Grief is a complex, solitary process. Impossible to predict or plan for, the often sudden, jarring nature of death is something we all have to contend with, but are rarely given the tools to do so until the moment it arrives. Grief in the public eye, then, is a contradiction – how are you meant to process something so personal, when a thousand-and-one eyes are on your every move? Brighton metalcore group Architects know this better than most.
‘Holy Hell’, the band’s eighth studio album, comes lumbered with expectation. The first release since the tragic, sudden and widely publicised death of guitarist and primary songwriter Tom Searle, before a second of the record is played out, it’s weighed down by expectation. It’s a triumph, then, that Dan Searle – Tom’s twin brother and the band’s drummer – vocalist Sam Carter, and bassist Ali Dean have returned in explosive fashion. Few would have begrudged them for succumbing to that weight, and sinking into mire and misery. Instead, they’ve harnessed the fire and brimstone of grief’s most violent throes, fashioning it into their finest album to date.
Dan took up the mantle of lyricist following his brother’s passing, turning his feelings upon the passing of his twin brother into ruminations on both personal tragedy and the unifying certainty of mortality. The album’s title track, itself a doomy, string-laced cut of metallic brutality, sees Dan follow that thread to its most self-flagellating end, Carter roaring of a hell that awaits us all. Those feelings of impending doom are nothing new to Architects – unbeknownst to listeners, who weren’t informed of his long-running battle with cancer until his passing, Tom wrote of mortality throughout last record ‘All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us’. For Dan to pick up his brother’s mantra is both heartbreaking and endlessly inspiring.
Elsewhere, the likes of ‘Doomsday’ find Dan lending his vocalist a tale of the cruelty of grief, which Sam delivers with a duality that reflects both the anger and sadness of such a situation, while ‘Damnation’ features perhaps the album’s most haunting lyrical ode. “If hope is a prison, then maybe fate will set me free”, Sam barks – a nod to one of Tom’s most defeatist lyrics from ‘All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us’: “Do you remember when you said to me / ‘My friend, hope is a prison’?” By taking Tom’s devastating sentiment and remodelling it into something that points to hope, they’ve ensured his legacy continues in the most powerful fashion.
That’s not the only aspect of Tom’s artistry that’s threaded throughout ‘Holy Hell’. Snippets of demos, voice notes and riffs that he was practising have been cut up and scattered throughout the record; akin to the scattering of ashes atop a memorial. It’s a touching sentiment, and a beautiful way to extend the artistic lifespan of one of modern metal’s more enduring figures. While Tom’s influence threads through every second of ‘Holy Hell’, however, new guitarist Josh Middleton is a powerhouse of his own, and deserves to be heralded so. The likes of ‘Mortal After All’’s clipped breakdowns and the arena-filling heaviness of ‘The Seventh Circle’ take the Tom Searle school of riffing into a new era, paying homage to his forebear without ever treading water.
‘Holy Hell’ is impossible to divorce from its context – perhaps more than any other record before it. Even aside from the tragedy that frames its arrival, though, it stands up as Architects’ very best album. The violent loss of an integral figure like Tom Searle would cripple almost any band – iconic, far larger groups have split over less. Somehow, though, through it all, Architects have emerged more powerful than ever – building on Tom’s legacy, rather than riding on its coattails. It’s a wonder to behold.
‘A Wasted Hymn’, the album’s closing number, leaves the most lasting mark. While the life of Tom will never have a full stop as long as Architects exist, it’s a devastatingly raw depiction of the eventual finality that Dan realises he has to accept, and the need to live on in honour of everything his brother created. To that end, it’s ‘Holy Hell’’s summation. “Can you feel the empty space? / Can you feel the fire at the gates? / Can you live a life worth dying for?” he sings, the weight of his brother’s passing sat heavy on that final line. It flirts with both distress and defiance – eventually arriving at a comfortable middle ground. Like ‘Holy Hell’ as a whole, it’s an impossibly beautiful dedication to a life like few others. Long may Architects live on.