2016 has been a year of highs and extreme lows. We’ve been forced to say goodbye to some gifted musicians, and Architects guitarist and co-founder Tom Searle was one that hit our scene hard. His tragic passing at the age of 28 following a three-year battle with skin cancer was another example of the unforgiving nature of a cruel disease. What we can – and should – celebrate, however, is Tom’s unwavering spirit and the band’s incredible tenacity in the face of unbelievable adversity. That the show will go on. Which brings us to tonight – namely the heaving O2 Institute – and the first date of the UK leg of the All Our Gods… tour.
STICK TO YOUR GUNS’  slot is marred by the fact that a number of punters are still stuck outside in Arctic-type conditions come 7.30pm. Disappointed expressions plaster the faces of several fans who just manage to catch the final two songs of the Orange County quartet’s half-hour set. Frontman Jesse Barnett’s infectious energy is admirable and his vocals strong on the likes of Nobody and Against Them All, but their blend of hardcore-tinged metalcore is met with general indifference. There’s little movement front of stage; a noticeable portion of the venue seem more intent on yakking to their mates or hitting up the bars.
The reaction to BURY TOMORROW , however, would satisfy a band headlining this venue, and the ensuing fervour is matched by the kind of brutal potency indicative only of acts at the very top of their game. The likes of blistering opener Man On Fire, Memories and 301 up the heavy ante in all the right places with Dani Winter-Bates stirring souls as well as rabid circlepits on his insistence that we move in closer and “get the fuck up!” Pints fly through the air whilst writhing bodies go hurtling over barriers during a monstrous rendition of An Honourable Reign, but the biggest cheers are probably reserved for Dani’s reverence for Birmingham and his unmistakable loathing for VIP meet and greets. The sheer number of banging heads and outstretched hands by the time closer Earthbound reverberates around the room suggests nobody’s ready for this to be over. The promise of an incoming headline tour goes a long way to sate the lingering hunger.
Emotions are already heightened going into the 30-minute respite, so the anticipation is palpable as the clock ticks round to 9.30. At this stage, the Institute has swelled to unfathomable proportions and there is an unequivocal sense that Something Is About To Happen. And as the barrier emblazoned with ‘ALL OUR GODS HAVE ABANDONED US’ drops, and ARCHITECTS  explode into Nihilist, any semblance of this crowd’s self-control-cum-regard for their own safety immediately dissipates. Fists fly as Sam Carter stalks the stage amid blinding strobes and plumes of dry ice; a victorious grin cracks his face as his raw, visceral vocals ring out inciting churning front-to-back pits and countless venue-wide singalongs. Deafening screams of ‘Maybe we just wanna watch the world burn!’ render him inaudible during a ballistic Deathwish, while the innate fury of These Colours Don’t Run and Phantom Fear shakes even the balcony to its core. The band’s involvement with marine organisation Sea Shepherd is well-known, and they take a moment mid-set to acknowledge their work before dedicating the following song, The Devil Is Near, to the cause. Kudos to altruistic endeavours and support acts aside, it’s Architects’ passion for fans here on home soil that truly resonates. Illuminated phones are held aloft partway through Colony Collapse and the four-piece stare out in genuine awe; they seem equally chuffed to be here with us. Rare silences are eclipsed by chants of “Architects! Architects!” or that trademark “Bleugh!” – the latter sounding gleefully rabid during set closer Naysayer. The rapid stamping of feet signals the approaching encore and that moment we’ve all been expecting. With obvious emotion etched across his face, you can hear a pin drop as Sam addresses the elephant in the room: Tom’s absence, and the fact they need – want – to carry on out of love and the respect they hold for him. His voice wavers mid-speech and as he leans his head against the mic amid cacophonous applause, it’s one of the most gut-wrenching and heart-warming moments Hammer has ever experienced. Architects tore up their own rulebook with All Our Gods… and crafted an aural masterpiece that defies simple categorisation – and that’s an artform everyone hopes they never cease creating. And as the beautifully ethereal yet crushing Gone With The Wind fades to black, it’s evident that Birmingham has experienced something really fucking special this evening. And it’s a fair bet that Tom would agree.