For Fans Of
Most Architects songs look at the state of the world and commiserate in the shit with the rest of us. A majority of their 2012 LP ‘Daybreaker’ was them grimly wallowing under capitalism, materialism, societal rot, religion, and ideological differences, but then it concludes on ‘Unbeliever,’ the most lovely, spiritually uplifting song they’ve ever made. This approach, this vibe, is something that ‘For Those That Wish To Exist,’ recorded during England’s first lockdown, replicates. It’s an important sentiment: addressing the depressed mood of the world currently and its ordinary citizens, telling us to not fear death, to truly live in the now, to learn our lesson, and to make real changes on a personal level. To fight for our collective metaphorical and literal survival. Otherwise, you might as well stop existing. Because the band want the world to endure; they want to live; to move past their most successful records; and to exist beyond the untimely loss of their guitarist, friend, and brother Tom Searle. (Gone but never forgotten.)
“This album was me looking at our inability to change to a way of life that would sustain the human race and save the planet. I wanted to look in the mirror and ask ourselves the question of what are <we> going to do, as opposed to trying to point the finger at politicians. Change has to start on a personal level. The world has developed a culture of wanting someone else to deal with it, when we need to take our own responsibility. It has to start there.” – drummer, main songwriter and this album’s co-producer, Dan Searle.
This is the band making a case for our climate’s future, their future as a band, and them finding out who they are. It’s bleak but hopeful in tone, blending a variety of genres. It’s an exciting time, but also an anxious one, and if only I was in such agreement with the album’s musical choices as I was with its core thematic premise. As while I respect them for finally shifting lanes, this LP sees an identity crisis taking over. A high-chance occurrence for any group that starts to push beyond their own little musical bubble. I so wanted to like this album, but that’s not how it turned out. I love this band, but I don’t love this. Architects are talented performers, we all know that, but something’s really off with the directions and choices made on this album. When I tally it up, there are, generously, only six songs that I like. Change is often for the better, but you also shouldn’t blindly love change for the sake of it. That’s peak disingenuousness, and I’ll never lie to or bullshit you, even if we don’t agree.
On The Downbeat podcast with Stray From The Path’s Craig Reynolds, Sam Carter stated to his mate that they stuck with 15 songs as there was enough variety, enough good stuff to keep on this self-produced LP. But now I’m looking at it, thinking: “Where?” Fifteen songs (cut down from 22), at nearly an hour-long, is a tall order for what is such a repetitive, (mostly) moment-less album. Long records aren’t a bad thing, it just matters what you do with that length. When I think about other lengthy releases I like – ‘Terraformer,’ ’David Comes To Life,’ ‘The Bedlam In Goliath,’ and ‘Somewhere Along The Highway’ – they’re creative and dynamic experiences that are very long but flow beautifully together. Feeling like a true journey come their finales. This album has none of that; it’s too long and scattered.
Architects sadly smother the coolest, most diverse and interesting parts of this album with try-hard, trendy rock-metalcore choruses and really simple, really repetitive riffs. (An underutilization of guitarist Josh Middleton.) At one point, Architects were leading metalcore, now it seems like they’re desperately playing catch-up. For every great moment of them experimenting and nailing it, showing off their many influences, there’s two other bland, synth-loaded arena metal songs lined-up to muddy the waters. ‘For Those That Wish To Exist‘ is big, but it’s also bad.
This band writes superb choruses, the kind that people love, remember and get tattoos of. You know this, I know this, and Architects knows this. So they’ve chosen to reinforce this aspect by making abundant use of these digestible, large-sounding but ultimately plain and tedious synth melodies and singing refrains in these choruses to retain people’s attention. Yet it comes off as cheap, and by the end of the record’s 58-minute length, over-played. Many of these 15 tracks re-use a lot of the same melodies, vocal hooks, riff patterns, and arrangement tactics (like using the same pre-breakdown ring-out implemented over and over), and it weighs you down by the end. To put it bluntly, it’s fucking exhausting! In an old episode of Family Guy, the Griffins are trapped in a panic room as it fills with water, with Peter’s final words being that he didn’t like The Godfather, saying it “insists upon itself”. I’ve finally found something that insists upon itself, and it ain’t Coppola’s mobster classic.
