by Ian Feigle (@i_feigle)
Making relatively large waves in the media for a self-described “punk” band in 2018, The Armed's second full-length release, ONLY LOVE, has proven that music informed by the often laughed-off genre of hardcore music can still be provocative and artistic. ONLY LOVE is aggressive and violent, but it is also atmospheric, authentic, and tender. Recorded and produced by Converge's Kurt Ballou and with drum performances by Ben Koller of Converge and Mutoid Man fame, the collective of musicians, performers, and visual artists that make up The Armed have managed to make a dense album drawing from influences across the punk-rock spectrum. The Armed are cultural punks, holding a viewpoint through the lens of the punk ethos, but not necessarily embracing the stereotypical sound or look of punk. Boundless and unhinged, The Armed have bucked the music-industry by releasing ONLY LOVE on their own No Rest Until Ruin label and have confused PR and media agencies by using actors in their publicity photos. They have equally confused the scene by not sounding like what you'd expect from a hardcore punk band. ONLY LOVE moves across a variety of sounds from the industriously brutal and repetitive to the complex and shredded and even to the danceable fluxes of electro-disco punk.
In advance of the album's release, The Armed premiered two videos that showcase their stylized and sophisticated art direction and genre-colliding sound. The first, released on February 15th, was the hallucinogenic space excursion “Witness,” ONLY LOVE's opening track that highlights all of the pinnacles The Armed come to tackle throughout the album. Cut-edited from the brief glimpse of a synth arpeggio that opens the track, the raucous begins with harmonious guitar parts and near blast-beat cadences that punctuate the song between modified drum breakdowns and inspiring choruses that are sung––rather than screamed––with heart. The second video, “Role Models,” premiered March 5th on Adult Swim and features the infamous Tommy Wisseau gesticulating to the music in a covert-ops-looking ghillie suit. The song pummels in a more steady manner than any other song on the album, relentlessly driving forward in the stuttering motorik rhythm of heavy industry. The chorus chants “No ins, no outs,” which oddly seems to signify the impenetrable density the band has forged its image out of. Both videos are completely captivating and confounding, and they are two examples of The Armed's musical cognitive dissonance, making it difficult to decide whether the band should be looked at more as a hardcore band or as an art collective.
Songs like “Nowhere to Be Found,” “Luxury Themes,” and “Middle Homes” are all landmarks within the album that demarcate the territory The Armed cover in ONLY LOVE. Radiating from the nexus of hardcore, these songs break the tropes that have wrapped the genre in its grip for too long. Dizzyingly danceable, they offer a cozy respite from the destructive powerhouse that fuels the rest of the album. “Nowhere to Be Found” is a somber and ambient electro-groove that becomes utterly moving as the drums and bass kick in during the hooks. “Luxury Themes” and “Middle Homes” are inspirational tastes filled with love-racked aggression that are more like excited embraces than in-your-face confrontations.
“Fortune's Daughter” and “Heavily Lined” are true punk-rock gems that are both iconoclastic and rebellious. “Fortune's Daughter” delivers a vicious female vocal performance over popping high-hat disco beats that careen into the spine-chilling chorus that hymns, “We'll find a place. / Take arms, / it'll all blow over.” The song crescendos into a legitimate vocal attack of shrill and intense male and female screams that inundate the listener. “Heavily Lined” is an unauthorized party of punks that makes you want to thrash your body in a grimy basement show. Noisy and battering, the verse moves quickly from chord riffraff to swirling hammer-ons and pull-offs. The chorus brings catharsis in an ecstatic release of toxic, big-wave surf. The sung vocals are haunting and eerily complacent, while the screams of the verse are rapacious and greedy. These songs are filled with an energy that revitalizes the listener to a more youth-filled, rebellious, fuck-it mentality that may have lost its heat over time but which never fails to reignite when provoked.
ONLY LOVE is a promising statement of the hardcore-punk collective's potential. It is filled with unabashed aggression and excitement, but also tender moments that make the peaks of the album seem that much more opulent. Unhindered by the preconceptions of what the genre should be, The Armed are plowing the fallow fields of hardcore and sowing the seeds of a new, radical staple crop soon to be incorporated into the recipes of today's musical diet. The Armed don't fall into the pits of over-production and snap-grid edits; they are dirty and imperfect yet precisely conceived and curated. ONLY LOVE showcases The Armed's creativity as its complexity unfolds with each listen.There is much to be gleaned from the album, but the most prominent point to be learned is that The Armed are not only expanding the boundaries of what hardcore punk can be but predicting what it will be. ONLY LOVE is the manifestation of what the shape of punk was predicted to have become, and it sounds and looks as fresh as ever.