Architects have already secured their position at heavy music’s top table. With their latest album, they’re letting instinct reign supreme.
Words: Tyler Damara Kelly.
How do you decide which direction to go in once you’ve crawled out of rock bottom and reached the pinnacle of your career thus far? Quite simply, you don’t. Instead, you search for the ability to let yourself to surrender to whatever may happen, and hope that it might just elevate you one step closer to enlightenment on the human condition.
“The only plan with this record was not to have one, as ridiculous as it sounds,” laughs Dan Searle, founding member and drummer of Brighton’s behemoth metalcore band Architects. “I said to all my guys: when we finish ‘Holy Hell’, let’s just start left-field and, as we go, we can listen back and ask ourselves honestly if it feels like we’ve strayed too far or if it was going to be too alienating, but that never really happened — we never really had to course correct.”
The release of ‘Holy Hell’ saw Architects explore the multitudes of grief, whilst coming to grips with their own mortality and the impermanence of all that is around us. Rooted in the emotional density that came in the wake of dealing with the death of Dan’s twin brother Tom Searle, in 2016 after a battle with skin cancer; the album is an uncomfortable listen at the best of times, but beneath all of the insurmountable pain is a state of catharsis to be found. Within it all, there’s an underlying sense of hope.
Architects might have been clutching at the remnants of what once was, and struggling to contemplate the possibility of ever being able to continue without their founding member and creative visionary, but it meant that they were able to throw every ounce of energy into creating a bruising tribute that solidified the legacy of their brother and bandmate, whilst giving themselves the creative license to put the pieces of the band back together in an entirely new way, which in turn opened more doors than they’d ever thought imaginable.
As Sam Carter’s eviscerating vocals let loose on ‘Dying to Heal’ (“We’re all refusing to feel and yet we’re dying to heal”) in a song that echoes the fateful ambition of Icarus, it also served as a reminder that to get closer to the light, and moments of hope, you must be open to embracing the darkness and accepting that there is an ebb and flow in all earthly matters.
In the making of ‘Holy Hell’, Dan became primary songwriter of the band. Whilst he is grateful to have had the outlet for “free therapy” which ultimately served as reprieve and catharsis from the grieving process, he was unaware of the responsibility that would come from having a such a platform handed to him. “[In the writing process of] ‘Holy Hell’ – I can’t stress how much I didn’t have a clue what I was doing – it was a massive learning curve, and I just felt like I was under so much pressure to figure it out in no time at all,” he says.
“I was trying to communicate the most brutal end of grief in certain songs, and I went back, and it sort of sounds like I’m telling the listener: ‘It’s ok, just kill yourself’. I felt [similarly] about naming the song ‘Dying Is Absolutely Safe’. That’s not really what the family of the suicidal person is going to want to have that person hearing,” he ruminates. “It’s tough, but I feel like that kind of self-censorship is not really conducive to an honest, authentic piece of art either.”
As such, their ninth album ‘For Those That Wish To Exist’ sees Dan more at ease in his role as primary songwriter. While he isn’t completely comfortable with having a platform or a voice (“I’m terribly concerned with inadvertently getting myself cancelled or something. It’s like that’s my real phobia, because I’m a well-intentioned person”), his lyrical style is still critical of the human condition, but from a perspective of trying not to point fingers anywhere other than himself.
“I might write these things in the song, but I don’t necessarily embody them in my day to day life,” he says earnestly. “The album is contradictory all the time. I constantly hold different sorts of viewpoints on the record, even if it is just in small ways. I accepted that was just the nature of being a human being – you feel different things, day to day. Some days something might really resonate with you, and some days it might not.”
‘For Those That Wish To Exist’ retains the elements of a dichotomy that tackles both mortality and existentialism, but there is also what can only be described as a battle cry for our need to enact environmental change. Recorded during a period of time where we’ve all been mostly confined to our homes and forced to watch the unravelling of the world around us; it instils and promotes a healthy sense of introspection that we’ve all been needing to address – both within ourselves, and the way we co-exist on a grander scale.
Sonically inhabiting a disparate world from the overwrought, guttural emotional of ‘Holy Hell’; ‘For Those That Wish To Exist’ is built on foundations of culpability and aggravated observations as despondency takes hold. Completely embracing Architects’ endeavours to never make the same album twice, ‘For Those That Wish To Exist’ leans into the synthesised and cinematic components that were teased within the Armageddon of ‘Holy Hell’, yet it takes these integral pieces and branches out into a completely different direction.
Over the course of 15 songs, Architects combine elements of orchestral choirs, industrial breakdowns, and shimmering synth-pop verses in a way that feels monumentally innovative for a band who are over 15 years into their careers. “The necessity for the evolution was that it had almost gotten too simple; too easy. I don’t think we felt challenged or excited about doing the same [thing] again,” says Dan on the band’s shift into new sonic territory.
