The Armed – ‘ULTRAPOP’

By Sean Reid

If you have followed the career of The Armed, then you will know their existence has been clouded in mystery… until now. With album number four, ‘ULTRAPOP’, the Detroit-based collective have pulled off the veil by revealing themselves to be an eight-piece. Well, that’s at least publicly. Guitarist and vocalist Adam Vallely recently stated ”25 to 30 people at any one time” have contributed to The Armed. Besides the eight faces revealed, Ben Koller is credited as one of two drummers alongside Urian Hackney while Koller’s Converge bandmate, Kurt Ballou, is the album’s “executive producer”, fuelling the rumours that he’s long been pulling the strings behind the scenes.

This incarnation sees The Armed as bold as ever. Rooted in hardcore, the octet aim to fuse counterculture with a pop foundation, seamlessly becoming equally harmonious and disgusting in the process. It’s something they have touched upon as 2018’s ‘Only Love’ showcased, however, ‘ULTRAPOP’ feels like its culmination.

Much like their live performances, ‘ULTRAPOP’ is a sonic assault on the senses. The titular intro shimmers with heavenly vocals and occasional, abrupt noisy bursts. You’re then thrown straight into ‘ALL FUTURES’, a roaring, addictive number with whirling carousel keys fighting with a rumbling rhythm section, Adam Vallely’s declaration of “All futures, destruction!”, Cara Drolshagen’s bratty “yeah yeah yeah” yelps, and screeching guitars.

From there comes ‘MASUNAGA VAPORS’, a chaotic blast that is designed to punish the ears with Dan Greene’s familiar screams being complimented by frantic fretboard play. ‘A LIFE SO WONDERFUL’ battles through with defiance. Rip-roaring instrumentation escalates alongside Vallely’s crooning vocals before he finally lets rip during its climax – “But I don’t scare anymore, I’m so over it”.

Recent single, ‘AN ITERATION’ captures what ‘ULTRAPOP’ aims to do. Subtly catchy with hushed vocals exploding in the chorus with the simple, mesmerising line of “Did it again did it again did it again”. Backed by a buzzing rhythm and surging guitars, it’s a sonic whirlwind. ‘AVERAGE DEATH’ is executed in a similar fashion. Glitchy electronic drums and borderline monotone vocals give way to a destructive chorus with scratchy, escalating guitars and battering drums.

‘BIG SHELL’ sees Drolshagen take centre stage – her distorted screams are defiant against a backdrop of whizzing synths, that echo ‘Role Model’s descending melody, and blast beats, creating a chaotic wall of noise.

Tracks such as ‘FAITH IN MEDICATION’, and ‘REAL FOLK BLUES’ do slightly get lost in the ruckus of it all, yet retain the momentum preceding them, the former shining in its conclusion due to a riveting guitar solo, courtesy of Queens of the Stone Age’s Troy Van Leeuwen.

If there is one track that defines ‘ULTRAPOP’, ’BAD SELECTION’ is considerably it. Starting out with a futuristic shine and robotic vocals, it gives way to a memorable line of “Alleluia/Everybody knows that I am great”. Koller/Hackney then arrive to beef it up as Vallely declares to be “inhuman”.

‘ULTRAPOP’ departs with ‘THE MUSIC BECOMES A SKULL’. Tribal blasts and messy instrumentation battle for your attention as Mark Lanegan lends his vocals. Along with Greene, they conclude the album with “What a brilliant show/Now get off”. Subtly grandiose in The Armed’s own unique way, it’s a sharp and fitting conclusion.

The Armed succeeds in presenting ‘ULTRAPOP’ as bombastic. And much like their publicised diet regiment, it is a strict, muscular record that grows on you with each listen. ‘ULTRAPOP’ unravels itself. Throughout layered nuances and traits that subtly appear, bringing clarity to their broad sound. Its presentation is unrelenting, serving as a sonic onslaught in a tornado of controlled chaos. While others have blended hardcore with pop sensibilities before, The Armed are able to seamlessly transition to both extreme ends of the scale with ease.

The cult following of The Armed is sure to grow with ‘ULTRAPOP’. An equally euphoric and chaotic record executed perfectly.


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