The Armed - ULTRAPOP | Album Review

Where to start with a band like no other? Following The Armed is a continuous journey of high jinx, subterfuge, art, oh and there is some imaginative music written occasionally too. The Detroit collective have slowly morphed and evolved from a group of hardcore kids in skinny jeans to a muscle ripped fitness group penning ULTRAPOP bops and it’s been quite the story.

But who are these "commercially appealing handsome hipsters"? Even the most dedicated fans that have amassed on a Discord server have struggled with their deep state investigation, scraps of info pitched their way to throw them off the scent. There has been lo-fi DJ sets and readings from ‘The Book of the Book of Daniel’ from ‘Gerard Butler’ and ‘DJ John Toilet’. Yes, it’s as strange as it sounds but therein lies the fun and connection the seemingly anonymous band has built with its small but loyal fan base.

These followers, nicknamed ‘Daniels’, are all in for the ride and to the support the band in their quest for success. Various tools have been sent out for those willing to mould in their own forms and share with the wider world. A street team of a new age. One of the mind boggling moments for the band and it’s label Sargent House being the lead single’s title ‘ALL FUTURES’ plastered on billboards across North America including a prime spot in Times Square. This all down to a few talented fans, who are building quite the community together.

Even if you are not as obsessed as some of these ‘Daniels’, you may have come across what has been nicknamed as the DGCU (Dan Greene Cinematic Universe), in which a character shifts between varying events in promo videos not just limited to The Armed. Much like The Avengers, Dan moves across storylines and worlds and appears in the likes of Converge and Metz videos which again has raised the question around the involvement of many a musician in this band. Chris Slorach of Metz being a ‘named’ member alongside others including this very reviewer’s namesake, Adam Vallely.

All this cumulating in their recent single ‘AN ITERATION’ in which Dan appears to have an epiphany or end of life moment as moments from the universe flash before his eyes. Waking up in the exact spot he appeared in Converge’s 2017 video for ‘I Can Tell You About Pain’. We have also seen the story arc for a swamp monster who had appeared in various forms as Tony Wisseau and then unceremoniously killed off during ‘FT. Frank Furner’ (supposedly not featuring Frank Turner he exclaimed on Twitter).

‘BUT WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?’ you ask. Nobody seems to know except the band. But the buzz created around the music and maybe not knowing the exact details of who, why and where is part of the vision. The smoke and mirrors provide a purpose of pushing the focus on the music rather than the individuals who create it.

Beyond the confusion The Armed have been eeking away from their hardcore roots. The last outing Only Love incorporated new elements to their sound. Behind the mathcore, brutal vocals and energy, electronics permeated through a highly dense and lo-fi sounding record in places. What they have created alongside collaborator Kurt Ballou amongst others is a deeply captivating audiophile experience. Massive bald eagle sized hooks on ‘Fortune’s Daughter’, a positively catchy disco hardcore song a highlight of their back catalogue. Their live shows a key part to the overall escapade have been as chaotic and disarming as ever. Guests dressed in ghillie suits hugging crowd members as a huge fear mongering vocalist bowls through unsuspecting festival swarms. Physically and mentally The Armed have continued to remove barriers for anyone that wants to look in on their world and enjoy. So the question now being, how would ULTRAPOP open this project to a wider audience and still retain such intrigue and excitement?

ULTRAPOP by name and Ultra-pop, with a capital ‘U’, by nature. The title track enters with an electronic buzz that would blow the sub woofers up in an elite modified Ford Fiesta. Angelic vocals pour over this noise with distant electronic harp-like sounds. The Armed are welcoming you through the gates into a new world.

Lead single ‘ALL FUTURES’ follows like a merry go-round on speed. Bouldering drums tumble along as multiple vocal layers sing, scream and shout. The lyrics and tune are infectious and rattle around in your head for days after. A circus-esque sound rings out clearly. It’s a bizarre, beautiful but disgusting creature they have created. You could call it ‘Black Bubblegum’.

The two fellow singles in ‘AN ITERATION’ and ‘AVERAGE DEATH’ bring similar pop vibes laced with hideous dissonance. Aggravating guitar tones, off kilter beats and mixed with irritatingly catchy lyrics like ‘Did it again did it again did it again’ and ‘it’s never really how it happens’. Mind distorting but in the same breath so captivating to listen to. Each repeat listen the mind draws something annoyingly brilliant from the haze of sound.

For those purists who still want The Armed of past will not be left behind. ‘MASUNGA VAPORS’ and ‘FAITH IN MEDICATION’ utilise Ben Koller and/or Urian Hackney behind the kit to full force. Math, blast beats pummel the ear drums as the gruffer of the array of vocalists belts out hardcore aggression. The latter of the two songs intertwining what could be Troy Van Leuween’s inclusion on the record of a brief QOTSA-esque guitar solo. We are not told where he or Rolo Tomassi’s Eva Spence appear on the record leaving you listening ever so carefully for their signature sounds. ‘REAL FOLK BLUES’ seems to be the best guess for Eva’s appearance alongside named member Cara Drolshagen. Proof in the pudding that there is criminal underrepresentation of women in rock, metal and hardcore as this is a stand out track. Their duo of spoken lyrics roaring into brutal, guttural screams are nothing short of top tier.

The variety but cohesion of this record is outstanding and signing to Sargent House has certainly helped The Armed create something truly futuristic, fresh and next level. Ben Chisholm, recently announced as master in house collaborator and producer at the label certainly has had a huge hand in fashioning this. His previous work with the likes of Chelsea Wolfe amongst others, producing some of the most innovative alternative music on the planet right now is undoubtedly the correct decision for this group of trailblazers.

And that isn’t even the last of the insanely revered partners on this sonic journey. Mark Lanegan rears his gruff tones on closer ‘THE MUSIC BECOMES A SKULL’. An ominous space age electronic track that could be taken from a movie thriller soundtrack. Tribal drums thud as electronics and guitars screech away, fighting for your attention. The repeated line ‘What a brilliant show’ an apt description of this album. It is near damn perfect.

How can a band break all the rules but in the same breath possess an almost commercial sound? It is mind boggling but devilishly exciting. The members slight degree of anonymity clearly gives them true artistic freedom, something most music acts and bands unfortunately don’t have. This palate of glittery candy moments blended with the grit is rare to find if not one of a kind. This iteration of The Armed may not last for long and that is absolutely fine, because if they continue to rewrite what the expectations around heavy music should be, many more people will be now onboard because of ULTRAPOP and be waiting for their next move.

Score: 9.5/10

ULTRAPOP is released April 16th via Sargent House.

Pre-order the record here.