For Fans Of
The Armed’s previous LP, 2015’s ‘Untitled‘, was a great album. A loud, noisy and abrasive hardcore/punk record that was the Detroit band’s manifesto regarding the process of art and its consumption in the modern era: “Curation vs. creation. Appropriation and misappropriation“, as former/possibly current drummer Tony Wolski once put it online. However, the Michigan band’s latest project, the beyond-the-pale insanity of ‘Only Love‘, decimates its predecessor in every way imaginable.
The Armed has been underground heroes of noise-driven, chaotic hardcore since their formation in 2009 and their string of EP releases at the start of this decade, yet second full-length ‘Only Love‘ sees the quintet pushing the very boundaries of their powerful sound to a whole new breaking point. Not content to rest there, this semi-anonymous American group have also tread further down into their experimental songwriting waters, and once matched with their familiar but still blistering hardcore sounds old, the end results are something amazing to behold.
For ‘Only Love‘ is a band simultaneously not giving a fuck what people think but also caring deeply about each move made. This is an utterly blindsiding release, which makes it all the more engaging to digest and such a joy to unweave. It’s noisier than anything they’ve done previously, it flows together beautifully, its jarring but in a good way, the textures are denser and harsher, and the overall production and instrumentation are as cluttered as you’d expect, yet real space and fine detail exist in between the mathy experimental hardcore walls erected her. Which is the great thing about ‘Only Love‘ – none of it should work when it’s all stitched together. But it does. Somehow.
Seriously, fuck your three chords, fuck your typical hardcore themes, fuck your pit-calls, fuck your normal song formats, and fuck your idea of whatever hardcore is: this is The Armed’s own surreal and disorientating vision of what such music can be when you let go.
Released in late April through Throatruiner Records and their own label, No Rest Until Ruin, ‘Only Love‘ exists within its own inane world. A world tightly packed with mathy rhythms, blackgaze subtleties, blast beats, art-rock and noise-rock vibes, decapitating riffs, violent instrumentals, distorted vocals, feedback, big and bright crescendos, a three-pronged male/male/female vocal assault, and a heavier usage of 8-bit electronics and melodic synths.
Continuing their running trend of collaborating with different drummers for each new release, Converge’s precise and talented time-keeper Ben Koller worked behind the kit for most of this record; apparently, the band tricked old mate into playing on this album, which if true, is just such an Armed thing to do. Though to absolutely no one’s surprise, Koller’s drumming slays and hopefully, he reprises this role on future collaborations as he fits the band’s sonic mould perfectly. Not only that, but this blazing 11-track LP was also produced by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou over at GodCity Studios; the only man good and/or mad enough to produce and engineer an album like this.
According to The Armed, the framing of ‘Only Love‘ was to make a heavy, extreme and aggressive record with pop and experimental ideas as if the creators had never heard hardcore, punk or metal music before. Truly, they’ve accomplished that end goal, as there could be no other way that a band could create such a stylistically demented yet musically exciting and ambitious record like this unless the artists themselves disposed of everything they knew and adhered to before. And that’s what makes ‘Only Love‘ such an essential listen; a band confidently creating as if it was their last release, or perhaps even their final day on Earth.
‘Only Love‘ contains plenty of cracking but bewildering sections that all borderline on being barely fuckin’ musical; moments that confront and destroy everything in their path. See the Death Grips-circa-‘Bottomless Pit‘ power-electronics blast on schizophrenic album closer ‘On Jupiter‘; the hard-left/hard-right panned guitar riffs that rip through skin on the intro of ‘Parody Warning‘; or that siren-wailing and the discordant six-string abusive middle section of ‘Role Models‘ (trust me, you’ll know it when it happens). By that same token, more conventional song structures, clearer established grooves, lovely crooning clean vocals, and more direct melodies shine through too. Like during ‘Luxury Themes‘, ‘Middle Homes‘, and ‘Fortune’s Daughter‘, giving an already varied album further dynamics and keeping listeners on their toes as the band smash through expectations at every turn.
Though please don’t think The Armed have dulled their serrated edges on LP #2, as there’s plenty of maddening mathy-hardcore chaos to go around. Brilliant opener ‘Witness‘, the sonic duality of ‘Ultraglass‘, the fuzzed-out swirling burst of ‘Apperception‘, ‘Heavily Lined‘, the rest of ‘Parody Warning‘, ‘Role Models‘, and easy standout ‘Luxury Themes‘ see The Armed punching their heaviness and extremity factors right past 11. Moreover, so many of these tracks see the band expand upon that sense of grand melody and underlying beauty that brimmed beneath the surface of ‘Paradise Day‘ three years ago; injecting more melodic guitars, glitchy synths, cleaner vocals, as well as uplifting and euphoric instrumentals crashes into the mix. And the breath-taking peaks and valleys that such glorious tracks soar between are just so awe-inspiring.
