Live review: Architects, Alexandra Palace
British metal overlords Architects enjoy an arena-sized victory lap. Could mainstream superstardom be next?
Architects’ ninth album has been rather a long time coming. While For Those That Wish To Exist features the Brighton titans’ first new music since 2018’s molten, mournful Holy Hell, several of the songs on this follow-up have been knocking around a good deal longer. Fourth track Discourse Is Dead, for example, began life when guitarist Josh Middleton shared ideas with drummer Dan Searle back in May 2018, six months before HH was even released. Impermanence, meanwhile, its industrial flavoured seventh track featuring Parkway Drive’s Winston McCall, started out as an ambient instrumental created by Josh a decade ago, before receiving a heavier overhaul more recently.
It’s fair to say For Those That Wish To Exist finds Architects experiencing a sonic makeover. Fear not, though: the riffs are still present, correct and colossal, but this time around they’re slower and more deliberate, as if capturing a distilled essence of the band’s sound. This process of simplification, it turns out, is the result of the five-piece – completed by vocalist Sam Carter, guitarist Adam Christianson, and bassist Ali Dean – “going leftfield” for a while and seeing how far they strayed from the path. Their path, that is. Because while for their peers ‘going leftfield’ would probably entail becoming more artful and experimental, for Architects, a band who have done just that for 17 years, it was a case of going the other way: how do you build something original on well-trodden ground? By taking serious risks, of course.
“Obviously we’re known as being a technical band, that’s our roots,” explains Dan, “but I felt we’d exhausted that to some degree, so started to feel drawn to doing more with less, which is a greater challenge in some ways.”
“You can really ride the line between ‘Is this good, catchy and memorable?’ and My First Riff Ever,” adds Josh. “Some of the biggest riffs in the world, if they’d just been one step the other way, wouldn’t have worked at all. It’s more challenging to write good, simple riffs than the more complicated stuff.”
For Sam, too, there was a drive to try new things with his instrument. “It was unsustainable and inhumane to make him do that night after night,” Dan says of his bandmate’s prolonged throat shredding, which has this time been supplemented by higher registers in Sam’s range, providing a welcome nod to his efforts on older Architects records. “It wasn’t about showing off or overdoing it,” explains the vocalist. “It was about tastefully using the variety of tones I have.”
The band identify reactions to Dead Butterflies, a song they deemed to be among their biggest creative risks, as vindicating the gambles they’ve made. “I thought we were going to get slaughtered for that one,” admits Dan. “After we recorded it we thought, ‘Fuck it, we can do anything now.'"
And do anything and everything they have, from infusing their musical DNA with orchestral and electronic elements, to lyrically addressing issues such as destruction – of the self and the environment – while echoing sentiments from the band’s musical past. Those include referencing back to tracks written by late guitarist (and Dan’s twin brother) Tom Searle, who died in 2016, which have made these new offerings into spiritual sequels to remind Architects of the importance of retaining a sense of perspective however difficult life and the world gets.
Given that For Those That Wish To Exist has 15 tracks featuring a proposed double-album’s worth of ideas, there’s much to say about it. Thankfully, Sam, Dan and Josh are on hand for a collective deep dive into the secrets of their latest album, to share insights both emotional and practical; what, you may ask, is that clanging sound during Impermanence? Or that strange noise towards the end of Dying Is Absolutely Safe? Step this way to find out...
Dan Searle: “Because we were originally going to do a double-record, I had the idea that each half of the record would start with a short piece of music that related to one another. This was what I had in mind for the second half. It started out more low-key, but I had an evening free when I was in Bali and put this Hans Zimmer roundtable discussion on YouTube, with the intention of sitting down and digesting it, then got about two minutes into it, turned it off and started working on this. It started as a wacky string loop that I was messing around with, which then took on brass and eventually a choir.
