Review Summary: An aggressive, trying excursion into mathcore-tinted metal, with more than enough fresh elements to make it one of the best hybrid albums of this style in recent years.
The first time I heard of Architects, it was when they were supporting Bring Me The Horizon a couple of years ago. Well, that basically told me all I needed to know. Agreeably, a somewhat hackneyed view, but I felt I knew what to expect. Against my better judgment, I’ve always liked Bring Me The Horizon, but at the same time I’ve always felt that one of them was enough (for some people, one is too much), and that’s genuinely what I felt I’d be enduring with Architects. More grinding, distorted guitars, leering, scratchy, high-pitched vocals, fun, yet uninspired songwriting; the works. This is a view I maintained for a long time- even listening to the bands (pre Here And Now
) era albums, in an effort to convince myself I wasn’t missing out on anything more than another metalcore knockoff. My predisposition worked, I ‘hated’ the albums, and resigned myself to never listening to another Architects song again.
Then, earlier this year, I went to another concert. Sure enough, amongst the other support acts, was Architects. This didn’t stop me going to the gig, of course, but it soured it for me a little. However, the biggest shock for me was; they were actually good. So I started again. I listened to all the albums several times over each, and I think I’m ready to make a fairly balanced opinion on my favourite; Hollow Crown
Starting off in a mathcore vein, similar to that of The Dillinger Escape Plan or early Norma Jean, Architects made their name in creating dissonant, passionate songs that may not have been to everyone’s taste, but were certainly energetic, and no one could fault them in their efforts to create a new sound. This is the style most prevalent on their first release, Nightmares
, and to a lesser extent, Ruin
. The mathcore roots the band came from are still plain to see in Hollow Crown
, but there is a significant departure in song structure and melody from previous albums. There are fewer quick descending arpeggios and scream-happy, sloppily thrown together songs than past efforts. Instead, melodies are implemented smartly and used to good effect. Choruses are used frequently, and breakdowns much more sparingly. This makes for a much more rounded, interesting listen, and whilst it may be true that the album does run together at times, and even feels a little uninspired, as a whole it succeeds on the merits of its’ originality.
'Early Grave' and 'Dethroned' are perfect examples of this. They don’t shout up the rest of the album, neither do they create a standard the rest of the album needs to live up to. Rather, they serve as a consistency marker, showing you exactly what you’re in for during the course of your experience. They’re aggressive, fiery little screamers, with thundering guitar riffs and rowdy, blast-beat ridden drum beats. They are a little uninspired, but clearly the intention here is to build up, and frankly, the album is mostly uphill from here. 'Numbers Count For Nothing' is one of the standout tracks for me, as it features some rather intriguing throwbacks to the bands’ mathcore roots. There is a well-executed breakdown less than halfway into the song which consists of a pitch bending technique added to the main riff. It should feel out of place, but the way it is used in the context of the song feels right, and sounds cool as ***. It’s elements like these that distinguish one track from another, but it is not a matter of thinking ‘that’s the song with that bit in it.’ Because it is much cleverer than that. The elements and style in each song are unique- it’s the production that makes some songs sound a little similar. The distortion and vocals don’t change throughout, and as a result, the sound remains the same. Some would call it consistency, others would call it uninteresting.
'Follow The Water', 'In Elegance', and 'We’re All Alone' represent the more considered middle ground of the album, and possibly one of the album’s most forgettable tracks. 'Follow The Water' is the anthemic shout-along, but it is little more than this. It feels a little tepid in comparison to the rest of the album’s rage, but it is still an amiable enough effort to craft a smart little crowd puller. 'In Elegance', however, is the brightest standout from this batch. With a relatively slow build up, a churning riff and even more guttural yelping by Carter, it starts off just the same as another song off the album. However, the chorus truly sets this song apart- it’s emotive, beautifully written, and is set against the string harmonics of whining guitars that create an unsettling, but mostly inspired, feel to the song. It’s a ‘song’ in the truest sense of the word, and is probably one of the most effective on the album in terms of its’ intent. Whether it succeeds or not is up to the listener, but in my opinion, it’s a well-executed, dynamic and memorable song that is definitely one of the standouts. 'We’re All Alone' offers something of a taste of banality in comparison, but in fairness, I actually think the song is quite good, it’s just not as good as the song that came before it. In comparison, it seems quite dull, regardless of the very nice sounding instrumentation on display here. It’s possible the song would rate higher if it was earlier on the album, but where it is, in the context, it feels lazy.
Sacrificing no energy, 'Borrowed Time' thunders in with no hint of an intro or even build up; it just starts. Something of a bizarre creative choice, but then, the chorus kicks in. If you can call it a chorus. I prefer to call it a hate-fuelled, bile-spewing, angst-ridden break in the song. The guitars play in a chugging breakdown fashion, and only Carter’s voice can be heard soaring over the top, screaming at the top of his lungs ‘YOU MEAN NOTHING TO ME, AND YOU NEVER ***ING DID.’ It’s angry and it’s hateful, but it’s also one of the most purely invigorating songs on the album. This is definitely the throwdown standout; the party song of the album, if you will. And frankly, it’s excellent. Following somewhat timidly in its’ footsteps, however, are 'Every Last Breath', and 'One Of These Days'. Both of these fall under the umbrella of ‘good, not great’. They’re rowdy enough little fodder tracks for the album, but don’t really offer anything that hasn’t already been presented. Polished, most certainly, and with soaring vocals, loud, abrasive guitaring, and thundering drums, they’re fun. But because the rest of the albums performed this so well already, it prevents them from being anything more.
'Dead March' and 'Left With A Last Minute' slowly begin to round off the album. As Dead March begins, one can’t help but shake the fear that it’s another standard down-tuned attack the eardrums, rather than something a bit more inventive. Towards the middle, however, the song does improve greatly, with the melody shining through amidst the vocals, giving the track a little bit of an edge over such songs as 'Every Last Breath'. There are also neat little interludes that features clean vocals performed by Carter. The actual execution of the sections isn’t great, but it certainly does help to mix up the production style a little bit, and there are also several mathcore elements (the palm-muted quick-descend sounds excellent). 'Left With A Last Minute' serves as a little ‘goodbye’ for the listener. It’s somewhat boring, as melody doesn’t seem to feature much. Instead it favours a dull chord progression and a breakdown that sounds as though someone wrote it in their sleep. It’s most probably the weakest song on the album, as it feels that the band just stopped trying and recycled a whole bunch of what we’ve already heard. It’s not terrible, but it’s nowhere near what we know the band is capable of.
Finishing the album in a poetic, and somewhat unusual way for bands of this ilk is 'Hollow Crown'; a mildly executed, well-written, and ultimately very enjoyable ballad that showcases Carter’s vocal abilities rather than the instrument proficiency of other band members. This is something of a shame, as it would be nice to have a glimpse of just how versatile the rest of the band is. However, despite this, it makes a good case for the bands’ songwriting abilities, and definitely shows they are not a musical one trick pony. Eventually, of course, the piece goes heavier, but it never reaches the heights of other heavier songs on the album, rather making the melody heavier and thicker, rather than the vocals themselves, which remain clean for 99% of the song.
is by no means perfect, but it goes a long way to cementing Architects into a position of some respect in the already-overcrowded metalcore market. Fusing mathcore and metalcore isn’t anything that hasn’t been tried before, but with their unique stamp and style, a good case is being made to shuttle Architects to the forefront of this pile. All they need to do now is work on their diversity musically, and they could become a serious force to be reckoned with. All the raw elements are there, they just need to be sculpted a little better.