Perhaps no band in 2021 has a fanbase as fervent as The Armed. The band itself is as enigmatic as those who love them, too. Vague and subversive, constant speculation keeps message boards and Facebook private groups afire as to who actually comprises of The Armed.
Earlier this year, the riddle intensified when the New York skyline was masqueraded with a billboard containing the artwork of The Armed’s new album, ULTRAPOP. A billboard that the band maintains wasn’t paid for by neither them nor their representatives and indeed mustered up as a clandestine campaign by their obsessive followers.
Like the band themselves, a shrewd move.
On ULTRAPOP, the Detroit collective’s fourth album, The Armed deal heavy in maximalism. It extends beyond the music itself with band members undertaking intense fitness regimes throughout the lockdown period. The end result? A collective of musicians looking more like a militia of construction workers as opposed to a dissident rock band.
It’s a project operating in a parallel universe and essentially one of their own creation. ULTRAPOP is a testament to that, with The Armed hauling their sound template against a brick wall. From the resulting debris, they carefully rebuild and piece together a museum of ideas that emerge as a sparkly, grandiose noise-rock opera.
The glittery opening of the title track sees The Armed pinning their colours to the mast in the world of pop worship and from there, the twists and turns don’t stop.
Let’s start at ULTRAPOP’s first single, ALL FUTURES. An anthemic futuristic reverie that sends the senses into a wild frenzy. That feeling doesn’t recede, with the transcending MASUNAGA VAPORS and blast-into-orbit stomp of A LIFE SO WONDERFUL. Songs that sound like something the likes of The Dillinger Escape Plan or Daughters may have produced if they dared take a shot pop ‘stardom’.
Then there’s AN ITERATION – arguably the album highlight, reaching for a glut of genres and throwing them into a boiling melting pot. Merging a searing shoegaze flange with, dare I say it, pop-punk, it’s nothing short of a ridiculous anthem. By this stage, it’s evident that The Armed have stumbled upon a winning formula, leaving no stone unturned, exploring all avenues humanly possible.
The naked intensity in songs like BIG SHELL, WHERE MAN KNOWS WANT and REAL FOLK BLUES take the ideas of the Blood Brothers, stretching out such raw chaos to new extremes.
With a song like AVERAGE DEATH, The Armed confirm their intentions of cultivating one of those big records. The thinking is not dissimilar to Kayne West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kendrick Lemar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, and even Rustie’s Glass Swords. The Armed have harnessed the idea of maximalism like no other in the world of guitar music.
With a band possessing a noise-rock/hardcore pedigree, a genre that defines everything that pop music is not, ULTRAPOP may leave some listeners somewhat chilly and perhaps green at the gills. Let’s be honest – with a fanbase as rabid as theirs, it’s hard to gauge which way it will go, making the circumstances all the more thrilling.
For those who are completely liberated by The Armed’s new guise, however, ULTRAPOP has the potential to be one of the landmark albums of 2021.
Either way, The Armed thrust forward as the new crusaders of innovation and in what is their most ambitious offering yet, ULTRAPOP is a statement. To these ears, it’s a pretty good one, too.
ULTRAPOP is out now via Sargent House. Purchase from Bandcamp.