Live review: Architects, Alexandra Palace
British metal overlords Architects enjoy an arena-sized victory lap. Could mainstream superstardom be next?
Dan Searle chews things over in silence for a few seconds. He’s been asked this question before, a couple of years ago now, but he remembers the answer he gave then: “Pain.” He lets out a half-knowing-laugh, half-resigned-sigh as he contemplates his reply this time round.
Eventually, he settles on it.
It is, of course, reductive to define any body of artistic work by one single word. But when it comes to navigating the deep, dense, dark layers of an Architects album, it’s not a bad jumping off point at least.
“Pain”, of course, came to define not only the band’s 2018 album, Holy Hell, but the wider shadow over Architects, following the desperately sad loss of their founder and leader – and Dan’s twin brother – Tom Searle in 2016. Holy Hell, Dan told this writer prior to that last record’s release, was about “the way we process pain, cope with it, and live with it.” Though they were never plotted in such a way – how could they possibly? – it came to represent something of a closing chapter in “a trilogy that was centred on Tom’s journey,” Dan reflects. “On Lost Forever // Lost Together [the 2014 Best Album Kerrang! Award-winner] Tom was diagnosed with cancer. On [2016’s] All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us, he was sure that he was going to die. And then Holy Hell was about me dealing with the pain of that.”
‘Desperation’, then. On the surface, it seems to belie the Dan Searle we speak to today. The Dan Searle who is enjoying settling into his new life in Devon with his wife and young daughter, who cheerily opens our call with a joke about the recent football results, who laughs as he apologises for the noise of his neighbour’s ‘enthusiastic’ playing of Call Of Duty, and is both warm and open in the face of sometimes difficult, often personal questions.
“Yeah… desperation,” Dan reiterates. “Holy Hell was about seeing the world through the lens of grief, which was kind of nihilistic. Nothing really mattered, and certainly not broader global issues. But, when you have a child, you start seeing the world through their eyes. You start to think about the world that they are going to inherit. You look further into the future. You think about the things that are standing in her way of a long and prosperous life. The world is dying, it’s our fault and no-one cares. We’re marching towards the edge of a cliff, and there’s such an apathy about it. I go back to that word: this new album is a lot of desperate feelings about what we can do, and why nothing is happening.”
The album to which he refers – for the first time, in a world-exclusive reveal to Kerrang! – is For Those That Wish To Exist; Architects’ ninth record, and the embodiment of this very desperation. It is, in in equal measure, the band’s most ambitious, cinematic, challenging, conflicted work. It asks questions about “the biggest issues we face as a civilisation”, and “holds a mirror up” to examine our role and responsibility in finding the answers. At 15 tracks and an hour in length, it’s the band’s boldest vision yet. It’s angering, sobering and, at times, deeply moving. And it was conceived and written during nap-times.
“'Oh, I’ve got half an hour to myself while my daughter is sleeping – best write something!’” Dan laughs at the memory. “Trying to get anything done when you have an infant is pretty hard, and saving the world…” Another laugh. “That seems completely impossible to grasp when we’re all just trying to get through the day.”
The tug of war between collective activism and individual survival that anchors the record is one that is very real to Dan Searle, then. “I’ve really been fascinated by the apathy that we all have surrounding these issues – and I’m exactly the same. When we’ve got our daughter to sleep, I don’t sit down and brainstorm ways I can enact positive change – I sit and I watch Netflix. In that sense I’m just as guilty as anyone else.
“I still feel that my life is at max capacity. So how can I possibly make room for something as enormous as saving the world?”
Just as Dan Searle was asking himself such a question, he and his bandmates were also asking a few about themselves. Who are we? What do we want to be? Where do we go from here?
