With ‘Holy Hell’, the eighth record from Brighton’s Architects, the band face what is without question the hardest chapter to turn in their careers following the tragic passing of guitarist Tom Searle in 2016, enduring the flames of pain and loss and using that to create what is an organic and natural progression.
The title that opener ‘Death Is Not Defeat’ bears is just one of multiple instances of the more prominent themes that run throughout the record; that of the fragility of life, unhesitantly speaking of death, and the pain that comes with losing a loved one, but also that of perseverance.
It’s a change of pace sonically from the full-throttle-right-from-the-get-go opener that Architects have brought on their past two records. Instead, we’re drawn in with somber strings, and frontman Sam Carter enters with some electronic drums as he delivers the emotional introductory line, “When I leave this skin and bone / Beyond my final heartbeat / I’ll dismantle piece-by-piece / And I will know that death is not defeat.”
The following one-two of ‘Hereafter’ and ‘Mortal After All’ showcase the band’s decision this time around to bring their electronic and atmospheric background much more to the forefront than before, marrying side-by-side with the emotional tribulations throughout the record’s arching message. It’s a decision that may be portrayed as the band pulling back their aggression, but if anything it bolsters it.
Indeed, though on the surface 2016’s ‘All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us’ may have been an unapologetic flurry of fury and at times nihilistic nail to the head, its these moments that show that its follow-up allows other already existing elements in their repertoire to not only take a few more lead roles in its cuts, but also allow them the chance to breathe and evolve.
A step into another raw direction comes in ‘The Seventh Circle’, a track that doesn’t even break the 2-minute mark, and in turn is the shortest song in the band’s entire discography. It’s a relentless number that almost enters hardcore territory, secreting pure venom with every second of its run-time. The titular track is also a cataclysmic affair, displaying Adam Christianson‘s and Josh Middleton‘s impressive fretwork and one of the most volatile breakdowns on the record, and is also arguably the height of Dan‘s drumming capabilities to date.
‘Damnation’ tips its hat back to their 2016 track ‘Gone With The Wind’ with the line “If hope is a prison, then maybe faith will set me free,” which acts as just one instance of the record’s connection with their fallen bandmate, friend, and brother.
Tom Searle‘s presence actually ebbs and weaves constantly throughout ‘Holy Hell’. The band grabbed bits and pieces that Tom had left behind; incomplete songs, some riffs, backing electronics and ambience, and other ideas penned before he passed away. Tom is still a part of Architects on ‘Holy Hell’; in the work that he left behind, in the lessons that he taught them, and in a legacy that the band have undoubtedly honoured.
‘A Wasted Hymn’ carries on the band’s continuing trend of bowing out of their albums on a high. There’s a prominent emotional core running through it, especially in the pain that reverberates in Carter‘s voice that soars through its verses and crashes in beautiful bursts in its choruses, and with that they close a record that reminds us that life is finite – we should always cherish that.
Architects have grasped grief and despair with both hands, and have moulded those malevolent yet universally relatable entities into ‘Holy Hell’, their most dynamic and destructive work to date.