Matt Nicholls

Pulverize & Polarize

Matt Nicholls

Smack in the middle of the day, less than a week before the Warped Tour, Matt Nicholls is watching a soccer match at Barney’s Beanery, a Hollywood tourist trap that serves decent stout and caters to the sports-mad. Between sips of New Castle he ponders England’s chances at winning the World Cup, and we have to tell you, the Bring Me The Horizon drummer is not optimistic. “They’re not very good,” Nicholls laments in a heavy Sheffield accent. “They’re not very good at all.”

On top of this, his band’s new album, the voluminously titled There Is A Hell Believe Me I’ve Seen It, There Is A Heaven Let’s Keep It A Secret, was delayed for almost two months due to singer Oliver Sykes’ blown-out voice. Any concerns Nicholls may have had about his chops rusting during the lull were allayed once taskmaster Fredrik Nordstr√∂m, Sweden’s top-dog metal producer, put the screws to the 24-year-old drummer. “We worked with Fredrik because we like his older stuff like At The Gates and Arch Enemy,” he says. “We want someone who’s going to make the drums sound big.”

Before the hellish two weeks at Studio Fredman in Gothenburg, Sweden, the Horizon lads were holed up in a wind-swept manor on the coast of Scotland writing the album. Nicholls programmed his beats using ToonTrack’s Drum Kit From Hell, a software tailored for extreme-metal drummers who, if they’re not careful, may write beats that are too challenging. “Well, I’d never write anything in there that I didn’t think I could play,” Nicholls stresses. “I’d write all my drums at night and so I’d have the songs in my head – like I’d know all the songs by heart – even when I was laying in bed I’d think of stuff and just program it in.”

For those expecting the speedy-yet-samey blast sections heard on earlier albums by the double-pedal/single-kick player, meet the dynamic new Nicholls. There Is A Hell wallows in an oppressive schizoid vibe jammed with puncturing guitars, tortured electronics, and Sykes’ bloody-murder wails. “Crucify Me” sports many change-ups, but it’s the delightfully disjointed “It Never Ends” that see Nicholls equaling the chaos by altering his parts every other bar. “Home Sweet Hole” has the kind of crash attack and shotgun fills that were absent on earlier records; “Visions,” “Blacklist,” and “F__k” startle with radical changes in volume and unpredictable accents that seemingly gain power and precision as they go along, as if feeding on their own energy.

The only cliché is that sub-bass-y detonation at the beginning of a breakdown, what Nicholls calls a “bass drop,” which he triggers from a Roland PD-8 pad: It’s all the rage in deathcore, innit? “I definitely am a better drummer than I was when I recorded Suicide Season,” he says. “I guess that’s coming from playing loads and loads of shows. Before, when I lived in my apartment block – a council estate [which is] like a ghetto – I couldn’t play drums because I was surrounded by other people complaining, so the only time I could play drums was when I was playing a show.”

Bring Me The Horizon’s hometown of Sheffield has a distinguished pop pedigree: Arctic Monkeys, Def Leppard, Pulp, Human League, and other significant acts all hail from the grey steel town in the north. But none of that helped Nicholls find his musical path. The poorly funded school he attended didn’t have a music program or a proper band. After his parents divorced, Dad, momentarily flush with cash, offered to buy his son a drum set. After drafting friends who were drummers to teach him the basics, he played along to Pantera, Metallica, and other bruisers. About Lars Ulrich Nicholls says, “He’s not the best drummer in the world, is he? But he gets the job done.” He also furtively soaked up the meat-and-potatoes approach of Matt Helders of Arctic Monkeys, who played all over town before blowing up. “I’m not really influenced by drummers. I’d just listen to CDs and play what they play. I’m more influenced by the ones I see on tour instead of some big drummer.”

Nicholls doesn’t use triggers live, which may come as a shocker for someone with consistently even tone playing at high speeds. “In the studio we’ll keep the natural sound but we’ll put a trigger behind it just to make it sound more refined, if you get me, but live we definitely like to keep the sounds like a natural drum kit. In the past I used a trigger [live] but I haven’t used them for, like, three years.” The previous use of triggers was less a crutch than an aesthetic choice. “I think then we just wanted the kick to sound super click-y and fast. We’re still a metal band but not as ’metal,’ if you know what I mean, so it’s not really the sound we want to go for anymore.”

Adding to its brutal bona fides, Bring Me The Horizon’s 2006 debut, Count Your Blessings, was released by Earache, a storied British underground-metal label. Nicholls hints that the relationship had more to do with getting the record distributed overseas than a concern about street cred. When it came time to put out their sophomore disc, the band switched to Epitaph, even though Earache offered more money. “We wanted someone who wanted the same things as we did for our record, and so Epitaph seemed like the number one choice for us.”

Bring Me The Horizon have little in common with compatriots Bullet For My Valentine, Gallows, Enter Shikari, or other British metallers who have broken through to the American market – and that’s A-okay with Nicholls. “It helps us stand out a little bit more, doesn’t it? We seem to divide people: They either love us or hate us. But it’s better to be hated than someone to not give a s__t.”