Undoubtedly one of the most high profile releases of the year, Holy Hell has landed. The first Architects record without Tom Searle at the helm was always going to carry extra weight, not simply because he was the principal engineer of the band’s music; Searle started the band with his brother Dan. His loss was felt across the greater metal world and ever since “Doomsday” was released, the same questions have been raised. Naysayers have been quick to dismiss the new material while die-hard fans have embraced the new music with both hands.
The immediate reaction to Holy Hell should be pretty uniform – the album still sounds like the same Architects who have been as close to world-domination as any modern metal band have come. A recent behind-the-scenes look into life after Tom made it clear that certain songs on this record were created using material he had been working on, but we don’t know which tracks. Quite rightly so. This isn’t a new band, even without someone who had been so vital in all of their success. Anyone looking for a massive shift in tone or style from Lost Forever // Lost Together or All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us (two records that could be mistaken for each other, let’s not kid ourselves) will be disappointed.
The performances across the entirety of this record are as clean and crisp as ever, magnified as usual by the fullest production, mixing, and mastering across pretty much every genre of music. Every drum fill and snare hit is almost comically intense and each time the band hit one of those colossal, arena-filling chugs it’s easy to feel like the air has been sucked out of the room. Thankfully, it’s not all bluster and booming hits. Holy Hell has the most decadent vocal production, pairing Sam Carter’s cleans and screams with (presumably) more of Sam Carter’s cleans and screams on more than one occasion. The wonderfully subtle “ooh’s” and “aah’s” pair particularly well with the strings and synths that have been utilised so heavily on this record; incredibly effective on the title track, which stands as one of the highlights of this record with it’s jumped-up, A Day To Remember adjacent structure and whirlwind middle section.
No one will walk away from this record without having one or two lines stuck in their head. “Death Is Not Defeat” might run thirty seconds and one repeated riff too long but it has that instant earworm effect that many try to work into metal without ever getting near the level of hook and catch that Architects have mastered. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough moments that stand out above the rest. Nearly every track on Hollow Crown had an individual moment of magic, not so much here. To break with protocol and drop a huge personal pronoun, I’ve skipped over the same four tracks the last few times I’ve played Holy Hell through. They’re not offensive to my ears or anything, they have all the punch of Architects’ strongest material, some of these punches just miss by quite a distance. Granted, these tracks all have the potential to sound tremendous in a live setting, something which haters fail to realise. Architects, after all, are one of the most powerful live acts around.
The “curveballs” on this record are few and far between, but the incredibly short, sharp blast of “The Seventh Seal” is a very welcoming sound. Caught somewhere between the Architects of Ruin and any Chimaira record after The Impossibility of Reason, the track burns brighter and faster than a trick cigarette, closing with some of Carter’s harshest vocals in years. Taken out of context it’s almost a throwaway but among the fair to middling padding of Holy Hell‘s second act it reinvigorates and refreshes. Closer “A Wasted Hymn” is a sombre affair, seemingly tieing up any loose ends that the record has with a morose, masterfully crafted pop song. A pop song with huge, soaring vocals and all of the strings and synths that the Brighton metalcore superstars have dispersed throughout their sound so effectively. The least aggressive track on the record is probably the best. Go figure.
Holy Hell isn’t the sink-or-swim release that will alienate fans or pull in new ones by the boatload. Hitting many of the same marks as the last two records, it instead is both a tribute to the band’s departed brother and the first step of a journey they are undertaking without one of their own. It would have been so easy to call it a day after his tragic passing but Architects have shouldered their grief and charged forward. The hard work and years of touring just about everywhere on the planet couldn’t stop them, neither will losing Tom. This first record since his passing was always going to be heavy, in every sense of the word. Breaking protocol yet again, I for one look forward to hearing the new material alongside my favourite Architects songs in a live setting, even if I might not be listening to a fair chunk of it at home.