On November 21 last year, British metalcore quintet Architects hit the stage of London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall for what would be one of the biggest shows of their career to date.
There was just one big difference – thanks to the lockdown measures in place there was no one in the building other than their entourage, though thousands of fans around the world were able to participate and experience the event online…
“It was like a hybrid of doing a music video and a gig,” explains guitarist Adam Christianson, when Guitar World enquires about the challenges involved with such a livestream.
“You want to put on a great show but it’s a little more under the microscope than your standard gig… maybe a bit more sterile and scary than usual. It actually was my first time in the building!
“We might be a band you wouldn’t normally expect to see in an actual concert hall like that, but then there’s the element of it being completely empty. There was this double weird juxtaposition of a band that wouldn’t normally be in there and then also being in there when no one else is inside… it just worked! We just sent straight in and it was all cool. We were really happy with how it turned out.”
“I agree,” nods co-guitarist Josh Middleton, who was asked to joined the group following the death of original axeman Tom Searle in 2016. This year’s For Those That Wish To Exist marks his second full-length as a contributing member.
“The performance aspect when there’s no crowd to feed off is weird, or at least just different. We’d done live sessions before, stuff at Maida Vale, but you’re not expected to perform for those kinds of things. It was a little sterile at first and took some getting used to, so we had a soundcheck the day before…”
The performance was tied in with the announcement of your ninth studio album, which is very open guitar-wise, perhaps a bit closer to bands like Tool than what you’ve recorded in the past…
Josh: “I think Tool is one band all of us in Architects love. We were like giddy schoolgirls when they released [latest album] Fear Inoculum. We were all in Australia and everyone went into their hotel rooms for a synchronized listen before reporting!
“I guess there’s less of the syncopated double-pedal stuff, there’s a lot more in terms of texture. We’re into different types of electronic music and film score, so wanted to creating more interesting soundscapes.
“Some of the most fun I had was without a guitar! Doing stuff like chopping up vocal takes and turning stuff backwards into weird loops. Obviously, guitar players probably might not want to hear that [laughs]!”
Adam: “There are a lot of those background noises, which is that film score influence we all collectively have. It’s a mood rather than a riff, sometimes.”
There’s the duality between the colder-sounding synth layers and some of the warmer string parts…
Adam: “Strings have been in the Architects tonal arsenal for a while, but they seem to become more prominent on every record and become another flavor. Like you mentioned, it’s different type of sound to the electronic stuff.
“Though I would say it’s all similar influence-wise though, because we all listen to film score composers like Hans Zimmer – especially his most recent work, which is more bizarre, dark and heavy.”
Josh: “The strings are all real as well. They were recorded in the same place that we tracked the drums at Middle Farm Studios [Devon, England]. It’s the same group of players, pretty much, that we used on [2018’s] Holy Hell.
“They sound very real and haven’t been overly and perfectly edited… there’s a more human side coming through.
“Architects have been very regimented and tight, more futuristic in the past and there’s still plenty of that – maybe even more so. But having real strings is cool and sits with the vocals as the more human aspect of our sound. There’s a juxtaposition there.”
Have you ever considered bringing someone in to play these parts live?
Adam: “We’ve thrown around the idea a little in the past. It seems every album cycle has more stuff on stage. Our bassist Ali has a synth set up, so he does a lot of keyboard stuff.
“I use this little launchpad thing that I use to trigger samples – it could be piano or background noises… who knows! I’m sure we’ll have plenty more gear on stage but who knows about another member or player.”
Josh: “It would be unlikely there would ever be another member of this band. We obviously have some stuff on track when we play, in most cases it’s the real strings from the record. In that instance, I don’t think it would make sense to have keyboard strings when you could have the real ones from the record.
“Our individual rigs will keep growing. There’s every possibility I’ll have a synth when we do start touring. Ali might have another one, and Adam or Dan [Searle, drums]. I doubt we’d ever get another member, you’ll probably see more of us doing electronic stuff live. It’s more engaging.”
What did you use for the amp tones on For Those That Wish To Exist?
Josh: “It was the Kemper! Sorry that’s not the most exciting answer, but obviously the Kemper tone was based on a real rig – which would have been a 6505+ with a Maxon OD-808 in front of it, then going into an oversized Mesa/Boogie cab with an SM57.
“And that’s near enough what we used on the last record… though the head was a 5150. There is actually a slight bit of difference between the 5150 and the mk2 or 6505+.
“It’s slightly more filtered at the front end of the amp, so there’s a bit less low-end going in. That makes the chugging feel a lot tighter, and I think that works better for Architects.
“There’s quite a lot of octave effect on the record. A lot of the riffs have that octave sound, we were trying to sound a bit more unique and push to be something not as obviously metalcore, and I think those octave sounds did that well. They sounded different for us.”
