Architects: “We’re not afraid to try new things, and I don’t think anybody should be”
There’s a David Bowie video that Architects frontman Sam Carter watches whenever he’s feeling apprehensive, in which the late visionary encourages musicians to always follow their gut and never back down.
“[Bowie’s] saying that an artist’s best work is the moment where their feet don’t touch the bottom any more and they’re floating above the water,” Carter tells NME from his home in Brighton. “If you’re too safe and your feet are on the floor, you’re not doing the right job.”
Carter has certainly taken Bowie’s advice to heart. Architects had already cemented themselves as the best UK metal band of a generation before the pandemic hit: 2015’s ‘Lost Forever // Lost Together’, 2016’s ‘All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us’ and 2018’s ‘Holy Hell’ all set the standard for forward-thinking technical metalcore. But it was when the band started to push the boundaries of their bleak brutality that things started to get interesting: on last year’s ‘For Those That Wish To Exist’, the Brighton-five piece — Carter, drummer/songwriter Dan Searle, guitarists Josh Middleton and Adam Christianson, and bassist Alex Dean — ushered in a cleaner, more melodic sonic era.
While that gear shift came as a surprise to much of their fanbase, it scored Architects their first UK number one album and gave them the opportunity to perform the record in full with London’s Parallax Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios, spiritual home of The Beatles. For Carter, a lifelong fan of the Fab Four, occasions don’t get much bigger.
“We did the first take [of ‘Black Lungs’] and I couldn’t sing anything. I completely freaked out and had to leave the room,” he recalls, before revealing that, at one point, the nerves simply overwhelmed him. The band’s manager then handed him a gin before the tearful singer was comforted by conductor Simon Dobson. “He gave me a big hug and was like, ‘We’ll get through this together. Don’t worry about anything else, just focus on me’. And it worked out alright.”
Carter returned to Bowie’s wisdom during the writing and recording of Architects’ new album, ‘The Classic Symptoms Of A Broken Spirit’. Taking their sonic exploration to further heights, the LP finds the five-piece sounding more confident than ever: gone are the cinematic peaks and soaring strings of ‘For Those…’, replaced by gargantuan riffs, “dark” and “disgusting” guitars, and stadium-ready hooks. Described by Carter as a “party” album (“it’s a very bleak party, but it is a party”), it’s also a deafening bid for a place at the top of festival bills — an ambition they’ll test out when they take to arena stages next month supporting Biffy Clyro.
“The only rule was we wanted to jump away from the last record,” Carter explains about the vision of ‘The Classic Symptoms Of A Broken Spirit’. “It’s just in your face: it’s dirty, It’s industrial. It’s got new Architects, old Architects, but everything has this theme that rides throughout it. We don’t know the fucking first thing about being an industrial band, but we’re gonna fucking go for it.”
It’s important, Carter says, that the band keep evolving their sound. After their guitarist and songwriter Tom Searle (the twin brother of drummer Dan) passed away from cancer in 2016 aged 28, Architects carried the grief of the metal community on their backs. Legions of fans found catharsis in the grief that flooded 2018’s ‘Holy Hell’, the album where the band tried to make sense of what had happened. But Architects found that living in their pain for the purpose of art was becoming unhealthy.
“I think it was important for it not to become a genre, almost like grief-core or something,” considers Carter. “It’s really hard to be on tour and talking about that every night, and [it] coming from a place of complete honesty. [But] Tom wouldn’t want us to be sat in pain constantly and bringing up traumatic experiences every night.”
“We don’t know the fucking first thing about being an industrial band, but we’re gonna fucking go for it”
The frontman has been hurt and horrified by the response of some fans to their new music. While some have mourned the loss of the crushing heaviness that characterised Architects’ early material, a small minority of online comments have been downright disgusting.
“You put a song out and people will say, ‘Tom’s rolling in his grave. Tom would be fucking sick if he heard this. Tom would fucking hate what you’re doing. You’re pissing on Tom’s legacy,’” recalls Carter, who looks shell-shocked as he relays some of the texts and tweets the band have received recently. “Because you don’t like a song you think it’s OK to bring up the most traumatising moment of my entire life; a thing that I’m still in therapy for, a thing that I think about every single day. I’ve cried a lot over it and hurt a lot over it, because I just can’t believe how low people can be.”
