Brighton band Architects' live show begins with an eruption: there's a brief calm before the storm, or a moment that feels like one, when the quartet torpedo into "Nihilist," from their last LP, All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us. Frontman Sam Carter skirts around the stage, contorting his body on top of monitors placed cleverly for his movement: "We are beggars/We are so f---ing weak." His guttural cries are met with similar low-register drawls from the mostly male crowd "And once upon a time we have the world at our feet/Well, we're all dying to meet our maker/But all our gods have abandoned us."
"Nihilist," the song that opens their last record, is a heavy-as-hell modern metalcore masterpiece that lifts fists at the idea of cultural apathy. Architects are not nihilists, though they haven't been immune to the charm and ease of pessimism. They want empathy. In a room bursting with the muscular physicality of their two New York City shows over the weekend (Friday, March 31 and Saturday, April 1) at Manhattan's Gramercy Theater - one sold out - it's evident that their affection lies with catharsis.
Architects' road here hasn't been an easy one. In their 13-year career, the band has seen a handful of lineup changes and moves to different labels (they now call alt-punk greats Epitaph Records family). They've released a whopping seven full-length albums, they've toured the world and yet, it seems just now they're making a splash stateside. In Australia, All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us debuted at No. 2, in Germany at No. 8 and in their native U.K., No. 15. The album broke the Billboard 200 in the U.S., but topped at No. 109. It's been a much more gradual development here, and there are obvious limitations that inspired it: the countries Architects have seen real, arena-sized success in are the countries where hard rock music remains in vogue; our charts lean more pop/hip-hop.
I spent my Saturday night with @architects and I don't regret it one bit #ArchitectsUK
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That is not to say there isn't space for breakdowns and pig squeals: fellow Brits Bring Me the Horizon's 2015 album That's the Spirit debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. Granted, the album instituted sweeping synths and boasted of a more melodic take on their easily identifiable post-hardcore sound. Their previous album, 2013's decidedly heavier Sempiternal, topped at No. 11. It's possible for metalcore to make its way to the top, but it's almost always a nuanced growth. Where BMTH tour the United States constantly, Architects haven't been given the same luxury, promoting themselves in that particular fashion - and with good reason.
On Aug. 20, 2016, Architects lead guitarist and primary songwriter Tom Searle passed away after a three-year battle with skin cancer. He was 28. It's a recent story that is rarely told, for fear of tokenization, for fear that personal, recent and true tragedy would be used insensitively for cheap and quick headlines. The only time the band has gone on the record was three weeks ago when drummer Dan Searle, twin brother to Tom, spoke with English podcaster Daniel P. Carter on his program Someone Who Isn't Me. In the two-hour conversation, the pair who've known each other for quite some time unpack Tom's final days, revealing that while he was battling the disease for years, he was only really sick for three months - and that two songs on All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us, "Gone With the Wind" and "Memento Mori" deal directly with illness. It's not a record about grief, but there are moments in which the band anticipates mortality, the oft-frightening limitations of being human.
When Tom passed, the band made the decision to continue on what felt like almost immediately: they embarked on their pre-planned Australian, U.K. and European tours and treated them as a tribute to Tom. That energy carried to the U.S.: before the last song of the encore, "Gone With the Wind," at each New York date, frontman Sam Carter stood center stage, his bandmates turning their backs to the audience. What he says changes each night, and the first N.Y. gig was sweetly abstract, describing Tom as "alive in us," "one of a kind," "someone who has changed every single person on this stage. If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't be doing this. Every song, lyric and riff started in his head. This song is for him; every song is for him." Each night, Tom's twin brother Dan drops his head into his kit to listen. It's not a sad remembrance, but a heavy one, built with the pressure that results when crying seems futile. The audience cheers at his memory. They don't opt for mournful silence. It makes the music feel heavier, stronger: metalcore is aggressive, but in Architects, in this state, it possesses a real healing power, too.
In heavy music and, it could be argued, rock music in general, mystery predicates identity: there's the leather jacket-sunglasses trope, but beyond that, there's a certain level of disconnect that allows an act to captivate in performance - they're removed from the audience in a real way, they control their own narrative and how fans engage with it by only offering a sliver of appearance. Social media has done its best to take cracks at the purposeful distance, but by and large, the mystique permeates. Architects, save for their tribute to Tom in the encore and an aside in support of the Sea Shepherd Conversation Society (the entire band is vegan and vocal about animal rights), banter is kept to a minimum. Mention of Tom or cancer is kept to a minimum. It's not to create a barrier between fans and total transparency, but that the wounds are fresh and deep.
Watching Architects is watching a band working through their trauma with grace, taking pain and turning it into something productive, something that has the potential to be therapeutic. If they continue to focus in that energy, they could become one of the biggest bands in hard rock. Nihilists be damned - it doesn't seem that far out of reach.