When you look at everything in the grand scheme of things, two years is not a huge amount of time at all. It’s just 2.5% of the average human lifespan, but so much can change in just a short amount of time. Two years ago, Brighton post metalcore heroes Architects had celebrated the release of their seventh studio album, All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us, only to then mourn the tragic passing of guitarist and primary songwriter Tom Searle to cancer at the age of 28.
There’s no imagining what it must be like to lose your creative force, your band mate, your best mate, and your twin brother, but not long after, the band were back on the road, with Sean Delander from Thy Art Is Murder filling in for Tom, Sylosis’ Josh Middleton taking the full-time job soon after. Although not on stage, Tom’s presence was felt in the songs he wrote, and his absence was felt by the thousands of fans that came out to support the band. Their tour culminated at a sold out headline show at Alexandra Palace in London, their biggest show to date, and proof that they were big enough, bold enough and good enough to fill out arenas.
After Tom’s death in August 2016, brother Dan wrote:
“We want to carry on, that is important to say, and we will strive to do so, but we will not release any music unless we truly believe that is something that Tom would have been proud of. Whether or not we can achieve that is something we will have to discover in time”
So just two short years later, 2.5% of our lives gone, Architects have discovered if they’re able to release music that Tom would have been proud of, and with their new album, Holy Hell, they’ve not only created an album that he would have been proud of, they’ve also created some of their finest work ever, and one of THE albums of 2018, if not the decade.
Holy Hell, for those of you that like stats, is eleven tracks and about 42 minutes long, but Architects said all they needed to say in just four words with album opener Death Is Not Defeat. In that track, they already show how they’ve grown and evolved as a band over the past two years. Their layered approach to songwriting is evident on the first bars of Death Is Not Defeat, with sombre strings being joined by ambient noise, and the trademark growls of Sam Carter. Past that, every instrument does its own unique and amazing thing, but all comes together as one symphony.
Death Is Not Defeat picks up exactly where Memento Mori left off on All Our Gods… with Sam screaming “I’ll dismantle piece by piece, and I will know that, death is not defeat”. A poignant lyric at face value, but made all the more poignant by the band’s resolve to carry on, continue going out on tour, and bring out their best album just two short years later. On top of that, Doomsday came out last year, and was one of the best songs released in 2017. When you take into account the creative process, writing, demoing, recording, mastering, and the hype time between announcement and release, plus touring, the band have barely drawn breath since All Our Gods… came out.
The only issue you’ll find with Holy Hell is picking your standout track. Every album’s got one; there’s a Bohemian Rhapsody or a Seek and Destroy on every album, but with Holy Hell, it’s just wall to wall perfection. The album’s qualities include poignant and intelligent songwriting, layered instruments, hard riffs, melodic metalcore and general symphonic beauty. If one song ticks all those boxes more than others, it’s Mortal After All.
Mortal After All finds the band at their level best, and will no doubt find itself as a set closer. The whole lyrical theme of the album deals with mortality, loss and coping with it, as you might expect, but Mortal After All reminds us that the “end comes for all of us”, especially with the bridge:
“Have you forgotten the deal we made? I’ve seen the end and the pain we trade, all these walls will fall, I guess we’re mortal after all // The end will come for all of us, this all rests on a fault line, all ends will be met, and all worlds must collapse”
Vocally, it’s probably the most emotionally charged performance from Sam too. In “Another part of the symphony, lost between eternity, but God is in the detail”, you can really feel the pain in his voice, especially on the final chorus.
However, Mortal After All’s superiority doesn’t detract from the rest of the album, and to be quite honest, you, the listener, may find yourself saying the exact same things about a track like A Wasted Hymn, or Doomsday… or Hereafter… or Dying to Heal. The problem with an album like this, is that it’s so damn perfect it’s hard to find where the high point is.
Sonically, the band that wrote Holy Hell are a completely different beast to the band that wrote Nightmares, but the core principle of eardrum perforating metalcore remains, especially with The Seventh Circle. Just under two minutes in length, the track is simple riffs and screaming, like a sonic mac and cheese; not exactly complicated, but wonderful nonetheless. Think of the f i l t h y pick slides as the breadcrums on top, or a nice parsley garnish.
