The Armed – ‘ULTRAPOP’ Album Review

Written by: Trevor Naud

The Armed is an artist collective that is sometimes a band from Detroit. Though their membership is fluid and mysterious, The Armed seems to have grown organically from the demise of another band named Slicer Dicer and coalesced in some form around 2009. Their music has been described as post-hardcore or experimental-hardcore but they eschew labels just as assuredly as they eschew capitalism, choosing as they did to give away their first album These Are Lights for free. 

It is difficult to pin anything about this band down with any degree of certainty. The band, for ULTRAPOP anyway, seems to consist of 8 members: Adam Vallely, Cara Drolshagen, Clark Huge, Urian Hackney, Kurt Ballou of Converge, Chris Slorach of Metz, Chris Pennie, and Nick Yacyshyn. But we know for sure that ULTRAPOP (all caps, please) is the collective’s 4th studio album and that it came out in April of 2021. And quite the album it is. 

ULTRAPOP seems to function as a manifesto as much as an album. A manifesto that rails against mindless conformity, even within the confines of so-called “subcultures”, predatory capitalism, environmental destruction, and general mediocrity. I could be wrong, it is all very confusing trying to figure out who the members are and what it all means, but I think I have it mostly almost right. All that is well and good, but how does it sound?

Pretty insane is how it sounds. The album’s opener, also called “ULTRAPOP” lets the listener know what they are in for. The Armed’s massively jacked synth player creates a gauzy, dreamy soundscape that distorts and falters and hints that something meaner and weirder is to come, and come it does. “A LIFE SO WONDERFUL” comes galloping out of the speakers like a stampede, the band’s drummer as exact as a metronome as the melodic hardcore gets twisted and chopped, stops, and starts and stops again. 

“BIG SHELL” almost brings to mind early Cocteau Twins with its beautiful beginning, until it disintegrates and turns into a nightmarish idea of an old-school mosh pit breakdown. “THE MUSIC BECOMES A SKULL” the album closer is sung by Mark Lanegan, one of several guest spots including Mark Leeuwen of Queens of the Stone Age. The album’s final song leaves the listener with quite an impression. It is a hellscape aria that might have been written by Paganini with Lanegan’s unmistakable voice somehow obfuscated and very mistakable behind layer upon layer of effect. 

So, what does it all mean? Really, I have no idea. I didn’t go to art school and I faked my way through my Jacques Lacan prerequisites. I think the album’s overriding message has a lot to do with the necessity of authentic self-expression and the transformative properties of intense bodybuilding. That said, whatever the album is about, it is a chaotic masterpiece that is never boring, even if at points I suspect it was trying to be. I recommend you listen to it when you work on your deadlift.

Written by: Padraig Mara

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