The breathless nature of the past few years – and the navigation of its celebratory highs and anguished lows – hadn’t afforded much room for such thinking. It wasn’t meant to be like this; none of it was. In a just world, Tom Searle would still be standing with his bandmates, stage left, night in and night out. In a world where conventional wisdom rules, the stages his bandmates are standing on in his memory aren’t arena-sized, either. As vocalist Sam Carter and Dan once discussed with this writer, how does a band lose its central creative force – its true visionary heart – and go on to enjoy the kind of successes they could only have dreamt of during the hand-to-mouth dogfight that was their first decade together since their inception on Britain’s south coast in 2004? There’s almost a sense of guilt that comes with that, they explained. But there’s also a necessary momentum and perpetual forward motion to it, too. Keep moving. Don’t stop swimming. Survive and advance.
And so if the three years between Tom’s passing and Architects writing, recording, and releasing their most successful album ever, then subsequently taking it to the world’s biggest stages – including London’s SSE Arena, Wembley – seem all but a foggy blur, well, no shit.
You can understand, then, why Dan Searle describes going into the process of writing and recording For Those That Wish To Exist variously as “a new opportunity to start afresh”, “a new chapter” and “a new beginning”. Holy Hell simply had to be, a product of emotion more than design. Now, the headspace that afforded Dan the opportunity to cast his worldview wider in the album’s themes also allowed the band enough room to stretch their creative wings. “I think Holy Hell still had that Architects sound, but alluded to where we could go next,” begins Sam. “Holy Hell took us into arenas, and playing live in those spaces taught us a lot. We felt like we were able to go where we wanted, without losing sight of ourselves. After nine albums, you have to go somewhere a little different, a little uncomfortable, and that’s where creativity flies.”
It is worth saying at his juncture that long-time fans of the band have little to fear in these words. For Those That Wish To Exist pushes the envelope and flexes it muscles further into territory already prevalent in Architects’ music – both electronic and orchestral – but never at the expense of their existing identity. If you want blood, you’ve (still) got it, as the saying goes. “We wanted to evolve,” says Sam, “but it was equally important to respect our legacy, respect the fanbase that helped us get through so much, and respect what Tom taught us and create something he would like.”
“There’s actually a strong industrial influence on the record, and that very much came from when we were talking about doing our eighth record [which would latterly become Holy Hell] with Tom [before he died],” explains Dan. “He always joked that he wanted to make this ‘bio-industrial’ record, a tongue-in-cheek term he had coined. There’s part of me trying to honour that; I was all for it! Let’s just go where it takes us, embrace it, and if it’s good, run with it…”
Sam points to the experience of new track Animals as indicative of the process. Written and demoed at the top of the year in a villa in Bali (“We were supposed to be in Australia, where Dan was spending time, but we had to move because of the forest fires,” the vocalist explains), where beach towels were used to fashion a makeshift vocal booth in the singer’s bedroom, it’s a song that simply would not have come to be were it not for the freedom the band afforded themselves. “We kind of knew where the album was at and where it was heading when we were there, but it still felt like something was missing. We asked Josh to send us some ideas for something massive and heavy, and he sent us back the main Animals riff. We were trying really heavy vocals to match it, but it wasn’t until we started bringing in softer vocals to the verses that we realised that that’s what the song needed. And you have to respect that. We ended up with the album’s lead single, which might not have happened unless we allowed ourselves to completely flip it on its head.”
Such creative freedom yielded a huge body of work. At one juncture, For Those That Wish To Exist was planned as a double album. “I wanted to do that so that we had the breathing space to explore and diversify and not worry too much about pleasing everyone with every single song,” Dan explains. “I’m not concerned with that. If you’re going to pander to everyone and perform to the gallery, that’s not real art, is it?” Eventually, the idea was only nixed due to the difficulty in sequencing such a huge number of songs into a coherent ‘journey’ – a key aim for both Dan and Sam.
To that end, For Those That Wish To Exist delivers an undoubted success, navigating its audience through the labyrinth of environmental, political and societal concerns that are “a distillation of my biggest fears”, as Dan reveals. The opening double salvo of Do You Dream Of Armageddon and Black Lungs set the course with a pair of defining challenges: ‘Will we ever learn our lesson?’, asks the former; ‘Will enough be enough when we’re holding on for dear life?’, the latter.