He contrasts the negative reaction to the years following Tom’s death, when a sense of community enveloped the band like a protective blanket. “Everybody wanted to be proud of us for carrying on,” he says bitterly. “People forget very quickly. They forgot that we are just humans.”
Carter says he has long wanted to put a theatrical spin on Architects’ live performances, “expressing himself” through make-up and clothes, but had feared backlash from certain fans. When he decided to go for it, donning eyeliner in the video for their recent single ‘Tear Gas’, sadly, he was proven right.
“I thought, ‘Oh fuck it, It can’t be that bad’. Then [people] were horrible,” he says. “We’re supposed to be this alternative scene. We should be supporting everybody within it to be creative and free.”
The criticism, however, has only hardened the band’s resilience. “You have to just trust your gut, your heart and your head,” he continues. “There’s a lot of gatekeeping that goes on. It’s just fucking music with drums and distorted guitar. Don’t overthink it. No one’s writing a ‘White Album’. That ‘Lost Forever…’, ‘All Our Gods’, ‘Holy Hell’ trinity of metalcore is always gonna be there. Those songs are always gonna be in our set, but we wanna try new stuff because we’ve got 10 albums.” He smirks, cheekily lifting an eyebrow: “And there’s plenty of other bands impersonating those riffs…”
One thing that has remained from those previous records is Architects’ fight against injustice, which ripples through the lyrics on ‘The Classic Symptoms Of A Broken Spirit’. Following on from ‘For Those…’, which examined society’s apathetic response to the looming climate crisis, the new album points the finger squarely at those in power.
“You beat yourself up because you’re doing the recycling wrong,” he says. “And there’s 12 companies that are responsible for 8 per cent of the greenhouse gases in the world. Why are we working so hard for this change when they ain’t gonna let it happen? It ain’t on us. We’ve always talked about what is going on in the world, like us looking through a magnifying glass and being like, ‘This is what’s really going on’. It’s fucking bleak ‘cause there’s people that are really fucking struggling [with] the cost of living crisis and heating bills. It’s fucking scary for you and me, but it’s really fucking scary for the old lady that sleeps with a fucking ventilator on.”
While a Green Party voter, Carter and Architects worked closely with former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during the 2017 General Election, appearing with Corbyn and Creeper’s Will Gould on the cover of Kerrang!. When Architects played their first career-defining gig at London’s Alexandra Palace in 2018 they invited Corbyn to join them on-stage, although it fell through at the last hour. “We were so close with Corbyn,” Carter says. “We were so close to having the country run by a man that fucking spoke to everybody with a heart and soul. But it wasn’t to be.”
Paired with ‘For Those…’, ‘The Classic Symptoms Of A Broken Spirit’ has further armed Architects with anthems of their own, big enough and loud enough to cut through the noise and take on the world. Big festival slots surely beckon: could a first headline performance at Download Festival, a real bucket-list item for the band, be on the cards? Carter is saying nothing, although his face does twitch mischievously when we ask the question – make of that what you will.
“It’s an exciting time for that kind of music,” Carter says, pointing to bands like Bring Me The Horizon, who headlined Reading & Leeds for the first time this year, and Royal Blood. “I think there’s gonna be a lot of fun times on this record, and what we can achieve with it.”
“You have to just trust your gut, your heart and your head”
When we ask what the new music says about Architects in 2022, Carter once again returns to the Bowie video and his pool of insecurity, which he notes feels shallower the further you wade into it.
“We’re not afraid to try new things,” he replies. “And I don’t think anybody should be. I think it’s a really great record, and I love it. I think it will stand up great with the rest of our back catalogue.”
‘The Classic Symptoms Of A Broken Spirit’ is a great record, but it stands alone in Architects’ discography: groovy, anthemic and hooky, it breaks new ground for a band who, having set the gold standard for modern metal, are now determined to reinvent themselves with their every release. It sets out just how far Architects have come, but perhaps more importantly, how high they could still go.
Architects’ ‘The Classic Symptoms Of A Broken Spirit’ is out now on Epitaph