Did you use the ones built into the Kemper Profiler?
Josh: “Yeah, it was that. We’re so used to playing in G# and F# but Sam’s vocals really suit the C# area of his voice, which is why this album is a bit higher up. There are more songs in drop B or even higher keys. So that octave in there also helps us keep that low Architects sound a bit, too.”
Adam: “There are less traditional Architects riffs on this album. It’s a mix of sonic change versus playing change…”
Josh: “You’re right, it makes things more interesting and helps set us apart. Obviously we’re not the only band using an octave pedal. I was trying to approach the riffs in a more quirky manner this time.”
And what instruments are we hearing exactly on this album?
Josh: “I was using my Custom ESP Horizon with Fishman Fluence Moderns. I’ve been using those pickups for a few years now. I’ve tried various models by Fishman and other companies – the Moderns are just what I like.
“They have a consistent right-hand sound, I like every note to sound the same… at least for the heavy stuff. And with the Moderns, I can switch to passive sounds if I want to for clean parts.”
Adam: “I split between LsL and Mayones guitars fitted with Bare Knuckle pickups. It’s a bit of a mix, some of the guitars have the Misha Mansoor Juggernauts, some with the Ragnoraks, and I really like the Josh Smith [Northlane] Impulse ones too.”
There’s a bit of a grey area in between the guitars and synth sounds on the album, with parts that are almost too close to call…
Josh: “It’s probably a bit of both. I know Tom really got into the whole ambient thing when he got the Strymon BigSky reverb. There was a preset on that called Cloud that was super washy and wet. Tom used it quite a lot and it was evident on the last few records.
“I’ve always been into layers of guitar ambience but in Sylosis I would improvise 20 different guitar solos with a 10-20 second reverb. Just tasteful David Gilmour-y stuff.
“And then I would blend them all together until there was no melody, it’s just a wall of sound… but occasionally you might hear a little bit of a melody. That stuff is in there quite a lot and ends up sounding a lot like keyboards.
Adam: “It’s a pad simulation, almost.”
Dead Butterflies has an interesting solo halfway in – it’s more of an atmosphere than conventional guitar lead…
Josh: “It was more textural post-rock kind of thing. On that track, we did something a lot of more clinical metal bands don’t do, which is putting the delay in front of the amp.
“That gives you that really fluttery, fucked up-sounding delay which Adam Jones from Tool uses quite a lot. When Dan tells me a certain bit needs a lead, he doesn’t mean shred, he means do what Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead might do – which is more scratchy. The sound of a dying cat, maybe?!”
The main riff in Black Lungs features some pretty big bends…
Josh: “The whole song is one big bend [laughs]. It was probably one of the first tracks we demoed and it had that octave effect that was so satisfying that we got a bit addicted.
“I think the fact that this band is now playing bigger and bigger rooms means some of the technical stuff gets lost. It doesn’t work as well in Wembley Arena. Those more open-sounding ideas which you pointed out earlier feel like they can go everywhere.”
That is partly down to the time signatures too – this album being more 4/4 than your previous work…
Josh: “I think it was all 4/4. Adam, do you think there were any more?”
Adam: “Maybe there’s a 7 or 11 in Demi God, that’s one of the only ones that feels unusual.”
Josh: “The only one I can think of has a bit more of a swing feel in An Ordinary Extinction, but nothing too mathematical. That was a bit different for Architects, that swung groove element.
“The tunings were just G# and drop B, those were the main two. I don’t think there was an F# at all. There might be one in C# but with the lowest string dropped even further, like the Mastodon tuning where you play a power chord but it’s actually an octave.”
You also lined up some pretty impressive guests on this record – like Winston McCall from Parkway Drive, Simon Neil from Biffy Clyro and Mike Kerr of Royal Blood…
Josh: “I personally don’t know them that well but the Brighton dudes in the band got to know the Royal Blood guys. Maybe they were practicing in the same places or knew similar people.”
Adam: “Sam ended up becoming good friends with Ben their drummer and – with only two of them in the band – eventually got to know Mike. They have such a massive sound for two players. I had a listen to Mike’s rig up close when they were rehearsing one time and it was insane.
“Winston’s an old friend, we’ve known Parkway Drive for a long time. And with Simon, though we hadn’t really hung out before there’s a mutual respect between our bands…. we’ve all been Biffy fans for many years.”
Josh: “I know Simon said it was the most fun he’s had recording in a long time when he did his vocals, which was nice.”
Adam: “What he did fits the songs so well. He was on That Pedal Show recently and that was a pretty cool watch, hearing more about his new pedal. He really loves the Boss Metal Zone… it’s his core pedal, which I think is kinda hilarious and amazing.”
For Those That Wish to Exist is out now via Epitaph.