Time will tell whether the band stick with it, and I sincerely hope that they do. Though maybe this latest release should go by another name: ‘The Here And Now 2.0.’ Yet ‘For Those That Wish To Exist’ will go down far smoother with fans, as metal bands today are nowhere near as lambasted for trying out new things. (They’re also an infinitely bigger name than they were a decade ago.) It’s fitting there have been ten years between them eschewing tech-metalcore for a melodic and urgent post-hardcore vibe – that 2011 LP being a good example of a band re-orientating their sound and still making cool songs – and this new overwrought album that sees them changing things up again. People who think they’re clever state how “haters” complain when bands change or stay the same. Yet the genuinely new things attempted here were the parts I liked the most. The kicker is that they’re spread far and few in-between, held back by the band’s over-reliance on specific, repeated ideas over a gruellingly long timeline.
So let’s all plot out this bloated indulgent record with a bloated indulgent review together.
‘Do You Dream Of Armageddon?’ sounds like an Enter Shikari opener in everything but name. The large arrangement suite of strings, fluttering synths and sparse vocals building together for the next song is what Architects’ peers from up north of London excel at. However, their approach works not because the opening song alone is good but because that opener is followed by a perfectly fitting second song that capitalizes on the first’s message and energy. This is not the case, as ‘For Those That Wish To Exist’s opening movement transitions into the drab ‘Black Lungs.’
This was my least favourite of the singles, ‘Black Lungs’ being the album’s second track is not being a great sign. It baffles me how bombastic it tries to sound in production, how huge it aims to be, yet how completely hollow it comes off. This is such a nothing song, devoid of the meaningful moments that past Architects releases delivered in spades. I’m unsure who needs to hear this, but just because your vocalist is singing in the chorus, that doesn’t automatically make a good hook. ‘Black Lungs’ epitomises this, on top of having a useless breakdown section at 2:50 and a fetish for apocalyptic imagery with zero substance. Calling this particular cut a “BMTH clone” has been done to death since its original release in December 2020, but it’s apt.
Same thing for ‘Giving Blood,’ which is in the running for another of the most offensively ordinary songs the band has written next to a handful of tracks on Side-B. I’m not joking when I say I forget this one exists on every playthrough. Utterly innocuous. This track is also the full confirmation of the direction behind ‘For Those…’: a synth and keys-heavy rock opera, with shades of metalcore, an emphasis on singing (there’s still plenty of screaming), orchestral moments, piano runs, emotive strings, and lots of electronics. Some may label this their “pop” album, but it’s more accurately their “opera” record. That album cover alone almost embodies this idea with a lone astronaut standing inside an empty cathedral:
Architects have sunk a lot into this very produced record. Some may think that term is a nail in its coffin or a red flag, but it’s just a mere observation of what it is. And hey, I myself love electronic shit; three of my favourite albums from the 2010s were ‘Death Magic,’ ‘Fever Daydream,’ and ‘Alien,’ but this isn’t in the same ballpark. (To be fair, there some cool little sonic details found throughout; I just wish they went somewhere.) Architects clearly wanted to retain their heaviness – Sam’s powerful screams, those towering riffs and breakdowns – but they also wanted to play up the synthesizers, features, simple structures, grating effects, and basic-bitch choruses as hard as possible. I think this approach could work better on the next attempt, which I’m hoping for honestly, but this is definitely not that album.
‘Discourse Is Dead’ is about selfishness, how we’re bereft of common sense, how we’re riding a carousel in circles, only harming ourselves in thinking we’re all correct. And like, yeah, sure. Architects aren’t incorrect in saying this. But they never go deeper than that surface-level analysis. Maybe it’s time bands get specific about these issues surrounding how and where debates and differences in views take us? Actually looking at the bad actors poisoning the well of conversation, the parroting of false truths, why that division might be taking place, how to spot those who don’t care for unification, and the types of dishonest arguments one should avoid when they’re peddled by grifters who use faux-outrage to line their pockets. (Reactionary chud politics on YouTube is a fucking breeding ground for this.) So lyrically, the song is lacking. Discourse may be dead, and so too is Architects‘ commentary it seems. But the song itself fairs better. That heavenly, ascendant ending when everything swings into a huge half-time groove under swelling orchestration and a massive plate reverb on Sam’s crooning voice is a giant “YES!” moment for me. Except that the road to get there was bumpy and not all that memorable.