Noting that it was something they were hinting at on ‘Holy Hell’, he explains that his interest in “the contrast between really earthy, organic orchestral instruments, and the mechanical synth instrumentation” is because of its ability to capture the essence and feel of a movie soundtrack. For Sam, the band’s ability to make something as grandiose as ‘For Those That Wish To Exist’ is something that sets them apart from a lot of other bands, and is a rewarding progression to look back on.
“When I look back at records like ‘Daybreaker’, I think back to how we wished we could’ve had real strings then. Moving [forward] and going into ‘Lost Forever // Lost Together’ we had one guy that would play everything [that would eventually be] layered on top of each other. Gradually we’ve been able to push that budget of recording,” he says. So, does that mean the band are now all rolling in cash and able to splash out a little bit more? “It’s not like we’re all rolling in money at all,” he chuckles matter-of-factly, “it’s just that we always put in the maximum amount that we can.”
To reflect on and critique previous albums is something that Architects have been more than vocal about in the past, and understandably so — how else do you expect to grow if you do not pay any attention to older versions of yourself so that you can learn from your own mistakes?
Following the success of 2009’s ‘Hollow Crown’, the band strayed away from the mathcore/hardcore punk roots of their first three albums and instead ventured into a melodic, almost emo sound. ‘The Here and Now’, when listened to amongst the rest of their back catalogue, comes across more akin to a heavily diluted version of Alexisonfire than it does to anything that Architects had ever created. Though it is somewhat discordant and cacophonous as a full body of work, it does still retain elements of the band that sit before us today, and is a testament that the journey of an artist is just as important as the concerted thought process that goes into creating their most recent creative ventures.
“I think I was dog shit on ‘Ruin’. Listening to it back, it sounds like someone who doesn’t have a fucking clue what they’re doing, and I didn’t – I was so young!” Sam tells me when I ask about the progression of his vocal style. “My mum always says that I screamed for the first two years when I was born – I cried and screamed for two years – then I just stopped, so I guess that was vocal training!”
Having gone from a focus on classic hardcore growls to using a combination of vocal fry’s and short false chords; he has become one of the most respected and easily recognisable vocalists in the metalcore scene, and whilst ‘For Those That Wish To Exist’ contains more clean vocals than ever before, (fans of the infamous “BLEGH” might be disappointed to learn that it doesn’t make an appearance), it seems as though there are no limits to his vocal range.
“Over the years, you get more confident and figure out what works for you,” Sam humbly admits. “I think if you played both records [back to back], most people would be pretty surprised that it was the same singer – or even the same band – but I’m proud of that progression. We were all in a really small studio drinking cans of K Cider because we didn’t have enough money to actually buy a decent amount of drinks, so we would just drink one of them and then be shitted whilst trying to make it work. It’s amazing to look back on that.”
Architects have more than paid their dues, having been through the wild and youthful days of scraping by to make ends meet so that they can cram into a studio and create something that might bring them closer to simply surviving, so that they could feasibly become a prolifically touring band.
All cards on the table: Architects were already planning to have a quiet year, so that they could get on writing a new album. As it turns out, their plans weren’t completely derailed by the global pandemic, unlike most musicians. As Dan puts it: “It was all very separate – just how The Beatles did it, you know? It was all very modern; very 2020.”
After the making of ‘Holy Hell’, the band realised that being crammed into a studio for a few weeks at a time wasn’t conducive to their mental health, so to be afforded the time and space for making an album during 2020 meant that everybody could simply get on with their jobs. Though, with most ideas shared back and forth via WhatsApp, it was far from the perfect way of collaborating. Whilst Dan and Josh (Middleton, guitarist) wrote and produced the album together, they didn’t actually get to see each other until after it was mastered.
“It’s just a strange thing because rock and metal tend to be, historically, about being the same room with each other and getting the vibe [from your bandmates]. That was not the way it was, but truth be told, it never really has been – it wasn’t that much of an adaptation from what we would normally do, it just pushed us a little bit further,” says Dan on the creative limitations of working remotely.
While there were a few constraints in the writing and recording process, the fact that the music industry had essentially been held at a standstill for a few months meant that Architects were afforded the ability to reach out to some of their musical friends and contemporaries for some long-awaited collaborations. The band have given themselves a lot more breathing room for experimentation on ‘For Those That Wish To Exist’, so when each distinctive guest vocalist has their moment on the songs, it’s almost as if you’re stepping into the world of their respective bands. This is something that Dan says is totally by accident: “It really sounds like they were purposely written for them, but that’s not the case.”