“The Hans Zimmer influence is too obvious, but I wanted something to set the mood and lyrically set the tone for a record that’s about self-destruction and the idea that we’re all in it together, though not necessarily in a good way, and that the mistakes we make are something we all have to carry. This is not so much there to act as a synopsis but to give a rough sense of where the record is going. It will be cool to be able to open our set with this in 2030!”
Josh Middleton: “Riff-wise, this was definitely one of the oldest. We did some pre-production for the album before our last UK/European headline tour – in 2018, which is insane to think now – and started writing in different keys. Going lower down wasn’t really an option, but going higher meant we could do stuff that wasn’t as recognisably Architects. The guys didn’t want there to be any generic, obviously metalcore riffs, so the aim was to go for something quirky and use the guitar a little more like a synth.
“I remember messing around while rehearsing for the Brighton [warm-up] show [in November/December 2018], putting an effect on my amp and writing that riff straight away. I still have the video of me doing it on my phone.”
Dan: “That footage makes up the entirety of the For Those That Wish To Exist studio documentary, as that’s literally everything that was filmed!”
Sam Carter: “This verges on being a rock sound, which meant it was all about the delivery, so I needed to put a lot of character and a lot of emotion into it. It’s a heavy singing sound, but lower, meaning I had to get the delivery across and make it powerful. There’s a part of this that was my first venture into using falsetto on the record, which I wasn’t massively confident about at first, but it was something I came to love doing. Who were my main falsetto inspirations?”
Dan: “[Justin] Timberlake...”
Sam: “I love the way [Queens Of The Stone Age’s] Josh Homme’s voice sounds when he gets up there, and there are a lot of amazing Beatles’ harmonies that are at a higher register. And that’s what’s brilliant about this recording: for the first time I ended up singing the songs I was working on in the shower, like I might do my favourite songs. I was belting out songs we were working on, trying to sing the whole thing in falsetto so I could get used to it, as it’s not exactly something I will be able to practice live. Dan gave me a lot of confidence, as he was producing the vocals, and if it was shit he was going to tell me. And likewise, if it’s good he’ll tell me too.”
Dan: “Josh first sent me ideas for this track in May 2018, so it’s as old as time, which I think you can hear in so much as it’s a song that bridges the old and the new. Lyrically, it’s all in the title. I was calling everyone out, trashing the left and the right for their hypocrisy, I suppose, and how stagnating everything is doomed to become if we can’t figure out how to have a conversation with people who have opposing views to us. As someone who’s left-leaning, I felt almost more frustrated with the left than the right.
“I tend to see the left as having an inclusive ideology and the right having an exclusive ideology, so it’s difficult seeing the left become more and more exclusive and it becoming a competition for who can reach the moral high ground. The left has started to cannibalise itself with infighting, and the right dominating in positions of power around the world. I mean… Joe Biden has just become president in America, but he’s not exactly Karl Marx, is he? This song is less personal [than others], not looking at myself and asking why I’m such an incapacitated lazy idiot, but more about why everyone else is so bloody stupid. I didn’t want to be finger-pointing on the record, but that’s what I’m doing here.”
Dan: “So much of the record is a caricature of my saddest and darkest moments. I always think that if you read the lyrics then you must think I’m right on the edge of not wanting to be in this world. It’s a distillation of those feelings and those moments because if I took this material and started writing about my love for my daughter, it wouldn’t work and Sam wouldn’t be the appropriate person to sing it.
“The ‘I just want to live and die in peace’ reference from Momento Mori [written by Tom Searle about his own mortality, on 2016’s All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us], which like so much of the record is a nudge to myself that I should have some perspective. The idea that it’s so easy to get lost in trivialities is not so much a reference to what Tom was saying, but a reference to what happened with Tom. It’s really about getting lost in feelings that sponsor your thoughts, then your thoughts run away with themselves and you lose sight of any kind of perspective. So much of the record is bleak, lyrically, yet on the face of it I live a privileged, great life – healthy, happy, with a family, a bit of money, and the only job I’d ever want.”
