Label: Throatruiner Records
About thirty seconds into Only Love, the second album from The Armed, the thought occurs that this is what the future must sound like. The mix of hardcore/punk guitars, frantic electronics, and restless drumming (courtesy of Ben Koller of Converge and All Pigs Must Die, amongst others) produces a real rush of adrenaline and endorphins, and leaves the listener unsure whether to launch themselves into reckless dancing or simply staring in awe at what the band are creating. It’s a feeling that more or less lasts throughout the album and subsequent listens, making Only Love one of the most innovative, exciting albums released under the broad spectrum of hardcore thus far in 2018.
Cloaked in a raw, sympathetic production courtesy of Kurt Ballou, Only Love often feels like it’s only showing part of what is going on at any one time. There are so many competing (and complementary) elements to these songs that such a feeling is inevitable – between the electronics, restless drumming, guitars, and desperate vocals, the feeling of sensory overload is surely intentional. Nor is it a bad thing – the result is that the listener feels as if they’ve been transported to some magical land, where everything is familiar but also infinitely more wondrous than the norm. It may be overwhelming at points, but it’s a joyous feeling rather than something negative – the sensation is one of giving yourself up to the currents of the music, letting them take you wherever they will. Surrendering in this way brings with it a feeling of release, and it’s this that keeps me coming back to Only Love.
As more time is spent with the album, more distinct elements between songs begin to emerge. ‘Nowhere to be Found’ is a relatively subdued track, providing a moment of respite in the sea of blissful chaos that is Only Love; whilst the repeated vocals of ‘Role Models’ feel like a mantra or rallying cry. Even if it’s not clear exactly what The Armed are referring to (the exact words are often lost in their desperate delivery, and amongst the maelstrom of the instruments) their sense of feeling is never in doubt, and their emotional aspect is undeniable. ‘Fortune Daughter’ feels like what would happen if a band tried to take the best aspects of 90’s Riot Grrrl, indie rock, and chaotic hardcore – it sounds like it should be a mess, but by god it works, and it’s glorious to behold.
If all of this implies a band that doesn’t really sound like anyone else – well, that would be accurate. There’s hints of plenty of other bands here, whether it be the caustic, restless hardcore of The Blood Brothers circa Burn, Piano Island, Burn! (though without the sarcasm and bratty elements, thankfully), or the combination of pop hooks and heavy, technical hardcore that The Dillinger Escape Plan were masters of, or the more blissful elements of The Flaming Lips on their raw, sprawling Embryonic album – it’s all here, to some extent. Yet none of this comes close to adequately describing what The Armed are doing on Only Love, or how novel and fearless the album feels. It’s a forward-thinking album in practically every way possible, toying with notions of genre and expectations beautifully, servant to nothing but its own artistic vision. It is also, as you may have gathered by now, rather brilliant, and one of the most exciting releases of the year. If the future sounds anything like this, then sign me up.