The reputation and respect given to Architects from both fans and other bands is unprecedented within metalcore. At this point, there’s never been a band like them within this genre, releasing acclaimed album after acclaimed album while continuously evolving and pushing themselves, and steamrolling through any roadblocks that have previously stood in their way. It’s easy to think that fate is really pushing those limits too, especially when Holy Hell marks their first album without Tom Searle on guitar following his tragic loss to skin cancer in 2016. And yet, while the vast majority of bands would find themselves lost in the wilderness without a clue of what to do or where to go next, Architects are continuing to surge forward, not only with a new album but with their biggest tour to date on the docket, proof if anymore was needed that Architects are not a band to go down without a fight, and even then the likelihood of them losing seems to be diminishing by the day.
And that all circles round to Holy Hell, an album which, to call it Architects’ most important to date would seem rather perfunctory at this point, but it wouldn’t be wrong. After all, this is not only a band looking to power through the grief and loss, but prove their capability of going forward without such a crucial member of their team. It’s not like this was ever something they weren’t going to get through though, especially when Holy Hell not only feels like the best possible way to achieve it, but also one of their best albums to date, full stop.
Again, that’s a pretty regular claim to stake whenever Architects release a new album, but more so than perhaps any of their others in recent memory, Holy Hell does feel like a movement into new sonic territory, to the point where this may be their most accessible album since 2011’s The Here And Now. Of course, there will be some who’ll undoubtedly take umbrage to such a comparison being made (you could probably include the band themselves in that camp), but it’s entirely complimentary; Holy Hell is the traditional Architects formula streamlined and refined for the best, most potent results possible. The most glaring feature is how much more streamlined of a sound this is, stripping a lot of the tech-metal elements right back to allow strings and synths to take the floor. It really does make a difference as well; the crunching synths and cascading strings cause Death Is Not Defeat to tower over basically any opener from any band, and continuing with the likes of the title track and Royal Beggars, there’s a titanic, majestic size to Holy Hell that far surpasses anything full body of work that Architects have previously release. The technicality isn’t totally gone – there’s a familiar clinical crunch to Damnation and Doomsday – but overall, a much more conventional heaviness stands in its place, something that Architects prove to be extremely well-equipped to deal with. Guitarists Adam Christianson and newbie Josh Middleton works in tandem with the bleak, metallic production for soundscapes that have such an overbearing, apocalyptic quality, while Sam Carter delivers possibly his best vocal performance to date, screaming through gritted teeth and bleary eyes on tracks like Modern Misery for a seething emotional impact, or just falling into white-hot rage on The Seventh Circle.
However, it’s not like Holy Hell’s other source of heaviness can be ignored, and that’s the impact of Tom’s passing and the weight that it holds. Grief and catharsis both feel omnipresent in equal amounts, and while Death Is Not Defeat feels like equal parts triumphant eulogy and reaffirmation of strength, it’s not something that lasts. For the most part, Holy Hell remains trapped in its turbulence, struggling to come to terms with loss at the mercy of higher powers on Hereafter, and ruminating on the brief futility of life on Mortal After All, not with despair but anger that it can be taken away so soon. And of course, there’s the personal soul-searching that comes with an album like this in lamenting death but refusing to accept it on Dying To Heal, and finally, on A Wasted Hymn, coming to terms with the fact that, no matter how much niggling guilt and pain remains, moving on is necessary, even if it is difficult. In any other hands, this could come across as terribly mawkish or maudlin, but there’s so much crushing weight within Architects’ delivery that not a single moment of this album doesn’t feel genuine. Throughout, they’re fighting through the tears, screaming into the wind and coming out the other side, not exactly healed, but with closure and acceptance that leads to that final goal.
And that’s Holy Hell, an album chronicling grief in a warts-and-all fashion that not only holds its own as a staggeringly honest and raw album, but doubles as one of the most expansive and refined metal releases of the year. What could have potentially been a risk has resulted in something wonderful, standing as the newest crowning achievement in Architects’ long list of crowning achievements, and feeling like a reinvention that means something. It’s one of their best albums to date, and while the circumstances of that can be hard to get past, that can’t be taken away.
For fans of: Parkway Drive, While She Sleeps, Bury Tomorrow
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Holy Hell’ by Architects is released on 9th November on Epitaph Records.