REVIEW: ARCHITECTS – “For Those That Wish To Exist”
Metalcore is a crowded space. Progressive metalcore, a smaller corner within that space, is quickly filling up. Architects have made a name for themselves both in the smaller niche of progressive metalcore, but also in the larger genre space. With a nine-record career spanning fifteen years, they are the yardstick in many conversations against which similar bands are compared. Where do you go as a band when you are pigeonholed so extensively by the expectations of your fanbase and bear so heavy a crown? You attempt to break out of the bubble. For Those That Wish to Exist is Architects’ attempt at breaking out of the mold that they made for themselves, and that we strengthened.
Architects broke into mainstream appeal roughly around the release of 2012’s Daybreaker, steadily climbing in popularity, culminating in the gigantically successful Holy Hell, perfecting their brand of technical and progressive metalcore. With such an impressive catalog, they were ripe for the age-old “fan-service” vs. “artistic integrity” debate that plagues successful artists. Do they write another Holy Hell, and be accused of stagnating, or do they try something new, and risk the ire of fans who believe they have “sold out”? There is no correct answer to this.
That said, Architects made an interesting stylistic choice on For Those That Wish to Exist, one that eschewed the more aggressive and technical riff-driven downtuned metalcore championed by late-guitarist Tom Searle and moved towards songs driven by expansive melodic strings-driven soundscapes, with more traditional, almost poppy structures and anthemic hooks. In that regard, For Those… is an extended-range guitar continuation to the legacy started in The Here and Now, which also garnered mixed reactions from fans.
Opening intro-lude “Do You Dream of Armageddon” sets the nihilistic tone that has become synonymous with Architects’ lyrical content, after diving straight into punchy “Black Lungs”, the heaviest of the pre-release singles. The decision to not use “Discourse is Dead” as a single is baffling, as it is among the strongest tracks on the record, and most reminiscent of the traditional Architects sound. It hits like a truck, has a punchy hook, has a lyrical theme that is highly apt to our current circumstances and is also a subtle jab at us in the audience bickering about the quality of the record and the stylistic shift in the “Architects” sound. Single “Dead Butterflies” has an anthemic horn arrangement that I find myself coming back to more often than I would like to admit. In contrast, the synth arrangement on “An Ordinary Extinction” sounds like a B-side of Rammstein’s “Keine Lust”, followed by an arena-pop rock verse/chorus structure, albeit with Sam Carter belting out balladic cleans which instantly put listeners off, and high-register screams, among the best on the record. “Giving Blood” and “An Ordinary Extinction” are prime examples of disappointing expectation-subversion, hyping listeners up towards a predictable crushing breakdown, yet curveballs into a minimalistic verse section, much to this listener’s chagrin. A good example of a great build-up and payoff is “Impermanence”, arguably the heaviest track on the record. This track has the crunchiest breakdown, made whole by Parkway Drive’s Winston McCall’s sledgehammer vocal feature! The choral string samples on this track are a great backdrop for the chugs as well.
After coming off grinning wildly at “Impermanence”, “Flight Without Feathers” is such a letdown. In a vacuum, it is a great ambient interlude, yet completely falls flat in context. “Little Wonder” also has a guest vocal feature, this time with Mike Kerr (of Royal Blood), adding an almost pop-punky vocal contribution. Sadly “Little Wonder”, “Libertine”, “Giving Blood” and perhaps “Goliath” (even with the surprisingly fresh vocal feature courtesy of Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil) get lost in the fifteen-track long album. “Goliath” is particularly disappointing, because it is a well-written song, but its position in the record is usually met with listener fatigue. This track would have benefited from overall album editing. “Meteor” is the single that received the most negative reaction on release, with wild accusations of “selling out” and “pop-ification”, which have due merit, but in the context of the entire record, lose ground. With the onset of “Demi-God”, it is clear that if nothing else, bassist, keyboardist, and sampler Alex Dean is clearly the driving force on For Those Who Wish To Exist. His keyboard arrangements across the record are fantastic, adding incredible depth to otherwise simplistic tracks. In particular, the exotic arrangements on “Demi-God” are easily my favorite on the record. Album closer “Dying Is Absolutely Safe” unlike “Flight Without Feathers” is gut-wrenchingly haunting, and a fitting tribute to Tom from the rest of the band, and an apt conclusion to the explosive tragedy espoused by the lyrics in this record, with Sam’s cleans finally finding serene purchase, and with the backing choir, vocals make the track unforgettably haunting.
The criticisms levied against Architects and this outing is warranted yet harsh in context. Complaints about a “dilution” of complexity in the songwriting are easily the first one to jump to any fan of their previous records, yet as a record aimed at painting in large swathes rather than getting lost in the details, the complaint loses steam. In addition, there is subtle complexity not in the notes-per-second box, but in the layers, synths, etc. which adds to the overall weight of each track. Similarly, criticism aimed at vocalist Sam Carter, a monster in the industry with his characteristic scream-cleans, involves an over-reliance on post-production on his vocals, and a move away from the expected tortured cleans. This is again baffling, as there are still harsh vocals all over the record. No signature “Blegh!”s to be found though, an understandable critique! Guitarists Adam Christianson and Sylosis’ Josh Middleton are sorely underused as part of the shift in sound, with their guitar work providing a foundation, and at times, aggression via breakdowns, rather than leading the charge, giving way to the vocals, drums, and keyboards to take center stage. However, drummer Dan Searle is doing his best work on this record, adding tons of flavor with his intricate drum lines to spice up the straightforward guitar arrangements.
For Those That Wish To Exist is a divisive album, it will garner extreme reactions from both sides, and if art exists to evoke a strong reaction, Architects have achieved that. They have also nearly perfected the idea of grandiose simplicity with this record, which is undeniable no matter where you stand. Leave your preconceived notions behind and you will find an enjoyable record here!