The Covid lockdown had a ruinous impact on many lives, but it also inspired many artists to do what they do best – write and record music. Northern Ireland metalcore quintet, Archives, formed in early 2020 and may not have the road experience or the fortitude that comes with the ups and downs of the rehearsal room, but they know how to belt out a righteous blast of frothing metal aggression. Like many of their metalcore contemporaries, they understand it’ll be difficult to retain the ear of a sceptical underground. So, are they another in a long line of sterile bands preaching a sound that lost its edge in 2007?
The spindly djent groove at the beginning of ‘Eulogy’ suggests Archives are more at home with the metallic crunch and naked emotions of the last decade rather than the golden age of metalcore. As an album opener, it hits hard and heavy on the nose, like a rapid kick to the face from a Cobra Cai villain. They’re not scared of the inhumane speed and savagery of the blast beat, either. If you’re not windmilling to the breakdown at 01:49 seconds, there’s something wrong with you. You’ll find nothing soft, and nothing laced with throwaway pop hooks here. In fact, the first three songs on Decay (including the title track) avoid the good cop/bad cop clichés of metalcore. Give ‘Blueprints’ a spin and ask if the band are playing verse-bridge-chorus songs or something more technical yet just as easy to follow. The chorus will remind you of Ghost Iris, but the outstanding performer is drummer, Daryl Montgomery, whose double-kick footwork deserves praise for the rhythmic precision and excellent studio engineering.
We know most of you hate the clean vocals in metalcore because of their unashamed sugar-coated pop melodies. Archives feel the same way, which may explain why Stewart Ferguson’s singing is more like the melancholy tenor voice of the mid 90s emo era before it exploded into the mainstream of youth culture. You might wince when you her the faltering, single-tracked voice on ‘Unity’, but it’ll grow on you by the time Archives recycle the chorus for the third time. The guitar work at the beginning throbs with the technical finesse of Periphery and switches to the dynamics of Architects – it’s enough to dilute any reservations you might have about the clean vocals. A glance at the lyrics also reveals a gift for metaphor in how they talk about personal struggle through the plight of refugee asylum seekers.
The same cannot be said about ‘Mindfield’ and ‘Holding On’. These two successive cuts succumb to the sin of metalcore predictability. ‘Mapmaker’ borders on self-pity and spoils the brilliance of the dual guitar approach with its weak imitation of Funeral for a Friend. Instead, Archives are at their best when resident screamer and growler, Adam Holland, takes control of the microphone. ‘Karoshi’ is a seven-string beast of drop-tuned groove metal inflamed with the vitriol of hardcore. The band don’t bother with melody in this one – it’s Caliban at their most urgent and aggressive. Holland’s attack on the insanity of the salaryman existence seems even more poignant in the age of working from home. It begs the question – how and why did we accept the inevitability of the rat race before Covid-19 turned the system on its head? “Living life with bloodshot eyes/ Firmly fixed on the prize/ We’ve been sold an unjust dream/ Fighting daily to be one of the team,” describes the existence of many junior traders working an 80-hour week in Canary Wharf.
Decay is a triumphant debut album when you consider the quality of the musicianship and the poignant lyrics. But you know Archives have much more to offer in the future. Like many heavy artists, they struggle to find the right balance between aggression and sorrow, and too often this lessens the violent impact of the music. No doubt, they’ll correct this on their next record.
Release Date: 10/12/2021
Record Label: Self Released
Standout tracks: Eulogy, Parmaviolence, Karoshi
Suggested Further Listening: Rituals – Awake EP (2021), Architects – Daybreaker (2012), From Sorrow to Serenity – Trifecta EP (2021)