Sitting somewhere between all of these opposing musical extremes are the experimental, ghostly trip-hop-like moments that kick off the short but sweet tension-builder ‘Nowhere To Be Found‘, as well as ‘On Jupiter‘; one of most sonically jumpy tracks The Armed have ever written. (Which is really saying something). Regarding the latter, it properly rounds out this terrific album with a rumblingly distorted and looped feedback outro that’s anything but aesthetically pleasing, but I’d expect nothing less from these guys and gal(s). Besides, how the actual fuck would one even end an album like this properly, anyway? Well, The Armed did the impossible it seems.
Amongst all of this, The Armed does a great job of drawing you into their sublime world. Namely by how the screamed and sung vocals are mixed further into the album’s background, helping to pull you into their brand of artsy, experimental hardcore-punk rather than push you away. (Well, hopefully). Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this record does sound kind of muddy in terms of production, but that seems to be an almost intentional decision in order to make people listen in better and think harder about what’s going. After all, we’re talking about a band that does nothing on accident; a band that has a core member named Dan Stowalksi except no one really knows who the hell he is, what he actually looks like, nor what his role is or might have been.
Lyrically, this album is a jumbled and tricky mess of meanings that you could read into any number of literal or metaphorical ways. No kidding, a lot of these song lyrics read like Cedric Bixler-Zavala raving at his most drug-fueled bizarre like its 2000 all over again. Which is half the fun, admittedly. But for real, if anyone can make sense of “Justice is a toe smack face plant/Loose strings fried to pieces/Crumbs of distorted sunlight/Threesomes with Zeus’ nieces“, then please let me know. Or who the namedropped “Vincent” that ‘Witness‘ mentions right at the end of the song is too. Though I suppose your guess would be as good – or as wrong – as mine.
Still, the album does have its lyrical quirks that maintain proper intrigue for those listeners really paying attention. It’s got a little David Bowie reference on ‘Parody Warning‘ – “Hotel Angelterre/A case for Nathan Adler/Loss or romance?“. ‘On Jupiter‘ talks about those strange and cryptic little Toynbee tiles found across the States at the end of the 20th century that have no explanation of origin or intent – “Black tar and asphalt/The tile/Reads my message/On every corner/Hushed sounds/Winds/They whisper/Reanimate“. Slightly more confusing however is hiw ‘Ultraglass‘ mentions by name the Russian Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov, a man who is a lover of disinformation – “Dark words/Stark love/Now everyone is part of war/Tell me more, Gerasimov“. Then again, I can totally see why The Armed love the idea of misinformation in how they operate; making outsiders work hard to figure out what’s real and what isn’t.
While there’s plenty of punk and hardcore influences from your Black Flag’s, your Negative Approach’s, and your Youth Of Today’s present in the challenging experimentations of ‘Ony Love‘, this album is more punk rock in the sense of being anti-something. As for The Armed, some would say they’re being anti-music going off of this record’s sound and structure. Shit, maybe those people are right in saying that. Yet I’d instead argue that this band are anti-bullshit, anti-hate, anti-normality, anti-complacency, and anti anything that’s lacking in playfulness, life, genuineness, and invigorating expression.
‘Only Love’ works amazingly well as an album and as a ridiculous art-piece, but god knows that it just fucking shouldn’t. But this is The Armed we’re talking about here, and a lesser band would’ve really cocked up such a furious and bold attempt of sounds, ideas and genres. Funnily enough, if this record was choked full of only the band’s savage and dissonant yet melodically grandiose hardcore tunes (songs like ‘Witness’ or ‘Role Models’), it’d fail outright. As it would just suffocate you and grow old quickly. Similarly, if this record was defined solely by the band’s lighter and melodic art-rock/punk rock sections (like the choruses of ‘Middle Homes’ and ‘Fortune’s Daughter’), you’d simply tune out just as soon. Which is why that stark musical and tonal contrast is so important and so necessary here, and why this record stands as impressively tall as it does. For it’s The Armed’s immense artistic push-and-pull that makes ‘Only Love’ such a superbly balanced fever daydream between unrelenting mathcore madness, extreme musical experimentation and pure hardcore genius. And I just cannot get enough of it!
- Role Models
- Nowhere To Be Found
- Parody Warning
- Fortune’s Daughter
- Luxury Themes
- Heavily Lined
- Middle Homes
- On Jupiter
One of the best goddamn albums of the year, ‘Only Love’, is out now via Throatruiner Records & No Rest Till Ruin. Stream it here.