Detroit’s The Armed don’t do anything the easy way. Their debut album Untitled was a densely creative piece of hardcore, pulling in influences from seemingly every genre of aggressive music, only to twist them until they fit their needs. They followed it up with Unanticipated, a live record that saw the band tour in secret, using a series of pseudonyms to avoid attention while playing in gas stations and at open mics, recording all of those sets, and then turning it into a live album that captured the experience of them wreaking havoc across the country. For their second album, the band built on that approach, diving away from what people expected of them, concocting their most claustrophobic batch of hardcore songs yet while adding pop-minded synths atop it all.
Produced by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou at his GodCity studio, The Armed also invited Converge drummer Ben Koller (also of All Pigs Must Die and Mutoid Man) to play on the album. The result is ONLY LOVE, The Armed’s second LP and their most chaotically expansive yet. The video for “Witness,” ONLY LOVE’s tone-setting opener, sees the band pushing their visual aesthetic to new heights, as they offer a startling music video that’s far beyond what most upstart hardcore bands dare to achieve.
Functioning like a complimentary art piece, the video for “Witness” takes the song’s off-putting moments and pulls a loose narrative out of it, adding to the unsettling feeling the song builds to. Finding a space between Converge’s densest compositions, the hard-earned uplift of Loma Prieta, and even bits of The Locust’s turn of the century futurism, “Witness” still never fully adheres to a single sonic reference point. It’s the product of throwing their past influences out and instead attempting to make an album that only drew from pop hallmarks. It sounds nothing like pop music, but it sounds nothing like hardcore either. “Witness” shows that, in 2018, hardcore bands are still breaking down the walls, even if they just so happen to be the ones the genre put up itself.