When everything shatters, what then? What do you do when life deals you the cruelest, harshest hand? For Brighton’s Architects, it is a time to resist the darkness. To remember a bandmate, a brother, a twin. To honour him by channelling everything that made him and this band so powerful, and turn it into one of the most sensational, and important, heavy albums of this, or any other year. Out of the blackest night, cracks of light appear.
Mournful strings herald the opening to ‘Death Is Not Defeat’, a pulverising starting point for Holy Hell. Every single second of the last few years’ emotion, pain and rawness are poured into a blistering track that scorches the earth. It is no surprise that, following the death of Tom Searle, themes of mortality, loss and pain run through every inch of this release. However, there is an acceptance, a sense of moving through that pain that is also immediately apparent. ‘Hereafter’ sounds like tectonic plates grinding against each other, phenomenal guitar riffs slamming their way through the wreckage.
Sam Carter has always stood out as one of the best singers in rock, and here he stands apart from all others. The vocals to ‘Mortal After All’ are muscular, incredible and heart-rending, as he sings: “All ends will be met, and all worlds must collapse.” It is the sound of a man who has stared deep into the abyss, and found himself still capable of holding himself back. The potentially career, and genre, defining title track signifies a band that have become a new beast. Dan Searle’s drumming towards its end is stunning, like cannon fire being released at a frenetic rate. Equally, new guitarist Josh Middleton’s staccato riffs during ‘Damnation’ judder and shake through your chest.
There are moments of breathtaking power and grandeur to be found throughout this album, the mark of a band who, even on their eighth release, are still finding even more heights to scale. Of course, context and content are intrinsically linked – the lyrics to Holy Hell will be pored over like few other releases would be. It is only in ‘Modern Misery’ that despair seems to take over, with the band railing against the destruction that modern civilisation has wreaked. Yet, largely, the message remains one of positivity. As Carter roars: “All hope is dead but we’re coping” in ‘Royal Beggars’, the record’s most important message is revealed. “All is not lost” is repeated on the closing ‘A Wasted Hymn’, a sign that both acceptance, and most importantly, hope can still be found within. It is because of that, as much as the power and magnificence of the sound, that Holy Hell will be a lifeboat to all who find themselves in the depths of the darkness – and a companion on their way back to the light.