With the touring cycle of Architect’s latest record Holy Hell in full swing, the Brighton metalcore heavyweights came through DC with support from While She Sleeps and Thy Art is Murder. The packed out 9:30 Club crowd was in full force well before the show began- a testament to how truly stacked this bill was. As this venue is out of my normal market, I was both surprised and impressed by both the space itself and the turnout. By the time While She Sleeps took the stage, the restless crowd spanned wall to wall. WSS delivered an incredibly energetic performance, and vocalist Lawrence Taylor created a truly intimate atmosphere with his crowd interaction. Riding the confidence and air of a headlining set, Taylor mounted the barricade and sang a verse standing supported by the crowd. Their set-list leaned heavily on their 2017 self-released record You Are We, with a couple songs off of their latest release So What? thrown in for good measure. Near the end of the set, Taylor climbed the amps onstage to hang from the balcony on the next story up… only to leap off of it as a breakdown drove the floor into a frenzy. The liveliness of the crowd, even this early, was an extremely promising sign for the night to come.
Next up was Australian deathcore band Thy Art is Murder. Vocalist CJ McMahon’s haunting, hooded stage presence set the tone for an incredibly heavy performance. The breakneck pace of the intro track, “Dear Desolation”, instantly drove circle pits into a frenzy. TAIM’s brutally heavy delivery created an atmosphere that only grew more intense as the night progressed. McMahon’s vocals dominated the mix, especially on lyric- driven tracks like “Holy War”, but not at all in an unpleasant way. The evil, dissonant, layered guitar parts meshed with punchy, staccato bass lines to create a deep, crushing, low-end heavy soundscape. Many had doubts on CJ’s return to form since his departure from the band years ago, but I’ll be the first to tell you he’s back better than ever. Impossibly precise riffing combined with the gnarliest lows in the genre make Thy Art is Murder a true spectacle to watch. Unfortunately for us and fortunately for him, McMahon announced to the crowd that he’d be departing the tour after the next show in Philly to return home for the birth of his son. In retrospect, I felt lucky to be able to catch one of the final full-lineup Thy Art is Murder shows of this run. If you like heavy music and you haven’t seen Thy Art is Murder, put ‘em on your bucket list. Now.
Finally, Architects took the stage, with a massive backdrop reminiscent of All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us’s album cover. The lights gradually filtered in, as the string intro to “Death Is Not Defeat” faded through the PA. Sam Carter’s distinctively abrasive voice cut through the backing track with trademark aggression, then acquiesced for a moment of clean singing before launching into the first verse. From the onset, I knew this would be an emotional performance, but I was wholly unprepared for the journey of emotion I was about to experience. As the vast majority of the latest two records have chronicled guitarist Tom Searle’s battle with cancer, so much of their music resonates with me on a deeply personal level. In the words of Dan Searle (drummer and Tom’s twin brother), “Holy Hell is about pain: the way we process it, cope with it, and live with it”– and that pain is so evident in Architect’s live performance. Barely a minute into the show, Carter’s delivery of “Don’t be afraid, we all cross the same line” in the first song’s first verse felt so personal, so heartbroken, but accepting of the reality of death all the same. While loss permeates their entire recent catalog, Nihilist and Deathwish compounded that sorrow with pure, unadulterated rage. Breakneck skank-beat driven riffs hearkened back to an atmosphere of old-school punk, married with the technicality that has become an Architects staple. The show continued with Architects classics like “Naysayer” and “These Colours Don’t Run” – the former’s chorus drawing the most raucous audience response of the night. However, longer tenured fans of the band would be disappointed to hear that those were the only two pre- All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us tracks on the set-list. The politically charged “Downfall” is an infinitely groovier track live than on recording, each breakdown further inciting an entire floor of UK bounce-moshing. The entire set was a cathartic cesspool of limbs, driven by the diverse expression of pain and mourning onstage. I personally haven’t felt invested in a show this deeply in a very, very long time, and I assume this show will stay uniquely impactful for a long time to come.
Part of what makes Architects an unforgettable live show is the often overlooked lighting designer. LD Paul McAdams brings the show’s atmosphere to life in the most natural yet compelling way. Everything feels calculated and purposeful, each transition melding smoothly with the next and making the concert more of an experience than just a concert. His concepts are theatrical, complex, and perfectly fitting for the energy of each track. Frankly, lighting designers never get enough credit. Architects couples with McAdams’ skills to put on a truly masterful performance, with a fittingly emotional conclusion.
As the final notes to “Hereafter” rang out, everyone knew the encore to come was going to be the most moving part of the night by far. The coupling of “Gone With the Wind” and “Doomsday” felt like a requiem for Tom Searle, a celebration of life and remembrance rife with mourning. The fury of GWTW’s verses (with the most righteous BLEGH I have ever heard), juxtaposed with the eerie calm of the bridge, gave a tangible feeling of tension and release. The closing lyrics, “If I could silence all the doubt in me, accept that what is meant to be is meant to be” have always haunted me a bit, as these were truly the words of a dying man who knew he wasn’t long for the world. Hearing them in person, sung by a man so deeply affected by Tom’s death, really put the fragility of our time on earth into perspective. As the swan song of the night swelled into being, the venue had the strangest cocktail of emotions – equal parts melancholy, sadness and excitement. You could feel the energy shift- from lamenting death to celebrating in Tom’s memory. Every bit of the chaos that song creates feels purposeful, and I’ve never felt a more unified atmosphere from an audience. The pain, the loss, the anger… all of it was purged onstage and there was nothing left unfelt. It was almost spiritual, how an entire room (or at the very minimum, just me) felt able to connect with someone else’s experience in such an intimate way and use it for my own catharsis. This tour, this set-list, this production, this energy… you can’t fully capture how it feels in words. Check out their remaining tour dates so you can experience it yourself.
THE ARCHITECTS Set-list
Death Is Not Defeat / Modern Misery / Nihilist / Deathwish / Phantom Fear / Holy Hell / Royal Beggars / Gravedigger / Mortal After All / Downfall / Naysayer / These Colours Don’t Run / A Match Made in Heaven / Hereafter
Gone With the Wind / Doomsday