Friday, 28 January 2011

Architects - The Here And Now [8/10]

I often question why we, as a race, fear change so much. Is it a threat? An enemy? Are we really so desensitized into maintaining the status quo that even the prospect of change frightens us? It baffles me how some of us react to changes in even the slightest areas of our lives. I’m of course referring to music here. I can empathize – I know it can be quite perturbing when your favourite band suddenly veers off onto a different path, especially when they were previously onto a golden formula (Mastodon, Trivium and, obviously, Metallica have all experienced this). The thing that a lot of people tend to disregard however is an artist’s natural need to change, adapt and evolve. As a musician or a songwriter, hundreds of different sounds can filter into your mindframe over the years, and these can alter the way you produce your craft in every way, from the ideology right down to the composition. You could be writing the world’s most extreme death metal for years on end, and one day you may wake up and feel an overwhelming desire to make a jazz record, such is the, perhaps, fragility of a songwriter’s mind. So today, I put Architect’s latest The Here And Now under the microscope. Since 2007’s Ruin, Architects have been writing masterclasses in tech metal, peaking with 2009’s Hollow Crown (a benchmark of modern metal by any stretch of the imagination). Anyone expecting another Hollow Crown should approach The Here And Now with caution: this is a different beast entirely. Gone are the Meshuggah ape-ing riffs, the complex time signatures and off-kilter arrangements. What we have instead is a collection of songs that can rattle your bones and reduce you to tears in equal measures.

By now you’ve all heard ‘Day In Day Out’ (or you should have. If you havn’t, you’ve got problems. Mega choon). It’s a defiant introduction to Architects Mk. II, if you will; a bold mash-up of post-hardcore and punk. It sets us up perfectly, the album’s biggest strength being that it maintains a constant theme throughout. ‘Learn To Live’ is markedly different from our opening track, now showing an evident emo-influence, but not in an MCR way – think more Three Days Grace. Things really start to kick up a notch on ‘Delete, Rewind’, it’s grinding Stampin’ Ground-esque main riff creating an irresistible moshpit ready groove. Two of the albums finest moments come within this one track; the destined-for-crowd-participation breakdown that screams “THIS IS THE END OF THE WORLD!”, and the gang vocal driven refrain of the title towards the end of the song. It sounds nothing short of mighty. ‘BTN’s intro oddly repeats the same chord progression as ‘Day In Day Out’s verse, and unfortunately doesn’t improve much, ending up as one of the albums very few weak moments. It’s quickly overshadowed by the stunning ‘An Open Letter To Myself’, a searing ballad for the 21st century which see’s the wonderfully versatile Sam Carter lamenting “My so called friend, when will we see you again?”. It’s a welcome break in the action before ‘The Blues’ kicks us back into gear again, which in its closing moments showcases my favourite feature of Sam’s voice; his aggressive almost Phil Anselmo-esque singing. Coupled up with ‘Red Eyes’, both songs are high octane riff driven explosions of sheer force, and the underlying hardcore tendencies of ‘Stay Young Forever’ round off a crushing triplet before we enter ballad territory once again in ‘Heartburn’, somehow toppling ‘...Open Letter..’ in terms of sheer hooks with its infectious and powerful chorus. ‘Year In Year Out’ concludes the record with a guest appearance from The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato, whose distinctive and inimitable growl stacks up brilliantly alongside Carter’s hardcore shriek. The track provides a perfect finale to an almost flawless collection of songs (until hidden track ‘Up And Away’ ruins things a little bit. I hate to nitpick but this really didn’t need to be here).

Architects are slowly building a success story that only Bring Me The Horizon can compare to, as far as music with this level of intensity and aggression is concerned. They’re part of a very select group of bands who represent the future of British heavy metal, and with this album they’re very slowly climbing to the top of the pile. The truth is, this is a far more commercial turn for Architects. The songs here are far from the clich├ęd perception of the chart-topping rock song, but they’re even further away from the muso’s dreams that were ‘Ruin’ and ‘Hollow Crown’ (and a whole world away from the Dillinger Escape Plan worship of ‘Nightmares’). Will The Here And Now have Architects suddenly popping up on T4 while Steve Jones asks them vague questions with a constant air of self-importance? Not likely, but what it does have is the potential to lift Architects into the higher regions of British heavy metal. This time next year, Architects could be filling theatres across the country. I suggest you catch them in an intimate setting while you still can: 2011 is Architects’ year.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Times Of Grace - The Hymn Of A Broken Man [8/10]

