Album: Holy Hell
Label: Epitaph / Indigo
On February 3rd, 2018, Architects confirmed their ascent to the very upper echelons of British heavy music.
In front of a sold-out Alexandra Palace – one of London’s biggest and most revered live music venues – the quintet gave a performance of such resonance that it met acclaim from both the rock and wider music press, and underlined their status as a live act of such ferocity that they would later be coronated ‘Best British Live Band’ at the 2018 Kerrang! Magazine Awards.
Such an accomplishment is not, common industry perception dictates, supposed to happen to a band such as Architects, whose fiercely authentic blend of rage, emotion and unrivalled technicality has long since earmarked them as the most special of propositions to the devoted ranks of rock music fans, despite their standing staunchly in opposition to the disposable, shallow nature of popular culture in 2018.
For those reasons alone, the dizzying success of Architects in recent years makes for one of music’s most incredible stories. Placed within the context of the tragedy that befell the band in August 2016, however, and it becomes all the more remarkable.
Eighteen months prior to that evening, on the morning of August 21st, 2016, the world awoke to the news that Tom Searle – founding guitarist, principal songwriter, band leader and twin brother to drummer Dan – had the day prior passed away following a private three-year battle with skin cancer.
Architects’ critically acclaimed and commercially successful (charting at #15 in the UK) seventh album, All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us, had been released just weeks before, and with touring commitments scheduled to take them into the biggest venues of their lives all around the world, the band drafted in longtime friend, guitarist Josh Middleton, to help them pay public tribute night after night, month after month, to a man described by drummer Dan as “the omnipresent heartbeat of the band”.
“In those first months after Tom’s death, I didn’t deal with it at all and I felt so unhappy and anxious,” Dan continues. “I hadn’t dealt with it or acknlowlegded it; i’d ignored it and just tried to cope. But I knew that at some point, I had to learn from it. At the time, we told people that we had no idea what would happen to the band. And that was for real. I really believed we could keep going as a band, but, in many ways, it felt like a ridiculous ambition to have.
“It’s at times like that that you ask yourself, ‘What is left?’” adds Sam Carter. “As a group of friends, we had to find something.”
“Ultimately, there were two choices,” Dan says. “Feel sorry for yourself, and believe the world to be a horrible place and let it defeat you. Or let it inspire us to live the life that Tom would have wanted us to live.
Written in the aftermath of Tom’s passing, and recorded across a six-month span from October 2017 through to April 2018, the stunning Holy Hell – Architects’ forthcoming eighth album, released on November 2nd via Epitaph Records – is the sound of the resultant grief, pain and confusion that engulfed the band during that time.
As the world has long come to expect from Architects – vocalist Sam, drummer Dan, guitarists Josh and Adam Christianson and bassist Ali Dean – it is a record masterfully executed. Few bands, of this modern era or any other, can match the quintet’s ability to blend uncompromising heaviness with razor-sharp melodic musicianship. Though to take these 11 songs at headbanging face-value would be to miss the opportunity to connect on a deeper level with the band’s most personal work ever. In turning their songwriting perspective away from the previously explored territories of impending environmental disaster, global societal suffering and political corruption, and focussing instead on the most difficult trials and tribulations human beings must all encounter in life, they have put forward their most emotionally affecting, universally accessible songs to date.
“For me, broadly speaking Holy Hell is about pain: the way we process it, cope with it, and live with it,” Dan begins. “In losing my brother, the primary thing I have taken away from the ongoing grieving process is that there are lessons in pain. There is <value> in pain. It’s where we learn, it’s where we grow. And yet, we don’t possess the understanding to process the pain in our lives, to acknowledge it and accept it and look it in the eye.”
Certainly, Holy Hell stares suffering in the face throughout its complex lyrical journey, which opens with the the anthemic Death Is Not Defeat – “A song to Tom,” Dan reveals. “I think a bit of him felt like he was letting us down by dying, and I couldn’t have him feel that.” What follows, however, much like the grieving process that underpins its entire creation, is a narrative arch that is not an easily navigable path leading simply from dark beginning to brighter end.
While Damnation finds the band revisiting and reexamining the lyric <<’Hope is a prison>>’ – originally penned by Tom Searle on All Our Gods… track Gone With The Wind – from a more hopeful place, and Doomsday (released as a previously standalone single last September, which to date has garnered in excess of 15m views on YouTube) takes on a more positive meaning in context, the haunting refrain of <<’I don’t want to dream any more’>> in the bludgeoning The Seventh Circle is a desperate reminder of a darkness that lurks behind every false dawn.
“I desperately wanted the album to be lyrically authentic,” Dan reveals. “I originally wanted to make a sequential album that went from ‘fuck life’ to ‘life’s OK’, but that’s simply not how grief works. I wanted to express the blunt end of grief, where it can feel like there is no point in life any more, and I didn’t want to censor that.”
And yet, in closing with A Wasted Hymn, Holy Hell sees the band looking forward to a light at the end of the tunnel. The album’s most emotionally heavy moment, the track features a segment of guitar recorded by Tom prior to his death. “It’s my favourite part of the record,” Dan smiles.
“I was very worried about people taking away a despondent message from the album,” Dan admits. “I felt a level of responsibility to provide a light at the end of the tunnel for people who are going through terrible experiences. Because I would have like that when Tom first died. Hearing someone else articulate it in the way we have done here would have been something that would have really helped me.”
“I hope Holy Hell helps people going through similar to us,” Sam Carter says. “The one thing that’s come into focus throughout this journey is that it’s not just us going through grief, and I hope if it can help people in the way that it helped me process those emotions.”
“To help other people through their pain,” adds Dan, “would be an amazing thing to be able to take away from this.”