Parkway Drive, Biffy Clyro, and Royal Blood have all been influential in members of Architects lives over the years, and it could be said that each of these collaborations were a long time coming. Sam grew up on the same street as Royal Blood’s drummer Ben Thatcher, in Rustington – a small town of just over 10,000 people. He recalls the days that they would play gigs at local Scout Huts together, and is incredulous that they’re both in successful bands to this day.
Perhaps one of the most surprising collaborations on the album, for both fans and Architects themselves, is with Simon Neil of Biffy Clyro. ‘Goliath’ is a searing crossover that contains some elements of math rock guitar that each band has respectively slipped into their sound over the years, as well as a symphony of strings that are directly contrasted with Simon’s black metal-inspired screams. Both Dan and Sam amusingly express shock and awe at Simon’s eagerness to jump into recording his vocal takes, and the outcome is a blood-curdling moment that is sure to appease any old-school Biffy fans.
“Biffy were such a massive inspiration to us when we first started, and still now, but it felt like there was a long time where they weren’t taken as seriously or worshipped as they are now,” Sam begins, as he explains the prominence of having Simon feature on the album. “We’ve done nine records, and for the first five, it felt like no one gave a fuck. Looking at bands like that inspired us to just keep going. We’re not in it to get big, we’re in it to try and make ends meet, be able to stay on tour and create music.”
The connectivity of being a musician and to have an acknowledgement that your music will outlive your memory is something that Sam thinks about, often. “When we’re gone, and all that’s left are these records and the time and effort you’ve put into the songs, there will be three people and their bands who have been very influential and important to us as musicians, and as friends, and that will just live on,” he muses. “Some kids, like me, listen to loads of records from the 70s and 80s and you’re like: ‘What!? They recorded together – that’s so cool.’ You can hear those friendships, and I love that it’s on paper forever.”
Having supported Parkway Drive on their first-ever London show in 2006 at The Garage, and subsequently toured around the world with them, it’s a surprise that the two bands have never collaborated before. As Winston McCall’s bellowing voice poses the question: “Do you really wanna live forever?” on the song ‘Impermanence’, it’s actually the following statement – “cause those afraid to die will never truly live” – that resonates even deeper, still.
When asked if he recalled the moment those lyrics came to him, his tone grows sombre. “Thematically, it’s still a hangover from ‘Holy Hell’. It’s [about] processing losing Tom and understanding or contemplating mortality – it’s almost become more relevant this year with the pandemic,” he says.
“Most things we fear are because we’re afraid of dying on some level, and a lot of these fears don’t come to fruition. I feel it, certainly in my own life. I see the irrationality of it and how much energy one can waste worrying about whether something might go wrong or you might die. It’s not just some phobia I have; I feel like it’s a very prevalent low-level phobia that is common throughout the West.”
It’s almost as though shedding all of the guilt and rage that they possessed on ‘Holy Hell’ has led them to finding introspective acceptance of their mortality and stumbling into a newfound sense of vulnerability along the way. With this understanding in mind, ‘Flight Without Feathers’ offers the first insight to a languorous and stripped back version of the band. Contemplative and mellow as it contains echoes of past lyrics and comes to terms with hardships enriching life (“nothing’s ever tasted half as good as grief”), it allows the listener to seek solace from the barrage of intensity that ‘Impermanence’ has left in its wake, and truly question what sustains their spirit.
“Doing the acoustic songs felt incredibly taboo for us. This was us trying to be brave and try our hand at something that is totally out of our comfort zone,” contemplates Dan as he assesses the risks that were involved in these songs. Sam wholeheartedly agrees that these were risky to pull off, but believes that they add depth to the album as a whole: “The thing is, when you’re doing an album that is 15 songs long, there has to be movement,” he admits. “I spend so much time listening to records, and I think about bookends – finishing one side and turning over to the other. ‘Flight Without Feathers’ in the middle of the record really felt like a moment of: ‘Ok, we’ve hit you with a lot of shit. There’s a lot going on so far; take a minute and digest…'”
In contemplating the journey of the album, and the idea that Architects are moving onto a new chapter in their lives, it’s impossible to overlook the residual energy of ‘A Wasted Hymn’ as the final song on ‘Holy Hell’ being reflected in the hallowed soundscape of ‘Dying Is Absolutely Safe’. Where the former opens with a litany of “All is not lost”, almost as if trying to convince themselves of something that they cannot see; the latter is complete acceptance of surrendering to that which cannot be changed.