Josh: “For some reason, and I have no idea why, I found myself with Ali’s bass on the bus at Metal Days festival in Slovenia. It was a hot day, so I started playing around and ended up writing the riff and the chorus, trying something a bit different in a tempo we’ve never done before. I had a dark, Nine Inch Nails-y thing in mind. It’s evolved a lot, but has a very industrial feel. Given that, I wanted to get a drill and hold it against the pickups of my guitar, to come up with some innovative, technical sound, but it didn’t work in the end. I was generally just trying to make it as weird as I could.”
Dan: “I think in many ways it’s the weirdest song on the record.”
Sam: “If you can hear some unusual clanging sounds on this, there’s good reason for that. Me and Ali went to Devon to finish some vocals, as there were a few lines we still had to do, and while we were there we decided it might be a good idea to add some extra percussion to a few of the tracks. When we got there, Pete, the guy who owns the studio, plonked a fire extinguisher down next to Ali and said, ‘Right, you’ve got to hit this because it will sound wicked.’ So me, Dan and Ali were basically in a room playing like we were in [percussion group] STOMP. Actually, I should probably say Slipknot, as that’s a bit more metal. And more appropriate too, as Ali actually was actually wanking off his nose while he was playing.”
Dan: “Like Chris Fehn… or whatever his name is. The one who’s not Tortilla Man.”
Dan: “This is something I’ve wanted to try and do with the band for a while. If it has something familiar about it, it’s because we’d touched upon this kind of thing a little bit on [the title-track on third album] Hollow Crown, and a couple of tracks on [fourth album] The Here And Now, but then shied away from it for a few years. I felt we hadn’t applied the dark, melancholic sound that’s a big part of the band to a synth-led track, so this was us revisiting that. This was us dipping our toes in… and I imagine we’ll do it again in the future. It’ll never be a cornerstone of our sound, I don’t think, but it’s representative of our tastes, particularly as fans of ambient music. Given where it is on the album, it’s kind of a pit-stop, I suppose.”
Sam: “Mike [Kerr, Royal Blood] was the only one of our guests who was able to come and record with us in person, as he lives in Brighton. He was so fast in getting the melody [of the song], which made me think it was an effective one if it could be picked up that quickly. This is a pretty out-there song for our band, and much of it has this weird sexy rock vibe to it, which is very Royal Blood. There’s only so many ways you can do that sound without being cringey, and they fucking nail it. I remember when we first played the track to Mike, he said, ‘For fuck’s sake, you’re a metal band, and now you’re coming and writing really good rock songs – what are you doing?!’ Having someone from Royal Blood, someone from Biffy [Clyro, Simon Neil on Goliath], and someone from Parkway Drive felt ridiculous at the time, but as time passes you get used to it. So then you start thinking bigger and broader. It doesn’t just have to be 15 tracks of me trying to do 15 different types of vocals – it’s nice to let someone else try as well. There’s a bunch of people I’d want to write tracks with in future. I’d love Phoebe Bridgers to sing on one of our songs… or Hayley Williams. I’d love to add a female element to the next record. But then also people like Trent Reznor, or [Pink Floyd’s] David Gilmour doing a guitar solo.”
Dan: “Sometimes it’s good to acknowledge when something comes together quickly, creatively, especially when it’s a track that ends up being the first single from an album. This literally came together in a couple of days, with Sam and I sending it from Bali to Josh in the UK, adding bits while he was asleep, and him adding bits while we were asleep. I remember when we’d finished the vocals, we pressed play and I instantly knew we had something special and that it would be the lead single. It all slotted together so perfectly out of thin air, so rapidly. God, if we could always be that quick, we’d have so much free time!”