However, ‘Dead Butterflies’ is one of the finest moments on ‘For Those That Wish To Exist.’ Chronologically following the record’s track-listing, this is the first point on the album where I fall in love. I’m not saying it’s the perfect or ultimate Architects song, just that it’s really good. There’s a lot to love: the intro’s subtle synth placements, the lyrics tugging between imagery of life and death, Josh’s backing vocals, how the grand strings and horns overlap each other, that sick screaming modulated guitar solo at 2: 22, and how the metal side of Architects dynamically ebbs and flows into this melodic soundscape. A soundscape helpfully pieced together by the perfectly complimentary strings arrangement of Will Harvey. Love it!
After Architects were done aping BMTH, they must have huddled and thought: “Lads, who else can we rip-off?” Enter ‘An Ordinary Extinction.’ The pitch-shifting, bit-crushed synths mixed with tight, chugging down-tuned guitars is pulled straight from Mick Gordon’s playbook for DOOM. To all metalcore bands: we get it, you like those games and their soundtracks. WE ALL FUCKING DO! Again, people love to compare Architects and BMTH – sometimes fairly, other times not so much – but it’s hilariously bad timing that the latter band released an EP in 2020 which also featured Mick himself. ‘An Ordinary Extinction’ released after the fact will not help Architects’ case. (Not including others that have done similar ideas before, like The Gloom In The Corner on ‘Violence‘.) As for the song, those filthy synths underpin the band’s obsession with having painfully uninteresting rock “hooks” congest up almost every second track. Insultingly treating us like we’re muppets who won’t like a song unless we receive a familiar chorus every 60 seconds, overriding its message about people’s “heroic” god complexes clouding our judgement in the face of disaster.
‘Impermanence’ is a mixed bag of the kind of rock Architects are exploring now, intercut with stomping riffs and an ambient vocalisation floating behind these elements (that actually really drew me in.) The big draw-card is that it features Winston McCall from Parkway Drive; Winston showing up to dish out a heavy pit-call and lead a subsequent mosh passage. If you love these bands and saw Winston’s name on the song, I can totally understand how amped you’d be. But wow, does it not live up. Winston gets the typical metal vocalist feature: a single section – about two-thirds in – and it didn’t do him or the song Architects wrote any justice. It wasn’t better for his inclusion, as much as I love the dude and his band. I’ve always wanted to hear these two guys on a song together, but I should’ve been more careful in what I wished for. Maybe Sam guesting on a Parkway song will go down better?
Remember ‘The Here And Now’ that I waxed lyrical about earlier? The resonant, lovely ‘Flight Without Feathers’ genuinely sounds like it could’ve come off it. It’s the next evolution from ‘An Open Letter To Myself,’ just with way more electro-percussion, subs, and synth pads. It’s the poppiest, most different song, and as I hinted at earlier, one of the best-in-show with a careful warning about personal sustainability. This was a bold strategy, Cotton, and I really hope others respond to this risky but sweet track in kind once the album releases. ‘Flight Without Feathers‘ shows exactly what kind of great new material Architects can write. However, it’s the exception, not the rule.
With a grumbling, 80s sawtooth synth driving the song forward, the karmic ‘Little Wonder’ is another contender for one the most meh songs Architects have ever produced. Much like ‘Black Lungs’ before it, ‘Little Wonder’ features another one-off breakdown section, set up nearly identical to all the other damned breakdowns on this record. For all the good it doesn’t do, it should’ve been left on the cutting room floor. Mike Kerr of Royal Blood also features, his vocals swooping in and out as things progress, but was sometimes hard to ascertain which were his. (I’m not a big Royal Blood fan so that’s likely why.)
When I first heard ‘Animals’ in November 2020, I enjoyed it but wasn’t crazy about it. But now? This is the standout! Something genuinely different and not a single dumb “blegh” insight. The distorted synths, wailing alarms and crunchy guitars that fire-off under the already hulking riffs, pingy St. Anger snare hits and pulverising groovy rhythms create some of the dopest shit around in 2021. As are those atmospheric guitars shooting around the rest of this hard-hitting belter. The reversed vocals of the song’s poem in the intro is a nice touch, and Sam’s “should I just pull the pin?” line in the post-chorus is chilling. (And those “dream within a dream within a…” whispers make for a great heel-turn for the song to move forward.) ‘Animals’ has grown on me, I ain’t afraid to say it. Or is that because it’s what I heard first from this album and I’ve now grown accustomed to it? Is this Stockholm Syndrome? Who is to say! But when compared with a majority of the larger repetitive, dull experience, ‘Animals‘ is pure gold surrounded by rust.
