Architects are eight albums deep into a career that finds them at the forefront of the British metal scene. Streaming services have displaced the importance of records, instead rewarding hit singles and random releases, a fact pop stars have embraced and rock stars have mostly ignored. The latter instead seek an acceptable level of fame, one that pays the bills after a headline tour. Once there, they churn out sub-par material every few years to justify another backward-looking run of shows. It’s not that rock music is dead; it’s not even trying to keep pace.
Cream rises to the top though, and Architects have always believed in bodies of work. Ever since 2011’s The Here and Now – a decent record, but one terrified of having to follow Hollow Crown – the band have been on a course-correction, honing an element of their technical metal with each release. 2012’s Daybreaker re-established them as key players, but was as much a trial run for the superior and more confident Lost Forever // Lost Together. Instead of finding ’good enough’, the band have always acted on ‘what’s next?’
Only hindsight can tell the tragedy that ‘next’ is never guaranteed. Tom Searle, Architects’ architect, died shortly after 2016’s All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us, by all accounts a masterpiece. That uncertain future is weaved throughout All Our Gods… with lyrics like “my friends, hope is a prison” and “dismantled piece by piece, what’s left will not decease.” A depressing inevitably hung over those songs, of personal mortality and death looming, as well as a more universal doom at the hands of climate change and political instability.
What’s next? Sometimes not knowing the horror is worse than dealing with it, and on Holy Hell that rings true. Less panicked and aggressive than All Our Gods…, instead there is patience dealing with grief. Tom’s twin brother Dan, the band’s drummer, takes over lyric duty and enters into a conversation with Tom’s words. Opener Death Is Not Defeat reshapes “I’ll dismantle piece by piece” and concludes “I will know that death is not defeat” with reassured certainty. Damnation similarly responds with “If hope is a prison, then maybe faith will set me free.”
All Our Gods… is an album in need of comfort, and Holy Hell tries to act as a remedy. Concluding with a repeated “all is not lost” refrain, where before the band were down in the quagmire, now they’re fighting to keep their faith in living. Grieving’s complexity pulls them between looking towards the future and dwelling on Tom’s death – “What if I completely forget? What if I never accept?” – making the album itself part of the process, something the band had to get out to move forward.
That Holy Hell exists at all is a battle won. Some records come with a narrative attached that protects them from more typical forces (reviews, commercial success, finding an audience) and that much is true here. Bearing witness to a group of guys and their fanbase dealing with loss transcends whether or not the art is actually any good.
Which it is for the most part. Hereafter is the album in miniature, angry and pensive, aggressive and melodic. It’s the perfect companion piece to Doomsday, similarly dynamic and hook-laden, making a sonically abrasive band more accessible. With these songs Architects are reaching out to the world, sharing what they’re going through.
While they try to pin down their self-labelled ‘post-metalcore’ genre, they come close to imitation on occasion. The Seventh Circle has more than a little of what makes Gojira stand out from their peers, while Modern Misery’s opening riff would be welcome on a Meshuggah album. They’re small moments from a band more often found reshaping boundaries, praise that leaves them open to increased scrutiny. It’s been a while since Architects sounded like anyone else, but here their influences creep to the surface.
Songs like Royal Beggars and Holy Hell are impassioned, with the kind of unrestrained insight into thought-processes that made All Our Gods… so significant. When the record is at its most open, the songs could crack the sky.
It’s understandable a more considered approach would rein in the fire Architects are known for. There are no bum notes on Holy Hell, yet as a collection of songs it doesn’t evoke the same drive as All Our Gods… Where that record was a defiant anxiety attack, scrappy and confrontational, the band have other matters to deal with. There’s a grace to their new music befitting something that needs to be said. These songs are clearer and more immediate and, at a time of healing, there is no benefit to pushing the world away.
In its eventual euphoria, it’s enough. A Wasted Hymn’s “Now it’s time to sink or swim…Holy Ghost, nothing lasts forever” can be taken two ways. Grief is a process which Holy Hell is a document of and everything points to Architects choosing to swim.
Architects perform at Glasgow’s O2 Academy on Thursday 17th January 2019.