Monday, 29 March 2021

Architects - For Those That Wish to Exist (2021)

Country: UK
Style: Alternative
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 26 Feb 2021
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Over time, Architects, who formed in 2004 in Brighton, have moved through a number of genres. They started out as a metalcore band, shifted notably into post-hardcore, apparently pissing off a chunk of their core fanbase, moved back again and gradually evolved past those genres entirely. There's post-hardcore here and metalcore too, but this is neither a post-hardcore nor a metalcore album. So what is it? There, to quote the Bard, is the rub. I can't really define this outside of simply "alternative" and that would be misleading. Some people seem to be using "arena rock", which is even more misleading. REO Speedwagon they're not.

So let's just say that it's highly varied, whether we're talking about the vocals of Sam Carter and his colleagues or the music that the band brings into play behind them.

I'm not sure exactly which voice belongs to whom, but this is an interplay between three of them: one is clean, calm and introspective and perfect for smooth modern pop music, a more emphatic one that remains clean and is alternative rock through and through and a shouty one that takes the emphasis all the way to -core levels. Without history to bias a new listener, they might think of Architects as pop music that gets really edgy rather than a metalcore band who have become a lot more commercial.

Musically, the same applies. There's a lot that's introspective and the keyboards of Ali Dean are very obvious throughout, not always to provide depth, texture or atmosphere. Sometimes they serve as a primary instrument to lead the way for songs to follow. Dean has been with Architects since 2006, but that's as their bass player, a role he still fills; he's only been responsible for keyboards and a drum pad since 2016. Drummer Dan Searle, the one remaining founder member, also handles programming and that really has become two jobs now rather than one broad one.

All this means that the variety isn't merely between tracks but within them, most of these following multiple paths with a lot of dynamic play. An Ordinary Extinction starts out heavy but promptly turns into synthpop; then it adds a layer of unusual rhythms and evolves into a hardcore song that's driven by its electronica as much as its voice. Other songs feature sections of dreamy pop music with a prog mindset, akin to Radiohead, but also sections that are loud and overt and clearly -core, whether it's hardcore or, in songs like Goliath, clearly a full on metalcore vibe that the band started out playing, even if that one finishes up with the most overt strings to be found anywhere on the album.

Goliath is one of four songs to feature a guest performer, in this case Simon Neil, the lead singer and guitarist for Scottish alternative rockers Biffy Clyro. Other guests include Winston McCall of Parkway Drive, the Aussie metalcore band; Mike Kerr of rock genre-hoppers Royal Blood; and Liam Kearly, of prog rockers Black Peaks. What's odd here is that none of them are obvious. The songs they're on fit absolutely with others around them that are played entirely by Architects, so much so that all these guests seem to be have been completely subsumed into the band.

This isn't my choice of genre, but I liked this a lot. For a number of reasons, I've been playing it for the majority of the past week, while I do other things, and it only gets better. The shouty vocal style never did anything for me, but it works here, alongside similarly emphatic musical choices like an ultraheavy riff late in Black Lungs that doom metal bands would kill for, almost a bass line played on guitar. And then they're back to pop music again with a catchy hook and woah woah backing. As Carter sings, "It's enough to plague a saint."

Black Lungs is a real highlight here, but there are others. This is a generous album, running just shy of an hour with fourteen full songs plus a minute and a half intro that should count too. The consistency is high, even though Architects move from djent to post punk to Euro dance to metalcore and it's not just the heavier parts I appreciated. In fact, given that the heavier songs are more likely to go shouty, I'm actually fonder of softer and subtler pieces like Dead Butterflies. That's a lush texture to open up, mostly because of keyboards, and the unusual rhythms and orchestrations only underline that.

Other critics have talked about the lyrical content, I'm sure, given that it looks at the environment, as Architects often do, but I'll comment about how unusual this look is. It's very personal, looking not at what's happening but at what we can do about it and it's alternately optimistic and pessimistic. We're empowered to do what we can, but it might not be enough. I hear that internal argument throughout the album, because it's bouncy and perky and hopeful until it isn't and suddenly it's dark and broody and angry. And that's entirely fair.

This is a really good album. Please add a point if you're fonder of shouty vocals than I am. And maybe another one too.

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