I must start this review by making this rather bold statement: Howard Jones, as incredible a vocalist as he is, is not a patch on Jesse Motherfucking Leach. Howard’s soulful pipes made The End Of Heartache one of metalcore’s true and few classics, but the truth is (and yes, it’s the truth. Do not dispute this with me) Killswitch Engage haven’t been nearly the same band ever since Jesse Leach left the folds. When I first heard of the impending reunion of Leach and KSE’s often hilarious but mostly moronic guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz, despite having a particular attachment to Alive Or Just Breathing?, I was quite sceptical. In fact, sceptical isn’t even the word; I was totally indifferent. At the end of the day, Killswitch’s recent output has not exactly been delicious to the ears, ...Heartache clearly being the seemingly unmatchable peak of the Howard Jones era. I had no reason to believe Adam D was still capable of writing the kind of genre-defining compositions that filled the two aforementioned cornerstones of metalcore. I had even less reason to believe Jesse Leach had anything relevant to say, fading into almost inevitable obscurity after his exit from the KSE camp. Imagine my delight when this album dropped in my lap and I was greeted with the freshest metalcore record since Trivium’s Ascendancy, dripping with an irresistible vitality and a forceful determination.

‘Strength In Numbers’, the albums lead single, opens the proceedings, and on first listen may seem quite underwhelming. As far as statements of intent go, this isn’t one of the best. Nonetheless, the song boasts crushing riffs and a rallying chorus, perhaps its strength being that it highlights the rest of the album a thousand-fold. The sludgiest riff Adam D has ever penned comes crashing through the intro of ‘Fight For Life’, the point at which you realise this album is going to have about as much to do with Killswitch Engage as Ozzy Osbourne has to do with a dictionary. ‘Fight For Life’s chorus catapults you into an air of spine-tingling euphoria, uplifting you while still retaining a dark and melancholic atmosphere. This is one of many highlights that pepper the album, and what’s that you say? We’re only on track 2? Delish. ‘Willing’ is similar in feel to ‘Fight For Life’ but with much more underlying optimism, as is also the case with ‘Where The Spirit Leads Me’. ‘Until The End Of Days’ offers our first moment of respite in the form of a mournful ballad, Leach delivering a haunting melody over a subtle yet unique chord sequence, acting as the perfect pre-cursor to obvious single ‘Live In Love’, which has the best chorus in a metalcore song since ‘Rose Of Sharyn’ (also, look out for Adam D’s take on a Metallica riff in the verse. Inspired). ‘In The Arms Of Mercy’, the point at which you can truly separate the album into two halves, is the beautiful centrepiece of the album, an interlude of acoustic guitars and a tear-jerking string section. At only just under two minutes long, it’s not enough, and with every strain you’re dying to hear this turn into a proper fleshed out song, but in a sense it’s perfect like this, leaving you with a sense of unrealised ambiguity. The word may be overused to the point of ridicule, but ‘...Mercy’ is truly epic. The title track soon gets pulses racing again, building on an unsuspected chord progression with a hint of thrash, while ‘The Forgotten One’ turns out to be a somewhat country-esque lament, that features outstanding vocal harmonies and melodies that’d make Stevie Wonder blush. Adam D shows off his hidden drumming abilities on ‘Hope Remains’, which is a fairly bog-standard track when compared to the adventurous flair of ‘The End Of Eternity’, combining hints of industrial influence with an atmosphere reminiscent of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s darker moments. ‘Worlds Apart’ and ‘Fall From Grace’ round of this most expansive of albums, the former recalling Killswitch Engage’s finest moments, while the latter takes an almost downbeat twist in an otherwise strong, defiant and uplifting album.

About a third of the way through this review, I claimed that ‘Strength In Numbers’ was not exactly what I was hoping for when listening to this album for the first time. One listen through of the entire record however reveals the reasons behind Times Of Grace’s choice of introduction: not only is this the only track out of the 13 on show here that could open the album, but more to the point, this album isn’t supposed to be viewed as a collection of individual songs – it’s about the whole body of work. The song doesn’t overshadow the rest of the album, nor does it give us any inkling into what’s to come. The only inclination you have based on ‘Strength In Numbers’ is that this is an album born of hope, perseverance and triumph as well as despair, fear and despondency. It’s completely lacking in pretention, and it’s only purpose is to be some kind of euphoric catharsis for whatever you as a listener have troubling you in your life. As human beings, we need things like this album to bring us down to earth and keep us from the dark recesses of life, whether our problems are big or small, plentiful or few. Music fans should count themselves lucky we can find this most essential of life’s tools in one simple album. You know what to do. It’s in shops as we speak. Do yourself a favour.