached my oft-repeated measurement of Brixton Academy-sized shows through a fairly organic, gradual process Gallows’ London high-point in terms of headline-show-size was the Kentish Town Forum, a venue of half that size. A more cynical man might say that they filled it based on the huge push they received from the major immediately following the release of Grey Britain, and that once said major label push was over, they move back down to smaller, more realistically-sized venues for a band of Gallows’ aggressive style. But since BMTH are already at this Brixton Academy level, and if they receive a similarly vigorous push after the release of their next record, where will it be able to (realistically) take them?

Watch the video to ‘Chelsea Smile’ by Bring Me The Horizon:

Right now, I don’t know. You don’t know. BMTH might have hopes, but they don’t know either. RCA’s A&R guys have plans, sure, but they also get to join the big ol’ club of “people who don’t know”. What’ll be interesting is whether a move to a major label will help them break through that Glass Ceiling, or whether the label signed the band with the intention of staying happy with the band’s career path if it stay at its current level over the long term. If BMTH’s jaunt in support of Machine Head taught us anything (or rather, reinforced anything), it’s that the BMTH fanbase is compartmentalised away from that of much of the rest of “heavy” music’s, which would make any aggressive expansion of the BMTH “brand” a tough proposition. Again, you could draw a parallel to BFMV here, who I suspect have similar fanbase segregation, but also possibly with Avenged Sevenfold and a number of other popularist “heavy” acts.

So even if you don’t particularly care for BMTH’s music – I confess, it does virtually nothing for me – what happens with BMTH now they’re on a major label should interest you, if only because they’re now the premier standard bearer/case study for what it’s possible to achieve for both independent and major labels operating in heavy music today. That they’re British and come from the former to the latter merely adds a whole new set of interesting variables to argue over down the pub. If you’ve got any interest in how heavy music “exists” beyond the most basic urge of “I like the sounds it makes when I play it on my stereo”, keep an eye on BMTH. I know I’ve posed a lot of questions over the course of this article, and given answers to precious few, but watching them to see what the answers will be is going to be fascinating.


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