In some respects, it is business as usual for Sam Carter. His band, the Brighton, U.K., metalcore quintet Architects, just put out a new album called Holy Hell, and at the beginning of December they'll be hitting the road for a heroic, homecoming European tour. After 14 years and eight records, he's a veteran of the rigmarole and an expert in navigating the 20-minutes-or-so inquisitions with journalists across the pond. Out of context, this should be easy.
Unfortunately though, there is context, and Carter fully admits that this is one of the weirdest press junkets he's ever been on. "No day, no interview is the same," he says, at the beginning of the conversation. "Sometimes I leave and feel fine, and sometimes it can completely fuck you up, it's been very strange. … It's been cool to see the respect people have shown us when they can tell that we're not really vibing off some of the questions."
On August 21st, 2016, Tom Searle — the lead guitarist, synth programmer, songwriter and lyricist for Architects — died after a three year long battle with skin cancer at the age of 28. His brother, drummer Dan Searle, refused to mince words or offer any false reassurances in a heartbroken Facebook post announcing the passing. "I don't know what will become of Architects," he wrote. "Me and Tom started playing together when we were 13 and, really, Architects is just an evolution of the band that we started all the way back then, over half my life ago. To pretend that Tom wasn't at the heart of everything that the band created would be to show a complete lack of respect to the amazing talent that he was. The band will never be the same and there is simply no denying it."
It seems callow, or disrespectful, to quantify a death within the vocabulary of a band. Tom's passing will be mourned for so much more than the wrinkles and mechanics of his artistry, but since this is a story about a band, it must be reiterated how important he was to Architects' music. It was he who first nudged the group into its newfound socially conscious diction by penning incisive poems about environmental calamity and the falsehoods of parliamentary electioneering. It was he who introduced the sprocketed blasts of absinthian electronica that now define the band's serrated howl. It was he who wrote and arranged the vast majority of the music, and of course, it was he who fucking ripped whenever it was his guitar's turn to take center stage.
And so, Architects are now a band with a before and an after. You can't replace a Tom Searle, nor did Carter want to try. "It's like starting over," he says. "We're figuring out different roles in the studio. The person we'd usually look to in the studio was Tom. It was very difficult at times, but since it was something we all wanted so badly, we felt like we could create something that he'd love."
Holy Hell is an album full of quiet, poignant contradictions. The bones of some of the songs were adapted from loose, experimental sketches that Tom had worked out before his death, and the others were composed from the ground up by the new lineup (with the addition of Sylosis guitarist Josh Middleton.) The track list is not explicitly political like some of their previous records, mostly because the band spent the past two years picking up the pieces of their personal lives, rather than paying attention to global affairs. Carter initially tried to fill in some of the vacated lyric-writing duties, but that burden eventually fell on Dan — who was obviously the most intimately impacted by the death. "He was looking after himself a lot better than the rest of us. He's just a little more mature," Carter says. "I sent Dan some lyrics for 'Seventh Circle,' the song we agreed was going to be about that form of grief, but Dan just has a way of articulating it in such an intelligent way. And that's his brother — if that was a way he needed to release energy, I was 100 percent behind it."
You feel that communion, that refusal to let each other down, on every inch of this record. There is no doubt that Holy Hell captures a band in mourning — Carter's wails have never been more stirring, Dan's words hit like a car crash — but it also captures a band that, slowly but surely, is finding their own afterlife. The devastating, inflamed missives from rock bottom, like "Hereafter" or "Doomsday," are bundled neatly with songs like "A Wasted Hymn" — in which Architects reminds both the listener and themselves of the reasons to keep living. "All is not lost, all is not lost," Carter repeats those words over and over again, like a wounded palliative, or a light at the end of the tunnel. The fundamental faith that things can and will get better, delivered in blistering metalcore form.
According to Metacritic, Holy Hell's aggregated critical acclaim places it as the 32nd best-reviewed album of all time (right below Outkast's swansong, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.) Obviously, nobody should put too much stock in the algorithms, but from this distance, in the shadow of the bereavement and natural empathy anyone would have for the fine young men in Architects, the record certainly looks like a titanic work of art, and Carter is enjoying a victory lap for the first time in far too long. "It's fucking crazy," he says. "In some respects it's like, 'Oh, well I don't really care where it charts.' It shows that it's connecting with people, and that they understand what this record means. Especially because in some ways, this feels like our first record. It's the first one where we've had to step up and work hard without our main songwriter here."