That being said, for all the symphonies, melodies and harmonies Architects will layer their songs with, it’s quite refreshing to have a guitar swung round your face and to have Sam Carter scream in your face. Like being glassed with a gin and tonic. If at any point this doesn’t make sense, Sam Carter seems like an incredibly nice, generous and pleasant man, so it’s hard to see why he WOULDN’T glass one of his fans if you asked him nicely. Then you’ll understand The Seventh Circle.
However, whilst at heart and in bone, Architects are still the same band, the body and skin is much different, and we are all much better off for it. Never a band to throw the baby out with the bathwater, apart from maybe The Here and Now (Heartburn is still a banger), Architects instead consolidate their sonic learnings from each album to improve the next. Remember how Lost Forever//Lost Together was their best album, then it was All Our Gods…, well now it’s Holy Hell. They never stop working hard, and when some bands go well off the boil on their eight album, they’re barely even simmering. It might be a wild assumption, but Holy Hell won’t even be their best record. It’s just their best so far.
Looking at the album as a whole, there isn’t a song that doesn’t fail to blow you away. Songs like Hereafter, Royal Beggars and Modern Misery obviously aren’t as new and exciting as non-single tracks, and Doomsday is now so old it’s collecting a pension, but all are so perfect the first time you hear them. The band were concerned about when, and if they would come back, and only when they had material that Tom would be proud of.
They’ve achieved that massively, if not with a bit of help from Tom himself. He’s in and around on Holy Hell, with brother Dan saying that he might appear as a riff on a song, an unused jam, a concept, or a bit of background noise, and that in writing the lyrics for Holy Hell, Dan used his brother’s approach to writing lyrics, and to be honest, he’s nailed it, with a consistent lyrical theme on Holy Hell that can be traced through the band’s discography. And with the band sticking to their blueprint, with Tom being the major creative force on the last seven albums, he’ll be a part of every Architects album for years to come.
Another choice cut from the album is Dying To Heal, towards the end of the album. The whole way through this album, you’ve enjoyed yourself, you’ve been entertained, you’ve been blown away and mesmerised by this band. However, about 40 seconds into this track, Sam’s screams will ascend, along with this growing, towering guitar riff as it bursts into the chorus. At that precise moment, your eyes widen a little bit, because that riff is a “holy shit” moment on Holy Hell.
Lyrically, special praise needs to be given to Holy Hell. There are two sides to this album; the sonic side, which layers instrument upon instrument upon instrument to create this intricate symphony, but garnishing the top of that symphony is the lyrical content of this album. It’s rather hard, and would be rather unfair to highlight one passage as the standout lyric, because the whole album is delicately written, with the entire band’s heart and soul poured into every syllable. This lyrical theme isn’t something new, or surprising from the band, it’s just that they’ve yet again ascended to a new level in their songwriting.
The album closer is always important; it’s the track where the credits roll down and you reflect on what you’ve just experienced. With A Wasted Hymn, the album draws to a close perfectly, providing an emotional and poignant climax to what has been a transitional album for the band. In more ways than one, Holy Hell will be a dividing line for the band, for one, between the pre and post Tom eras, but what the band will hopefully remember as the album that launched them to the very stratosphere of modern metal, and install them as future classics. Metal needs superstars and arena fillers to keep the flame burning, and Architects feel like the heir to the throne of your Sabbaths, Priests and Maidens.
Back in 2016, Architects probably found themselves asking “what’s next?” after the release of their seventh studio album and the passing of their bandmate. Fast forward to now, they will probably be finding themselves still asking the same question, but with a brighter outlook. The world is theirs, ready for the taking. You’d be surprised if they didn’t headline Download next year, along with a plethora of other festivals. A headline date at Wembley Arena also awaits them, but arenas are the only venue that can hold this band now. Halls can’t contain their power.
As Dan Searle’s vocals close out the album with “now it’s time to sink or swim, I’ve got nothing except this wasted hymn, holy ghost, nothing lasts forever”, the band are swimming. No, scratch that, the band are walking on water. As the strings silence and the noise fades out, you realise just how perfect this album is. They’ve made an album that they can be proud of, that their departed brother can be proud of, that their fans can be proud of, and one that their brand new fans will take pleasure in discovering.
What they say at the start remains true at the end: Death Is Not Defeat.