‘Libertine’ is seemingly about misguided faith, misplaced trust; about the trap of hierarchies and people that forgo their morales. It’s also a far heavier number. Well, sort of. Architects wanted the kinds of stadiums and festivals they regularly perform to now to sing along with them for the vast majority, so all of this track’s energy is sucked out the window so we can all hold hands, hum along and shout “wooaahhhh.” Bands, if your attempts at these crowd vocals won’t be half-as-good as Thirty Seconds To Mars’ 2009 album, ‘This Is War’, then please don’t bother.
At least ‘Goliath’ lives up to its name by being an absolute unit. Roaring synths and meaty riffs galore! An interesting artistic choice was the band nabbing Simon Neil from Biffy Clyro for the song. Interesting because, outside of the neat little Celtic string outro, at the end of his own section, Simon goes full fucking tilt, screaming his head off like an older chaotic Biffy cut would go down and it’s so cool. (On the topic, nothing has yet to top Murray Macleod from The Xcerts on ‘Castles In The Air.’)
Outside of the pessimistic, verbose metaphors in ‘Demi God,’ we see Architects attempting a progressive rock piece, which was a real surprise, almost like a weird Devin Townsend cut. It’s one of the more interesting songs, instrumentally speaking. The bridge section of Sam’s soft, effects-covered vocals being accompanied by melancholic pianos, allowing the song to breathe before Dan’s cascading tom fills propel it to the climax is well-done. But man, these choruses are so painful, so empty. It’s paradoxically astounding how this band tries so much yet has most of it ring hollow. And let’s normalize cutting out lame in-studio chatter from songs.
‘Meteor’ is like an ode to the lost time and lost chances we experienced in 2020 as the world shut down amidst the largest global pandemic in modern history. It’s a poppy rock song that’s a plea to act now, stating that human courage and invention is “like fire in the snow”; that we should be “moving mountains” but are instead stuck in quarantine – or in similar arresting mindsets – as disasters arrive at our door with endless bad news. Out of all of the hook-riddled, forced stadium rock songs clogging up the arteries of this record, ‘Meteor’ isn’t great, but it’s one of the more tolerable instances. Naturally catchy, with something to say, it contains a decent final flourish so that the album’s closer can enter stage left.
Let’s put this review and album out of their (modern) misery. ‘Dying Is Absolutely Safe’ is the clearest point about the album’s theme regarding hope, to not fight death and to live freely. Because giving in would be the easiest option instead of living and forging onward. It’s a call to not view death as the enemy, but as the band once told us on ’Doomsday,’ to view it as an open door. Remember: Memento Mori. ‘Dying Is Absolutely Safe’ is a rare highpoint; a delicate, moving ballad acting as a prayer that’s just beautiful. It’s like a more mature, better thought-out acoustic number than ‘Heartburn’. The way it dynamically builds up with yearning strings, marching snare rolls, and this grand orchestration is genius. It’s the most realized that these elements ever become on the record, having them coalesce in a joyous manner, marking a stunning climax as waves of fading static wash over. A fantastic climax that still cannot override the sour taste most of this album left in my mouth.
I’m not a fan of ‘For Those That Wish To Exist,’ as it’s a staggering, overwrought example of the Emperor wearing no clothes. Of a band making a long album but doing very little with an hour runtime. Of some good ideas and experimental moments being utterly smothered by bland and repetitive rock songwriting tropes. Of a diverse album pulled in too many directions, making it anything but cohesive.
I don’t want Architects to tuck their tails between their legs and cowardly back-pedal to the beaten-to-death metalcore of the last four albums. That would be worse than this. I’ve been listening to them since 2008, they’re great players, have rated them very highly, and I’d encourage them to keep going with records like this. Really! This was more miss than it ever was hit for me, but that doesn’t mean these talented gents won’t fine-tune things, smooth out the length and flow, and knock it out of the park on the next attempt. I might not like that next album, but we won’t know if they don’t follow ‘For Those That Wish To Exist’ to its next logical step. Architects, please don’t treat this like you treated ‘The Here And Now.’
Do You Dream Of Armageddon?
Discourse Is Dead
An Ordinary Extinction
Impermanence (feat. Winston McCall of Parkway Drive)
Flight Without Feathers
Little Wonder (feat. Mike Kerr of Royal Blood)
Goliath (feat. Simon Neil of Biffy Clyro)
Dying Is Absolutely Safe
‘For Those That Wish To Exist’ is out Friday, February 26th: