It’s that gap between hope and expectation that we often fall through. Let’s be honest, your hope levels for Architects’ new album Holy Hell (Epitaph) might be stratospheric, but your expectations…? Given what this band has been through in terms of loss, sorrow and anguish, you could easily have fallen into that space of hoping for the best but guarding your expectations. It might be enough just that they simply deliver us something, anything, yes?
Well, prepare to buckle your swashes, gird your loins and grab yourself a massive thesaurus because you are about to go on the hunt for the lost superlative. Holy Hell is a record of sublime fury, a nailed on contender for album of the year and the most brilliant, moving and emotional eulogy to the late Tom Searle that you could have wished for.
And then some.
Holy Hell really is stupidly, outrageously good.
From the opening bars of ‘Death Is Not Defeat’ to the closing moments of ‘A Wasted Hymn’, this is an album packed to its proverbial rafters with ideas, energy and creativity. It is a natural but significant step forward from All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us, and you all know how brilliant that was. There was an indication of some of the progress Architects have made on the lead-off single ‘Hereafter’ and their confidence and innovation was more than evident on follow-up track ‘Royal Beggars’. Whilst both of those songs have an abundance of energy, chutzpah and guile, they are by no means the standout tracks. If anything, they serve (if you will forgive the restaurant metaphor) as the appetizers to a very substantial and deeply, richly satisfying main event.
By way of example, ‘Death is Not Defeat’ is, perhaps not unexpectedly, a song of defiance, belligerence and determination and a dizzying way to start this album off. It is exciting, dynamic and shorn of any traces of aural fat. It is followed by the equally effervescent ‘Hereafter’ which, despite its often intricate musicianship and breakdowns, feels completely effortless, dripping with power and with a chorus bigger than a metaphoric mountain range.
‘Mortal After All’, like much of this record, deals directly with death and mortality – their observation that, in respect of the complex symphony of life that “God is in the detail” seems apposite reflection for much of what this record seeks to deal with. The album’s title track ramps the record up another level. “There is a Holy Hell where we can save ourselves” sounds like the lyric for a generation: it is blisteringly angry and absolutely captivating. As Thomas Fuller wrote, it is always darkest before the dawn and, on Holy Hell, Architects may have found their own dawn following some of their own darkest and most personally challenging times.
Typically, when artists move forward, one often discusses what has been lost or mislaid. In this instance, all the talk is going to be about what Architects have added and enhanced. They have matured as songwriters, and while this is often shorthand for better constructed but slightly duller tunes, on Holy Hell, their songwriting craft is at its most incisive and infectious – these songs get under your skin and stay there. Choosing your favourite song from the surfeit of riches on display is going to be the earworm game you’re going to love playing for months.
Holy Hell is Architects’ best record.
Evidently, this is a record of catharsis and, you suspect, a record that Architects needed to make, but their collective self-examination is neither indulgent nor self-obsessed, but an album that addresses the challenges of coping with death, the truth of loss and the tribulations of life and personal grief, while also grappling with universal themes. It recognises human weakness but also human strength and resilience and by dealing head on with their pain, you get a sense that they have now arrived at a place that is a combination of redemption, of hope, of progress and, yes, dammit, of love.
When you’re settling down to listen to the brilliant music on offer here, remember two things: Holy Hell is a very special record and Architects are a very special band. In these dark, unsettling times, their art is genuinely something to cherish.
10 / 10