Review Summary: darkness, oh hell
After Tom Searle’s death, the songs on Architects’ All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us
took on deeper meaning. Alan Watts’s admonition to “be mindful of death” is an obvious one, but even a track like “Nihilist” gained significance, born as it was from the mind of a dying man who could only see a suicidal god, despairing at the failure of his creation. Humankind was likened to the malignant cancer that was destroying Searle, malicious and unfeeling, consuming for its own pleasure at the expense of the planet. “No love, no empathy, our fellow man is now our enemy.” Lyrics that may have seemed generic when the album was released instead became poignant warnings, a living will that would soon become a dying one. As the first album released after Searle’s death, Holy Hell
takes on similar significance. If All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us
was Searle wishing the world a bitter goodbye, then Holy Hell
is the rest of the band, including Searle’s brother Dan, saying goodbye to him.
It is remarkable that they were able to complete and release this album within a typical two-year cycle, and it is even more remarkable that they were able to do so without cheapening their sound. Essentially, Holy Hell
sounds like Architects. Here again, though, qualities that may have sounded generic are instead given life and poignancy by the circumstances under which it was written and recorded. Many of the lyrics would be easy to criticize for sounding like rehashes of Tom’s earlier songs, but here they sound like a tribute to him, a continuation of his vision for the band. On “Modern Misery”, which is basically All Our Gods…
in miniature, Sam Carter screams about “a parasite killing its host.” He’s talking about mankind, but thoughts of Searle’s cancer loom large. And sometimes, the band is even able to exceed their former albums. The guitar work in “Hereafter” and “Mortal After All” is some of the strongest in their discography.
However, the pain of Tom’s absence, though it colors every song in some way, can’t justify every aspect of the album. Several songs devolve into lethargic breakdowns full of lazy palm mutes, and the more plays the album gets, the more apparent it becomes that the drums always
mirror the guitar riffs. Simply put, the music sounds too rehearsed and sterile at times. This extends to the orchestration present on a few songs. Whether they were played on real instruments or not, the strings are often accompanied by electronic drums (which sound exactly the same as they did on All Our Gods…
), giving them a jagged, artificial quality. The only song they add anything to is closer “A Wasted Hymn.” For an album as emotional as this one, the processed sound is a real shame.
It is Sam Carter’s performance that often carries the album. His inimitable style of scream-singing still stands out after so many albums, and there is pain behind much of his delivery that is real and raw. Opener “Death is Not Defeat” might be his strongest vocal performance ever, by turns tender and savage, and his scream that leads into the final chorus is one of the most affecting musical moments of 2018. Tom’s memory justifies a lot of the somewhat generic lyrics, but Carter’s passionate performance does the same and may keep the band going for years to come.
In some ways, Holy Hell
is a sort of morbid mulligan, an excusable placeholder while the band figures out where to go from here. “All is not lost,” Carter intones over and over at the beginning of “A Wasted Hymn”, seemingly trying to convince himself and his bandmates. Searle’s absence is felt the most in this song. The lyrics, likely written by Dan, speak of phantom limbs and the cost of love, and the bridge poses a heartbreaking question: “Can you live a life worth dying for?” Architects have never shied away from clarion calls to action, but this is the band at their most inspiring and effectual, filling in the empty space left behind after a monumental loss. It is an epitaph that nonetheless suggests a bright future ahead.