Detroit’s The Armed caught fire in 2012 with their second EP, Spreading Joy and haven’t lost momentum since then; successive years have seen EPs, splits, and singles, but until now an LP has been elusive. Now we know why. This LP, left untitled, is an out-of-left-field insurgency, absolutely decimating the group’s previous output and reinventing the mosh-friendly and hard-hitting mathcore that made “Cop Friends” and “Sterling Results” smash skulls and wreck cervicals. It’s hell and a half in a handbasket doused in kerosene, with even more noise and a healthy dose of Dillinger Escape Plan, despite the four years since Chris Penne’s work with the group on Spreading Joy.
While the album opens with a barrage of manic and inventive hardcore reminiscent of a more sane – and hornless – Idylls, it’s the seventh song, “Dead Actress” that will absolutely floor you. The Armed throw a genius wrench into the works halfway through the LP and go all “One of Us Is The Killer.” “Dead Actress” doesn’t reinvent the wheel – it opts to leave the road entirely. Its abruptly soothing entry completely blindsides you every time. Never did I expect to see this level of melody and suspense from a group that usually produces the soundtrack to an arson. This level of jazzy melody hasn’t been seen since “I Steal What I Want” and boy has it been sorely missed. “Polarizer” continues to amaze with its polyrhythmic synth leads and midtempo crooning sandwiching typically obscene guitar work.
It’s all uphill from there. “Ender” dips halfway through in order to introduce the group’s feedback obsession to a piano and the two become fast friends, smoothly (in the loosest sense of the word) setting up the surf-rock tinted “No Risk” and reuniting in “Issachar” for another crack at Farewell All Joy-styled miscreancy. For all of their Dillinger-inspired switchups, you’d think The Armed would come off as derivative, but in fact the opposite is true; they’re much more punk-rooted than the aforementioned, making heavy use of gang shouts, d-beats, and simple chord progressions.
And speaking of D-beats, the group’s recruitment of Baptists drummer Nick Yacyshyn couldn’t be more appropriate. His explosive performances perfectly compliment the group’s wild-card riffing, and he’s able to hold down the fort even when the brake lines are cut. Equally commendable is Kurt Ballou’s gritty but impeccably balanced production job, although I must say this album might have been more fun if it were just a bit dirtier. But with the second half of the album’s focus on melody and experimentation, the slightly sandpapered approach makes sense, even if it smooths over a bit of character.
Once you’ve spun through the LP once, the first half starts to make more and more sense; it’s about tricking you into thinking that the band is out of tricks and content by delivering variations on Spreading Joy. But if you listen again, the foreshadowing post-hardcore melodies of “Nervewrecker” and the ‘ripped straight from The Physics House Band‘ bassline of “Blessings” should have instantly told you something was up.
After years of waiting, The Armed have dropped on a hungry but unsuspecting fanbase a debut that stuns with its balance of maturity and true-to-form street urchin angst, and in typical fashion for the band, it’s available free of charge and, of course, context. Members yet again chose namelessness and present their work behind a puzzling David Bowie impersonation and a puff of smoke, sans title, calling to mind the blindfolded, alligator-holding man gracing the cover of their split with Tharsis They. The Armed present themselves in a laconic fashion, so it’s my job to tell you what they won’t. This album will fucking wreck you.