Review Summary: Where’s the goddamn ‘BLEGH’, man?
Serious question time. Is the pursuit for commercial viability a poison to modern heavy metal bands? Is there a middle ground that can appease long-time fans and new ones alike, and can it be done in a way where it doesn’t sound dumbed or watered down? I’ve wrestled with these questions for a few years now, so know that I’m not being facetious when I ask them, nor do I present the questions with an elitist comportment. I’m certainly not one to judge either, after all I grew up on some of the most vapid, easy-listening metal bands around, and I’m not ashamed to admit I loved every damn second of it. However, given how homogenised and ubiquitous a large portion of the genre sounds these days, I feel it’s a very pertinent question to put out there; because the truth is, it’s sad to see the impetus of this particular formula grabbing a hold of so many well-established metal bands – given that the foundations of heavy metal were built on top of rebellion and abhorrence for the status quo and that, well, the genre feels rather domesticated and stagnant in a lot of areas now because of it.
I probably sound like a massive boomer at this point, so let’s get to the point at hand. We live in an era where established bands are taking their desire for accessibility and having it blindly take precedence over everything they’ve ever built up. Know that going for a more concise and streamlined sound isn’t a bad thing at all in my book, but it seems like an esoteric process few are able to grasp; bands largely fumble with the transition, diluting their abrasive sensibilities with brazen irreverence for the fans that have stuck with them. If you’re a fan of metalcore this will probably sound very familiar to you, because, let’s be honest, no sub-genre has felt the brunt of this tale more than metalcore. Bring Me the Horizon are the perpetrators for remoulding the formula over half-a-decade ago, and while they still continue to pave the way by doing their own idiosyncratic thing, other bands have been playing catch-up with their success. As such, we have seen droves of heavy metal bands abandoning their style in the hope of procuring that very same success – a rise over the last five-or-so years that has seen so many mainstream metalcore acts conforming to a sound wrought from ennui.
Which brings us onto Architects, where, just one album ago, I commended the band’s valour for veering away from that very same hivemind metal-pop-amalgam so many were hellbent on using, as they went off and did their own thing. Yes, over the years Architects have integrated hearty flourishes of pop-y accessibility into their own hard-hitting metalcore sound, but it was a distinction that managed to separate them from their peers. Analysing their last couple of albums, there hasn’t been a great deal of drastic progression coming from them, but it’s clear their efforts have gone into perfecting a sound that conjoined chunky metalcore riffs and Sam’s lamenting screams with tastefully poignant pop elements, housed in a shell of dejected synth work. In this regard, Holy Hell
achieved its goals with flying colours, so well in fact it was hard to shake the aura of finality from the band’s gambit. Case in point: where could the band shift course to going forward? My stubborn ignorance didn’t want to believe Architects would go this way, but in context it’s pretty clear For Those That Wish to Exist
was always going to head in this direction – the question was, could the band make it distinctive and engaging enough to break away from the herd’s try-hard and derived failings?
For Those That Wish to Exist
is a disappointment, yes, but does that make it a bad album? In this case, it’s a little bit more complicated than just giving out a straight yes or no answer, because in truth what we actually get here isn’t egregious or incompetent; the album actually has quite a bit going for it, based on its own merits. At worst the album pulls out the same eye rolling BMTH worship bands like Bullet for My Valentine and Asking Alexandria have been haphazardly forcing into their sound; at its best the album actually touches on something quite distinctive and enjoyable. The biggest issue I have with For Those That Wish to Exist
is its length. Had they cut a third from the album it would have resulted in a much stronger offering. If songs like “Dead Butterflies”, “Flight Without Feathers”, “Demi God” and “Little Wonder” hit the cutting room floor I suspect it would have made the album a far more coherent and tight-knit experience. Another reason to note the aforementioned tracks is that they lean on paltry lyrics and the same mid-tempo, symphonic template That’s the Spirit
composed six years ago, outright undermining the Architects’ aesthetic for a far more distracting and plagiaristic one.
To Architects’ credit, For Those That Wish to Exist
goes for the big stadium riffs, millennial woes, and scintillating synths with enough sense to preserve some of their core identity. Generally speaking, this doesn’t feel forced and the band doesn’t outright banish their heavier side for the sake of being more listener-friendly. I mean, hell, if nothing else Simon Neil’s screams in the interlude of “Goliath” are reason enough to check this out. It’s rare that I’m stuck in my tracks, but that section of the song left me speechless, listening to him unleash these ungodly, ravaging, animalistic screams over an assault of machine-gun pounding guitars. I thought Simon’s (Biffy Clyro) days with that vocal style were well and truly over, but it’s little moments like that which make For Those That Wish to Exist
a decent listen. Do I miss the band’s themes of existentialism, Sam’s “BLEGH”, and the more complex guitar work? Yes, of course I do. However, based on For Those That Wish to Exist
’s own merits, this could have been another soulless exercise that sees a good band trading in their self-respect for vapid trends, and that’s just not the case here. Songs like “Discourse is Dead” and “Goliath” prove Architects haven’t forgotten which side their bread is buttered on. Sure, the majority of the tracks here hold less enmity than previous works and languish more in the mid-tempo region, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking this is an album unabashedly selling out its older audience. For Those That Wish to Exist
offers listeners riffs more akin to the Limp Bizkit ethos over their familiar gymnastic playground, but one can’t undersell the band’s competence for successfully walking across the same tightrope so many of their peers have failed to walk on.
That being said, the size of this album cumbers the stuff that works well here, and as such makes the record their worst to date. What possessed the band to make an album of this sort nearly an hour long is beyond my comprehension, but the decision damages the quality all the same. This is primarily down to the fact riffs are far more elemental and lacking in the necessary variations needed to make songs completely engaging. A song like “Meteor” has a tight guitar melody for the verse, but it’s an infectious guitar passage that’s only good to a certain point. Like “Meteor”, after so many listens you’ll discover the record has a lot of good ideas being overpowered by flat and derivative ones. However, even with the band’s shortcomings, there isn’t a point where it feels obtuse or obnoxious, and I do feel like Architects have broken the cycle in this regard. Essentially, this is an album aimed at everyone – which could explain why it’s so long and inconsistent – and while For Those That Wish to Exist
is far from perfect, I do feel everyone can take some good things away from it. If nothing else, it’s a small miracle Architects have retained their dignity during this dangerous transition period, as most who dare venture into this field do so with miserable results.