Dan channels nature and religious iconography to personify the binaries of existence, in the lyrics, with ravens (death, desolation and darkness) invading the scene as doves (hope, love, optimism) all fly away. It promotes the idea that sedation feels safe because nothing hurts as much as the realisation that you’ve lost the closest thing to you. As a symphony of strings swell around you, and eventually erupt into a state of euphoria when Sam sings: “Death is not my enemy” in quiet defeat, it’s almost as though they’ve reached that enlightened state of catharsis via the sanctified spaces of the instrumentation.
“I think sometimes space is key. With ‘Dying Is Absolutely Safe’, it was so exciting for us to be able to do something like that after the ‘A Wasted Hymn’ acoustic and the ‘Doomsday’ reprise. It was so cool to know that the songs that are quite full-on can be moved into this soft direction and still sound like us,” Sam says. “It sounds like Sigur Rós come in the room at the end, and it feels so powerful. I think after the record really hitting you with a lot of home truths; the little break in the middle and the easing out at the end is important for the journey of the record.”
It goes without saying that music is universally relatable in terms of catharsis when going through grief or tackling other important subjects such as environmental crises. Where ‘Holy Hell’ was entrenched in so much of that trauma, the album permeated with a sense of being the embodiment of grief, whereas ‘For Those That Wish To Exist’ sets its sights on a future that still maintains the possibility for positive change, rather than dwelling on a past that you no longer have control of. It speaks to the notion of fighting for, and choosing to better, your existence.
This inherent sense that everything you do is plagued with the thought of responsibility for making sure our lives are not half-lived, but also not lived too richly, because God-forbid we set ourselves up for circumstances that we cannot come back from, lives within the lyrics of ‘Black Lungs’. “Post-love, post-truth, justice lays bound and black-bagged ready for the guillotine. We can all plead guilty when they ask where were you when the Gods clipped the wings of the Phoenix.” In a sense, it permeates the album as a whole.
Was it difficult to set boundaries of responsibility when speaking out on such complex yet universal subjects? Dan retorts that it’s easier to point the finger inward as opposed to pretending that we all have everything figured out. “I wrote this record saying that we should really be saving the planet because we all know it’s dying and we’re all marching towards the edge of the cliff, looking at our phones – I do it too!” he begins.
“Do I put my daughter to bed and start planning my next environmental initiative? No! I sit down and put Netflix on because I’m fucking tired and I want to check out for a bit… I’m often just trying to make it through the day, and I kind of know everyone else feels that way. If I haven’t got myself figured out, how can I figure out saving the planet? I was trying to express a more honest assessment of why I suppose things are going so awry, from my own perspective, rather than it being a rallying cry for my next political campaign as the Prime Minister of England,” sighs Dan with an air of despondency.
‘Demi-God’ feeds into this notion that we all have an element of self-awareness that we ignore because we find ourselves trapped in the pretence that we put on for the outside world. While some choose to plead ignorance at the steady degradation of our planet, Architects have used their platform over the years to try and highlight organisations, both online and at their shows, in order to instil a sense of community that want to enact change.
Sam notes Hunt Saboteurs, Sea Shepherd, Girls Against and Safe Gigs for Women as some of the organisations that give him hope for a better future. “It’s not like we go on stage and I’m like: ‘Right – better put on the Architects frontman coat. It’s time to be eco and try to save everyone’. This is my life. I want to help as many people as I can,” Sam says defiantly. “I don’t consider it a massive platform, and I don’t think that highly of myself that I can save the world, but I have a small platform that I can use to try and do things to better the world – even if it’s one or two people – if it makes them think differently then that’s a win for me.”
Throughout ‘For Those That Wish To Exist’ is an urgent message to be more present to your surroundings and truly feel your way through the world. To go inward and open yourself up to the multitudes of existence is to be open to a better future, and refuse to be complicit in watching the world burn. Architects do not claim to have the answers because there are no simple answers to such complicated questions, but Dan offers his own opinion on the matter: “I think we all need to introspect. Know ourselves; own up to our flaws; see therapists; take psychedelics – all these other things that help us understand ourselves better. This endless conquering the planet for profit will only last so long,”
A disconnect from what makes us human, and truly provokes emotion within us, is something that we’ve all found over the last year or so. With the ability for real connection taken away, we’ve found ourselves increasingly looking for means of escapism through a technological lens which is often detrimental to the connection we have with ourselves. “You have to ask why we divorced ourselves from sanity, logic and reason – we only get like that when we’re out of balance,” Dan continues.
“I feel like our individual psyches sort of coalesce into this mess of irrational behaviour; greed, anger, hatred – none of us want to feel these things; none of us wants to be that way, but yet we continue to do so. Fix our heads and fix the planets – that’s the political campaign motto. That’s what will be behind the podium!”
Architects’ album ‘For Those That Wish To Exist’ is out 26th February.