Ominous yet charming
Finally, something to be happy about in 2020. Protomartyr is back with their fifth album release, Ultimate Success Today, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
Ultimate Success Today is not for the faint of heart, but post-punk fans will be thrilled with the intensity Protomartyr pours into every track. Joe Casey (vocals), Greg Ahee (guitar), Alex Leonard (drums) and Scott Davidson (bass) pack a powerful punch in each song as they explore the cyclical nature of life, pondering the fundamental truth that all things must come to an end. Though the heavy baritone vocals almost juxtapose the lighter more energetic instrumentals, their interplay represents the way the band managed to produce a hint of optimism in an album that has an overall dark, morose feel.
Creative and clever, Protomartyr immediately inspires an introspective take on existence in their first track. “Day without End” opens to an isolated baseline that is eventually joined by the drums, guitar and softer vocals that blend together, acting as a calm before the storm. Each element slowly grows in intensity, building suspense in a singular crescendo throughout the entirety of the song. Coupled with Casey richly vocalizing lyrics like “This is the dawning of the day without end/ when fear steps into light,” Protomartyr’s first track creates an enigmatic, grim tone that establishes a powerful foundation for the album.
The band also infuses profound lyrical depth into each song, and “Processed by the Boys” exemplifies how poetic each track can be. Casey almost delivers the lines like a slam poet, questioning “When the end comes is it going to run at us like a wide-eyed animal/ a foreign disease washed upon a beach/ a dagger plunged from out the shadows/ a cosmic grief beyond all comprehension.” Accompanied by tight baselines, raw guitar and crashing cymbals, the song almost inspires an existential crisis, with the instrumental work hypnotically inviting the listener to chew on the ominous lyrics.
Protomartyr’s weighty lyrics were well-matched with a new sound as the group was unafraid to collaborate when creating The Ultimate Success. The band invited not only guest vocalist Nandi Plunkett, but Jemeel Moondoc (Alto Sax), Izaak Mills (bass clarinet, sax, flute) and Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello) all openly worked together to create the album. Plunkett’s vocals harmonize perfectly with Casey’s to form a refreshingly optimistic spunk in “June 21,” serving as a breath of fresh air compared to the predominantly heavier track. The clarinet truly rounds out the drums and guitar in “The Aphorist,” generating a dynamic, endlessly-playable holistic experience. The saxophone lends itself to the post-punk feel excellently, adding even more energy to the exhilarating guitar riffs and percussion-soaked tracks like “Tranquilizer.”
Overall, Protomartyr delivers when it comes to Ultimate Success Today. The band remains cutting-edge, unafraid to explore and experiment to maintain a unique sound. Protomartyr truly continues to stand out from the rest and Ultimate Success Today was ultimately a huge success for the band.