Let us rejoice, for Protomartyr have returned from the Motor City to deliver unto us another sermon of epic proportions. Their rapturous mix of post-punk and art rock combined with front man Joe Casey’s pulpit tirades and apocalyptic urban decay manifestos are the kind of serious talk we all need to hear right now. In the current times we’re living in, Protomartyr are the doomsayers we need to lead us into the next phase of civilization.
Their latest, Ultimate Success Today, follows the band’s last studio album, 2017s excellent Relatives In Descent. With Ultimate Success Today Protomartyr sound like they’ve completely locked in, with the band sounding the best they ever have and Joe Casey delivering his words like a post-apocalyptic poet. If there ever was a time for Protomartyr it’s 2020, and Ultimate Success Today is the mission statement for the new world.
In some ways, Ultimate Success Today is Protomartyr’s heaviest and also most accessible record yet. The music is louder, more in your face, and more primal than it’s ever been. But in the same respect there’s songs that feel more universal, more accessible. Not pop, but at times wistful, thoughtful, and melancholy. Joe Casey still summons Mark E. Smith and David Thomas when needed, but he needs their spirit less and less. Casey has constructed his own vernacular paradigm. A singed literary world where the visceral head butts the intellectual. It’s a word construct brought to life by Greg Ahee(guitar), Alex Leonard(drums) and Scott Davidson(bass.)
“Day Without End” opens like some alternate reality “Shaft”. You can almost see Joe Casey walking down some dilapidated city street speaking directly to you. A sort of post-punk urban decay theme song. “Processed By The Boys” sounds like a rallying war cry. “A cosmic grief beyond all comprehension/All good laid low by outside evil/Against belief, a riot in the streets/A giant beast turning mountains into black holes” Casey sings over punk rock conviction and woodwinds(and it totally works.) “Michigan Hammers” feels like a culmination of years of a band finding their sound; the right bit of spit and vinegar with heart and conviction. The rhythm section has built themselves up into a force to be reckoned with. “Dignity or toil//Syndicate or gang/Rose and thorn/Not all of them on pills“, these are the words of a man with purpose in every word he sings.
Protomartyr, from the beginning, have been a band that consistently improved on their sound without ever losing the raw spirit of being young and not tied to experience or expectations. The angular riffs and jagged jabs of distorted guitars are balanced with the beauty of tracks like “The Aphorist”, “Bridge & Crown”, and the exquisite album closer “Worm In Heaven” here. There’s equal amounts of subtle restraint and untethered angst.
Ultimate Success Today is one of the best albums of 2020, and an album we need to hear right now.
8.6 out of 10