In the wake of a traumatic event, it’s impossible to predict how someone will react. Formerly tough and stoic people may fall apart, while those we consider vulnerable and highly sensitive somehow manage to emerge relatively composed and undisturbed. Anxiety, depression, and stress disorders are all well-known consequences of devastating life events – and within the metal community, the tragic passing of Architects guitarist Tom Searle on August 20, 2016 was utterly shattering.
More than two years later, Architects are still recovering from the loss of their band’s leader and core songwriter. Certain songs from their back catalog, such as “Gone with the Wind”, “Memento Mori”, and obvious candidate “C.A.N.C.E.R.” were hardly all sunshine and rainbows in the first place – but they’re even harder to listen to now. Tom Searle’s story ended in a truly horrific manner, leaving his family, friends, and fans bereaved and bereft. Immersing yourself in the sound of Searle meditating on his own demise is about as visceral as it gets.
Cancer is a bitch – but even as headlines shout about people “losing their battle”, the disease hasn’t won. In fact, picturing illness as a competitor you can either beat or be defeated by is fundamentally wrong, not to mention emotionally and mentally damaging. Holy Hell starts by making that point clear through “Death Is Not Defeat”, the song that picks up where “Memento Mori” – the closing track from Tom Searle’s final album All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us – left off.
As vocalist Sam Carter begins screaming over rearranged strings and electronic drums, you can clearly hear a whole other level of sorrow and rage in his voice. Just listening to that vocal feels like taking an ax to the heart, while tuning into the lyrics quickly becomes overwhelmingly cathartic. Holy Hell marks drummer Dan Searle’s lyrical debut, writing songs in an attempt to process the death of his twin brother, and the guy is one hell of a wordsmith.
Comparing one brother to another would obviously not be appropriate, but it’s safe to say that Dan Searle has done justice to his band’s legacy on this album.
Holy Hell is the most overwhelmingly brutal Architects album to date, a release that eclipses Lost Forever // Lost Together and All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us in terms of pure, unrestrained catharsis. Advance tracks “Doomsday”, “Hereafter”, and “Royal Beggars” have hardly been designed to lull Architects fans into a false sense of security, but they do not represent Holy Hell at its most savage. Sub-two-minute song “The Seventh Circle” is this album’s harshest wakeup call, the point at which Sam Carter secures his status as one of metal’s all-time vocal icons. You can practically hear his throat shredding on that track; in fact, some kind of physical damage might well account for just how literally painful that performance sounds.
It’s impossible to overstate how crucial Sam Carter’s vocal performances are to every song on Holy Hell. The rest of the band are equally consistent, performing perfectly from start to finish, but Carter is the ultimate focal point, completely possessed by blisteringly coherent, precisely focused rage. Over and over again, whether ruminating, grieving, or repeatedly stating that “all is not lost” on hopeful closer “A Wasted Hymn”, Sam Carter ensures that you will not leave this album feeling doubtful about his band’s tenacity, authenticity, and willpower.
This is not an album you can split into A-sides and B-sides. The whole thing is a highlight in itself. Holy Hell deserves to be consumed in its entirety; cherry-picking a few cuts and leaving the rest would mean discarding entire chunks of a modern metal landmark. A masterpiece. A long-playing tribute to a life cut tragically short, and a genius whose influence will live on for decades to come.