In November 2020, Architects played only their second show of the year – from a deserted Royal Albert Hall. The livestreamed gig began by following frontman Sam Carter through the dark venue corridors, leading us down to the auditorium. With his bandmates on the stage and Sam in the centre of the floor, they tore into rabid opener ‘Nihilist’ with enough force to shake the UK’s most beautiful, prestigious venue to its foundation. It was a monstrous start to one of the year’s best online gigs.
“Not many people have had the chance to play that room, let alone play it empty,” Sam says today, having joined NME from his home in Brighton along with drummer Dan Searle, who’s in Devon. “It was weird, but really special. Especially in the middle of the pandemic, it was nice to get a little buzz of excitement.” He laughs. “Like having a purpose!”
During the gig, the Brighton five-piece gave us our first taste of their upcoming ninth album, ‘For Those That Wish To Exist’, playing two previously unheard songs. The first, ‘Discourse Is Dead’, was the kind of brutal and beautiful rager we’ve come to expect from metalcore’s finest. But it was the second track, ‘Dead Butterflies’, that offered us the real glimpse into the band’s future. With its huge, cinematic peaks, and soaring, clean vocals, it was a song made to be played under the gilded dome of one of the UK’s grandest venues – and, more importantly, one that blew to smithereens any assumptions as to where this band might be headed.
“The only desire on this record was to make something we genuinely wanted to and were excited about,” says Dan. “I think a couple of people will recoil in horror and then find they actually do like it.”
In the 12 years since they broke through with their third album, ‘Hollow Crown’, Architects have grafted solidly. After, as Sam describes it, they’d “pottering along” in the UK’s toilet circuit for a decade, their sixth album, 2014’s ‘Lost Forever // Lost Together’, finally made people sit up and take notice. But it was its seminal follow-up, 2016’s ‘All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us’, that cemented the band – which also included visionary songwriter Tom Searle (Dan’s twin brother), rhythm guitarist Adam Christianson and bassist Ali Dean – as one of the best of their generation.
Their schedule was packed with festivals followed by a European and UK tour set to take them into their biggest venues to date. Then, in early June 2016, less than three months after the release of ‘All Our Gods…’, tragedy struck. On 20 August 2016, Tom passed away after a three-year battle with cancer, leaving the metal community united in grief. Meanwhile, the band, reeling, soldiered on, recruiting Sylosis guitarist Josh Middleton to throw themselves back into the studio.
The result was their eighth album, ‘Holy Hell’, a gut-wrenching, desperately bleak record that laid bare their pain, vulnerability and courage. In a bittersweet twist, it would end up being the album that turned them into a bonafide arena band: they headlined Wembley in January 2019.
“Personally, I found there was a magic to the way the band exploded after we lost Tom,” says Dan, who took up the mantle of chief songwriter after his brother’s death. “There was this shared mourning and grief which had downsides – I didn’t love speaking to crying fans about their loss. Obviously, I want to help people, but I wasn’t necessarily in the mood to do that, and it wasn’t really my responsibility to do it out of nowhere. But generally, it was a real gift [that] I could write songs about my experience of losing Tom.”
‘For Those That Wish To Exist’ ushers in a lighter, more melodic era for a group who have spent years feeling through the darkness. That’s reflected in the music. Nestled among savage assaults such as ‘An Ordinary Extinction’ and ‘Impermanence’ are tracks that find the band taking risks galore. From ‘Flight Without Feathers’, with its barely-there electronics, to the majestic Bond-like swell of ‘Demi God’ – and with guest spots from Royal Blood’s Mike Kerr on the electro-rock anthem ‘Little Wonder’ and Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil on white knuckle monster ‘Goliath’ – nearly every song breaks new, exciting ground.
“I love ‘Holy Hell’,” says Sam. “I’m very proud of the last three records, but I think they are very similar. Part of the excitement of being a musician is doing something out of your comfort zone.”
“This was the record where we decided to stop giving ourselves so many creative limitations and instead just be honest about what we wanted to create,” adds Dan. “There’s a freshness to the record. A friend of mine described it as ‘an amazing debut’, which I love because those albums have that excitement around them. It’s definitely not a total departure, but at the same time it does feel like something completely new.”
The only real wobble in Architects’ discography so far has been 2011’s ‘The Here And Now’, which relied heavily on melody and clean vocals and was rejected emphatically by their fanbase. In October, when they released ‘Animals’, an electro-rock stomper with an explosive chorus, as the first single from the new album, social media erupted again with accusations that they’d ‘gone soft’. Were they worried about the response?
