From his longtime part of the Massachusetts metallic hardcore trailblazers Converge, to his roles in the heavy rock group Mutoid Man and the crust punk crew All Pigs Must Die, drummer Ben Koller is prolific. After recording for the 2018 full-length album Only Love from the ambitious Detroit hardcore crew known as The Armed, Koller returns for their latest full-length effort, ULTRAPOP.
The Armed carry a sound that, while recognizably connected to heavy music traditions, feels entirely their own. Carrying on with ideas that they first explored in detail on Only Love, this latest album combines spastic and disorienting pop with gut-rattling blasts of hardcore. The Armed perform with energetic abandon—ULTRAPOP, an April drop from Sargent House, feels carnival-like in its relentlessly barreling exuberance.
“It’s terrible to play!” Koller pointedly shares. “The chorus of ‘A Life So Wonderful’—one of my few takes to make the finished album—feels like you’re sprinting, deadlifting, and repairing a watch all at the same time. There’s something compelling and addictive about those challenges, though. I made sure my eating was dialed in—ate lots of anti-inflammatory stuff starting the week before going in [for recording]. Lots of stretching and conditioning for sure.”
As for other ULTRAPOP prep, Koller says that after recording Only Love, he “tried sending [The Armed’s] Dan Greene a text on occasion but never really heard back.” Koller discovered that the number was dead after trying to place a call.
“I had heard from some of the other guys in the band that he uses like six-plus burner phones at a time,” Koller shares. “He’s super paranoid and often gets new phone numbers when approaching new people. I’m assuming he got one when we started working together and let it go after we wrapped on Only Love. We eventually reconnected via a totally new email address when we started discussing the new album.”
Koller’s performances appear on ULTRAPOP alongside contributions from fellow drummer Urian Hackney, who ordinarily performs as part of the rock group Rough Francis but filled in for Koller himself in 2019 after the longtime Converge drummer suffered an elbow injury.
“The songs are always off the wall and they always want lots of energy so I suppose that’s the guiding light,” Koller shares. “However, that energy kind of got sucked out of the room as Dan [Greene] kept showing me YouTube clips of Urian Hackney filling in for me with Converge and telling me to ‘play more like that.’ Dan’s an incredibly awkward guy, and I thought for sure he was playing around at first. But he literally kept saying ‘Urian is the future.’ Obviously, months later when they had Urian re-track 70% of the album, it became obvious that he was not joking—in fact he was being incredibly literal.”
The Armed have often been cagey about who exactly is involved with the project, providing a chance to sink into the music almost on its own in the shadow of the disjointed artistic metaphysics that the group has highlighted. Koller connects some of his recording experience to these ideas.
“Taking cues from videos of a guy playing your parts is an incredibly meta experience,” Koller shares. “I was essentially trying to take on the spirit of a guy trying to take on the spirit of me. The Armed is mired in all these strange identity and ownership concepts, and I think, in retrospect, this was part of that. But at the time, it was not particularly pleasant.”
These days, Koller has been enjoying checking out Hackney’s performances across the album.
“Well considering most of my playing has been replaced, I’m enjoying listening to my copy of ULTRAPOP!” he says. “It’s all new to me!”
Sonically, The Armed tend to champion the cascading chaos that their music reflects. As Koller observes: “Experimentation is the only way heavy music survives.”
Images courtesy of Ben Koller and The Armed.