Christ, where do we begin? Chances are, if you’re not new to the blog, you’re not new to The Armed, but on the off-chance that you’re new to either, let’s attempt a quick recap of the Detroit collective’s kaleidoscopic growth spurt in the space of a small paragraph.
After the band’s 2010’s debut Common Enemies, The Armed followed with a number of singles, splits, and EP’s that happily enmeshed their output to the hardcore and mathcore scenes. An ego-free, effectively anonymous ethos was touted within the group as well, but as time went on, this mechanic turned to all-out misdirection, with 2015’s Untitled laying the framework for a trilogy of genre-bending, speaker-splattering works of art: 2018’s Only Love, 2021’s Ultrapop, and finally, Perfect Saviors.
The records themselves have been engaging enough to gain traction, but The Armed are just as infamous for having dozens of interchangeable members, their berserk live shows, and a rabid cult following. All this fanfare and more was a refreshing solution to the predictable churn-n-burn patterns established by the ever-animated corpse of the music industry (press, single, video, release, repeat), but the resulting hype nearly overshadowed Ultrapop as an album, which wouldn’t have been a fair exchange. Luckily, The Armed ameliorated this issue entirely with an incredible live performance film featuring many of the record’s highlights – Ultrapop: Live at the Masonic. We’ll get more into it some other time, but for us, that performance was all the proof we needed that no matter how mischievous the act had become, it was far from a joke.
Leading up to Perfect Saviors, the band’s press releases and interviews have been more grounded and forthcoming than ever, with statements made to help dispel the band’s unyielding mystique. Of course, we should have known this humility would make for some of the sweetest, most bewildering irony possible for the average fan of The Armed.
Check out the video below for “Liar 2,” featuring Troy Van Leeuwen, Justin Meldal-Johnson, and some guy named Dan Greene to see what we mean.
To put it simply, Perfect Saviors is the perfect climax to the vague yet visionary trilogy that started with Only Love, using the best of their established sonic lore to create a new sound for themselves altogether. You’d best count on it taking a few listens before it really sinks in though, because it’s twice as ambitious as anything they’ve recorded, and your ear canals will likely need some time to reupholster themselves.
From the opening seconds of “Sport of Measure,” eyebrows are raised and expectations are tossed into a distant river. Much like the first time we heard either the intros or initial singles from the last two records, it took several listens to find The Armed we knew in inside it, but once we did the ride reliably blasts off. Having teased the term ‘arena’ when discussing their inspirations for the Perfect Saviors, one might attempt to rationalize that they meant this in terms of scale more than in comparison to bands like Foreigner and Journey. Because even though just about every single song here begs to be jammed at the highest conceivable volume to as many people as possible, it makes some very subtle points.
“FKA World” comes in like a genuinely joyful ode to the days of discovering garage rock and jazz in college with it’s smokey seventh chords, glowing glockenspiel hits, and Tony Wolski’s vastly improved clean-vocal delivery. The surpassingly spirited takes from an already insanely energetic band is overwhelming as always in “Clone” as well, but it also delivers one of the strongest choruses on the album. The band nonchalantly gambles short attention spans with the wildly off-balance introduction of “Modern Vanity,” but it’s stagger turns into swagger of course, when Cara’s destructive screams fill the void and blaring psychedelic guitar solos take over.
As longtime fans of the band, it surprised us that single “Everything’s Glitter” was the first from the album that stuck with us on the first hit – it had almost everything we loved from Ultrapop, and a bold, semi-The 1975 twist to it. Even though it has the heavy guitar tones and buzzsaw bass we know and (foolishly) expect from the band, and we already know they know how to write a pop song, but Urian Hackney’s crazy hi-hat devilry breathlessly takes the song from one level to the next until it finally blows apart. We normally listen to it a few times in a row.
Another fun surprise for the album was its guest list – we didn’t really pay attention to the credits as they were emerging in the singles and promotion phase because it’s always been one of the selfish pleasures that the fans get out of the group’s infinitely varied lineup – discovering who’s who later. This time, that list including names like Patrick Shiroishi, Eric Avery, Mark Guiliana, Justin Meldal-Johnson, Julien Baker, and Troy Van Leeuwen once again.
It’s a veritable who’s-who-and-cool-as-hell list, but as cool as they are, there’s one thing we need to remain focused on here, and that’s the songs. In fact, let’s get to one of The Armed’s most insane offerings ever, “Burned Mind,” a song that dips into the revered Detroit noise and techno scenes. Alan Moulder’s production highlights every single detail from within. It makes sense that it might have been written in the same sessions as Only Love, because it’s possessed by similarly futuristic outlook on punk, if not the concepts of genre, music, and medium altogether. When you consider Moulder’s flair for making the most out of even the smallest squeaks and scratches, it’s a match made in heaven. This was also evident in strides with single “Sport of Form,” and you absolutely cannot miss the video below if you haven’t seen it.
Mostly because it has Iggy Pop as god.
Okay, sorry – back to the songs. “Patient Mind” forges another path through deep, chirping electronics for a spell, and at first you might be tempted to think it’s a spiritual successor to “BAD SELECTION,” but it dodges this by breaking out with a rock and roll revivalist chorus that wouldn’t be out of place on the average FM radio station. For longtime fans, it’s moments like this that make the record so unique. It doesn’t half-ass anything. Ultrapop certainly didn’t half-ass anything either, but it did walk as a sort of mythic figure between the worlds of hardcore and pop – with a foot in each world, that’s probably why every moment of it feels so euphoric. Perfect Saviors walks away from both. It’s a record that never forgets where it came from, but also never looks back, and it leaves you with the sense that you cannot possibly comprehend what could come next… and we haven’t even talked about the bass solo.
“Vatican Under Construction” is one of the most easily gripped, straightforward songs on the album, complete with spastic verses and cathartically lush QOTSA-esque chorus, but it’s safe to say that “Liar 2” takes the cake in terms sheer pop appeal. The fact that everybody was shitting themselves over the possible penning of a sequel to one of their heaviest songs, but ended up more played than jazz flute, is potentially the band’s greatest cons yet. Or is it?
“In Heaven” is probably as big of a surprise as “Liar 2.” Co-singer Randall Lee’s soulful, observant delivery escorts you like a guardian shepherding you across the unknown, and it’s a way we’ve never felt with an Armed record before. It made us unexpectedly emotional the way we got all those years ago when Nine Inch Nails‘ “A Warm Place” provided a brief, but necessary respite from the penultimate death crescendoes of Downward Spiral. We could make comparisons to NIN’s golden age all over the record if you think about it, but at the very least, we’ll spare you that. Much like the guest list, we think it’s an exciting proposition, but there’s one more important detail to go over with Perfect Saviors that deserves a conclusive shout.
In a move that brings closure not just to this record, but really all three, The Armed send things off with full-on Atom / Ray punk ascension on “Public Grieving.” It echoes some of the progressive jazz themes of “Sport of Measure,” but also calls back to Only Love‘s deeper, more surreal song structures like “Luxury Themes,” “Middle Homes,” or “On Jupiter.” “Public Grieving” serves as definitive proof that the band are still evolving as artists, not just entertainers, and while it might not tick every box for every fan, Perfect Saviors is a superhuman feat, and exactly the record The Armed needed to make.
Well, you know what we’ll be jamming the rest of our year/life. Did y’all know my spouse and I had our first dance to “Ultrapop” when we held the ceremony last year? Regardless, check out the rest of the record here on their Bandcamp. If you want to buy us a coffee here, you can, but Perfect Saviors has us pretty hyped. We don’t need any more energy for a while.