Duality is a central facet to the record. “I think that is how we all feel in life,” Sam sighs. “I think that’s how we all feel in what’s going on in the world right now. I have days where I feel motivated to help change things; I have days where I don’t feel mentally strong enough to face it. Because it’s fucking depressing, continually fighting that fight when you feel like the people and the powers that be don’t care. You have to really take care of yourself through this shit, because if you are fighting the good fight, it can be really exhausting.”
“There are contradictions all over the record, because we feel differently all the time,” Dan picks up. “The album is probably a bit confused, because that’s how I feel. The final track, Dying Is Absolutely Safe, is me reminding myself, ‘We all die, and that’s okay; this is all just a kind of strange illusion and we can’t get too bogged down in this.’ That can give you either a sense of nihilism or a sense of liberation. I think it’s something I come back to quite a lot in these COVID times. I suppose it’s about finding that balance and that perspective; ‘Yes, things are bad and are going in a bad direction, but we can sort it out. We have time. We don’t need to be crippled by anxiety or concern, because this will end, and it will be what it will be, and we don’t need to cling on to it too tightly.’”
An astronaut stands in a church, spotlight by a ray of sunshine pouring through its window. These are words you could imagine Christopher Nolan using in his next Hollywood pitch meeting; it is also an image Dan Searle has long held in his mind’s eye. The perfect visual interpretation of For Those That Wish To Exist, he decided.
“It’s a reflection, I felt, of the natural world we live in and how we’ve become so totally removed and alien to it,” he begins. “It’s about us becoming divorced from that – and regaining a glimpse of it.”
As with so much of For Those That Wish To Exist, it is a thought-provoking image open to a great deal of personal interpretation. We venture that our own reading of it is a conflict of science and spirituality – the latter concept, of having faith in something having been a developing theme across the band’s past two records. “And where science has led us,” the drummer nods. “So many religious and spiritual traditions have us respect our world and our environment, and there’s a couple of moments on the album where I have a dig at this conservative, Christian culture – especially in America – of not giving a fuck about the environment. Didn’t your God make this world? Surely that makes it important? Why do you insist on destroying it just to make some extra money you don’t even need because you’re already so wealthy?
“It’s almost sacrilegious, ironically, to say a bad word about science,” he continues. “I suppose science in a pure sense isn’t bad, but it’s been hijacked by greedy humans who then do bad things with it. Through science we’ve created all sorts of horrific things that are killing our planet. I can’t speak for all religions as I’m no theologian, but many spiritual traditions recognise and honour its importance in sustaining our life.”
Sam Carter’s own interpretation – while claiming to be oblivious of Dan’s own reading – is one of a continued search for answers that lies at the heart of For Those That Wish To Exist.
“I’m not sure what those answers are except, ‘We need to do better,’” Dan says.
“We’re looking inward and exploring, ‘How does this make me feel? What do you want to do about this? And what can you do about this?’” nods Sam.
“Because this is all of our faults,” Dan resumes. “Yes, some people hold more cards than others and can affect greater change – and they really ought to be – but what am I doing? Am I still being excessively wasteful all the time and then being pissed off when a corporation dumps oil into the ocean? Yeah, I am pissed off at that, but am I really doing everything that I can? It really has to start there.”
Sam is in no doubt, though, that come the concluding Dying Is Absolutely Safe (“Like Sigur Rós in our practice space,” as he succinctly describes it), the album’s destination leaves its listener in a more positive space. “It’s an album that really does depend on what mindset you’re in, where your head is at, and I think that changes depending on if feel like you have something to fight for, or if you feel it’s too late,” he says. “It changes every time I listen to it. But do I think it ends in a hopeful place? Yeah, I do.”
Dan Searle is less sure. “I’d say there is hope on this album,” he says after a lengthy contemplation. “Or, I’d like to think there is.”
He gently laughs.
“Maybe it’s hope with a sprinkling of fatalism.”
For Those That Wish To Exist is due out on February 26 via Epitaph Records.
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