After much fanfare, The Armed have released the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy of mathcore. As potent as it is pretentious, Ultrapop plays like an evangelist’s death trip in the rays of spiritual armageddon.
It’s hard not to hold lofty expectations for projects like The Armed. Since 2011’s Young and Beautiful, the “band” has all but transcended any tags or descriptors in their collective path. The term “band” is to be used cautiously; we’re still not sure who we’re even talking about. From hired actors posing as band members, to utterly cryptic campaigns, it’s been purposefully obscured.
But for longtime fans, that’s nothing new. 2012’s Spreading Joy didn’t just sound like Dillinger Escape Plan, it heavily featured two of their members. Then it was rumored that Thursday’s Geoff Rickley was also involved, made all the more believable due to his alleged involvement with United Nations. Contrastly, 2019 single “FT. FRANK TURNER” in fact, did not feature Frank Turner.
Above all, most of us are only barely recovering from the objectively gorgeous chaos that was 2018’s Only Love. Personally, I feel like this is where all of The Armed’s strengths met in the middle and created not just spunky, but special. So by now, it’s a given that the band has kept us equal parts puzzled and entertained for over a decade.
The surreal amounts of hype surrounding Ultrapop were unprecedented, but to say it was unexpected would diminish a long established stretch of attention to detail. That being said, “Ultrapop” uncoils like a slowly rising king snake beneath a sparkling, neon haze. Rather than consuming listeners whole, the serpent offers wisdom. Ordinarily we’d run, but… its gaze is honest, pleading even. Are we deceived, or basking in the the very flames of consciousness?
As the title track arpeggiates gleefully into darkness, sides of The Armed we know and love permeate the void. Naturally, the chemical marriage of their beautiful moments (“Ultrapop,” “Bad Selection”) to their destructive ones (“A Life So Wonderful,” “Masunaga Vapors”) is a successful one. With holographic heart, the band takes at the ultra-meta: what’s the meaning of meaning?
Up till now, The Armed’s entire presentation was still rooted in Every Time I Die styled irony. Even at it’s most heartfelt (see “Parody Warning,” “Forever Scum.”) But Ultrapop sees The Armed successfully take one of the biggest risks of their career: transparency. We think.
Honestly, we may never know who these people are, and we’re not sure that it matters. Was Ultrapop’s entire press campaign built on the appearance of transparency, or transparency itself? As the incendiary guitars tear through a sermon of blastbeats and blazing synthesizers in songs like “Real Folk Blues” and “Faith in Medication”, it hardly matters. Placebo or miracle, we’ve taken the pill.
Whoever they are, The Armed have released an incredible album, and we’ll be jamming it all summer at the very least. Check out their Bandcamp here when you’re ready. You can also read the interview I did with Marika Zorzi of Sargent House that rekindled my love for The Armed last year right here.