By Marvin Dotiyal, Features Editor
Key tracks: “Mortal After All”, “The Seventh Circle”, “Doomsday”
It was already hard enough for British metalcore act Architects to top All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us. After the tragic loss of guitarist and core songwriter Tom Searle, the band was running on empty. Like a sudden jerk on the steering wheel, Searle’s death spun everything out of control—the band was lost in a thick haze of grief and despair. While fans mourned at the edge of their seats, this devastating turning point was a potential “make or break” for the band, both mentally and musically. Holy Hell is proof that they did not “break”.
Right off the bat, Architects makes it clear that they have restored hope and resurrected themselves in “Death is Not Defeat”, picking up where they left off in “Memento Mori” from All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us. As a continuation, “Death is Not Defeat” touches on the fragility of life, also referencing Searle this time: “Into the night we burn and rage / In depth we repay for time on this stage / The lights are bright, but don’t lose your way / ‘Cause once it ignites, the flame must decay.” Similarly “Gone With the Wind” from the same album is also referenced as they elaborate on their well-known breakdown call-out in “Damnation”: “If hope is a prison, then maybe faith will set me free.”
With similar themes occurring throughout, this record is a thought-provoking elegy of introspection–a cathartic depiction of the band gradually coming to terms through the stages of grief. Frontman Sam Carter’s vocal performance is better than ever, hitting the nail right on the head with his melodic yet brutal highs and his signature “bleghs” tearing right out of his throat. The prominent use of strings and symphonic orchestration also adds a solemn, somber touch to the atmosphere, perhaps emulating the band’s mental state and recovery during the process.
Architects had the willpower to resurface after Searle’s death, and they most definitely did not “break.” However, for the average listener, Holy Hell might as well be one long song. Musically, this record has little to no diversity as most songs stay within the same BPM range with similar guitar chugs sludging through the predictable structures. Some breakdowns are executed well with the right amount of intricacy and intensity, but most are simple, generic breakdowns played in ridiculously low tunings, which might just sound like an unbelievably average djent riff.
From time to time, it promises an occasional raise of an eyebrow and a head nod with its odd time signatures and technical drum chops. Only a few songs such as “Doomsday” or “The Seventh Circle” are distinctly memorable for steering away from their same routine. Although Architects is a highly-respected band, it feels like they are tunnel-visioned to the same formula. It is almost as if they have been putting out the same album for the past few years, and Holy Hell is not really an exception in terms of musical progression.
Nonetheless, Holy Hell is by far the most demanding and personal record Architects have endured to write and digest. While many fans would argue this is their best work yet, it is certainly the most impacting record in their career as it opens a new chapter for the band. At the end of the day, it’s important to note that Holy Hell doesn’t aim to compete; it celebrates Searle’s legacy.