Dan: “The lyric in this song ‘We are the rust worshipping the rain’ follows on from the line in Animals, ‘It never rains but it pours’, and is very much in reference to self-destructive tendencies that I identify in myself, but obviously see in a broader scale in the world. That’s what connects the two tracks, but what separates them is the fact that while Animals came together really easily, this one was a bit of a ballache. It’s a really straightforward song, though, musically, but given the subject matter it’s on the heavier side. It’s also screamier than most of the others, showing off Sam’s trademark harsh vocals (laughs).”
Josh: “The riff appeared in my head during a car ride in Sydney on our last Australian tour. I’m pretty sure we were heading to get some food, so I had to get my phone out and hum this rhythmic riff ‘Duggah-duggah-duggah-duggah-duh’ into voice notes while trying to avoid anyone else seeing me, because it’s an embarrassing thing to be caught doing.”
Sam: “The reason Simon [Neil] fits so well as a guest here is because it’s got a bit of a Biffy [Clyro] spirit about it. Although it’s a metal song, fundamentally, it takes unexpected turns very suddenly, just like Biffy Clyro do. As is the bit in where the [orchestral] strings stab in sync with the guitars, which is really satisfying. And it’s obviously cool to get the singer from one of the biggest British rock bands on your record screaming ‘They wouldn’t break their stride if we were burning alive’ before a massive breakdown, because no-one was expecting that.”
Dan: “The studio sounds you can hear at the very beginning are from a Spotify session we recorded at Abbey Road. I wanted to have something to go there and chose that clip because you can hear Fred, my drum tech, laughing – and he has a very distinctive laugh. The plan was to change that clip out for some audio from the actual session, but I ended up not liking any of it. It was just a chance to have our drum tech feature, because it was funny, on what is actually quite a serious song.”
Dan: “There’s a reference to quarantine in the lyrics for this, but it actually predates COVID by a couple of years. This song, to my mind, is probably the most upsetting to the metalcore purists. Even though it’s not the lightest track on the album, it’s unashamedly arena rock, which is the most offensive kind of music to the fundamentalist metalcore elite.
“In many respects, then, this was the track I was most nervous about presenting to the world, which is just as well as it’s recently aired on primetime radio. I think my fear of rejection meant that I projected this idea that our fans might shun anything that’s not a metalcore standard. I’m not saying this song sounds like 30 Seconds To Mars or Coldplay or Foo Fighters, but there are loads of tunes by those bands that I’ve loved, so I’ve always been keen to try out anthems. There’s always been an anthemic element to the band that’s come more to the fore as time’s gone on – and really come to the fore on this album.”
Dan: “There was a moment when I didn’t know if this song would make the cut. Not because I didn’t love it, but I didn’t know what exactly it was trying to do for a while, or how to end it, but it came together, thankfully. This was originally an electronic string piece but very late on it changed to an acoustic song. We finally had the courage to face an acoustic track on an album after many albums of feeling like we could go there.”
Josh: “It’s Dan’s beautifully orchestrated song, then I basically add a bunch of noise at the end, a weird guitar delay that trails off. Then there’s some Sam as well…”
Sam: “We’ve managed to get a lock on the vinyl so when people listen to the record, it doesn’t stop until you lift the needle, inspired by the Beatles and the end of Sgt. Pepper, which just plays on a loop. It’s cool, here, because the voice is so creepy and I’m sure people will be trying to play it backwards, so I won’t say if there’s anything under there.”
Dan: “I hope that fans embrace [Dying Is Absolutely Safe]. This is a 15-track album and you’re an hour in by the time you get here, so you’re hardly putting it on a plate for people and forcing it down their throats. But I hope that people find their way to the end of the record and give this song time, as it’s a totally different side of the band. It turned into something totally unexpected. The very end takes you to a place the album doesn’t go to at any other point. It’s a total mood-shifter right at the last minute. It’s very sad. It’s the perfect way to end the record.”
Architects’ For Those That Wish To Exist is out on February 26 via Epitaph. Preorder/presave your copy now.
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