“I don’t think so,” says Sam. “Personally, I feel like I’ve been singing so much on every record. It would be a lot easier if I was just shouting over everything because choruses don’t come out of thin air, but it’s just that it’s more fun for me. You can get more emotion in it and it just adds a whole other level to the band.”
Dan cuts in: “You see this play out with any band that changes their sound. But [‘Animals’ is] the fastest an Architects song has ever been streamed by miles and miles.” He’s right: to date, it’s been viewed 7.5 million times on Youtube, with over 15 million plays on Spotify.
the band were due to make ‘For Those That Wish To Exist’ in Australia. Architects kicked January 2020 by playing Unify Festival in Tarwin Lower, a small town south east of Melbourne, then headed north to laid-back surf town Byron Bay to write and record. But the severity of the bushfires, which had swept the country since June 2019, forced them to switch up their plans.
“We were getting these news alerts,” says Sam. “I mean, you could smell [the smoke] when you were going into town. Dan had his daughter with him, and Josh had his daughter as well, and it’s not healthy to take children into those conditions.”
Dan adds: “The smoke was being carried hundreds of miles. We never got too close, but certainly close enough where the air quality was too poor to be outside.”
Instead, Dan, Sam and Ali decamped over to Canggu in Bali, setting up a makeshift vocal booth with towels and duvets in Sam’s hotel room to record demo vocals. As Dan explains, the rest of the album came together remotely later: “No-one was in the same room. Me and Josh wrote the material for this album together and I didn’t see him until months after the album was mastered. I didn’t see him at any point during the recording and mixing process. For ‘Animals’, he wrote the bass in Reading and we’re in Canggu working on the song at the same time as him. This album was a definitely a child of the internet.”
“This album was a definitely a child of the internet” – Dan Searle
By the time the band reached the latter stages of the recording process, they had returned to the UK and the coronavirus crisis was well underway. “We needed to record brass but it’s a wind instrument in a pandemic,” says Dan. “At that point it was impossible. We couldn’t do it. We could record strings because there’s no spit going through the instrument. So we had to remote record brass in Denmark and I’m sat with Air Pods in, listening to them track it and telling them to do it again.”
Having witnessed the terrifying power of Mother Nature firsthand in Australia, an apocalyptic sense of imminent disaster weaves throughout the new album. This isn’t the first time Architects have focused on global problems. They’re all vegan, Sam is an ambassador for marine conservation organisation Sea Shepherd, while past albums are littered with tracks that furiously rage against environmental destruction.
‘For Those That Wish To Exist’, Dan says, is questioning “this strange phenomenon of broadly everyone on the planet understanding that we are heading for disaster and yet we will still spend far more time watching Netflix.” This juxtaposition plays out on ‘Little Wonder’ (“We all say that we want to be saved but it’s easier to follow”) and ‘Black Lungs’, whose lyric “You’ve got to cut the roots to kill the weeds”, could be read as taking aim at huge corporations that put the bottom line above all else. But as Dan explains, it’s also about taking accountability for the little changes we can make in our own lives.
“Part of the excitement of being a musician is doing something out of your comfort zone” – Sam Carter
“Some of the album is also saying, ‘Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good,’ he says. “We do have this culture online of shooting people down for having a try but not being perfect, and that discourages any action. If someone says to me, ‘I stopped eating meat five days a week’, I’m not going to have a go at them for still eating meat.”
Sam interjects: “You can’t get in the way of people who are trying, because that is so counter-productive. But you can ask the questions of yourself.”
One of the most surprising moments from Architects’ Royal Albert Hall performance came mid-set, when the band abandoned their instruments and headed down the auditorium floor for a surprise acoustic break. Stripping away their heavy armour to reveal the vulnerability beneath fan favourites ‘A Wasted Hymn’ and ‘Memento Mori’, it was thrilling to see a group so blatantly pushing back against the boundaries of their own sound, toying with expectations.
Architects have always been too innovative and interesting to be caged by genre and ‘For Those That Wish To Exist’ flings the door right off its hinges. For Dan, there are no more limitations. “This record has some metal songs on it, but it might be a stretch to call this a ‘metal’ record,” he says. “As long as we don’t get lynched for this record – and I don’t think we will – it feels like we can go anywhere.”