Detroit post-punkers Protomartyr released their fifth record, Ultimate Success Today, a few days ago. For a band forced to rush the recording of their debut record (supported by one case of beer!) Ultimate Success Today shows how far they’ve come. It explores how we live our lives, its fragility, and what a dangerous world we live in.
Ultimate Success Today is, well, terrifying. Inspired by lead singer Joe Casey’s mid-life crisis when Protomarytr’s debut No Passion All Technique was reissued, Ultimate Success Today seems to know too much about the world’s current state, despite being written a year ago.
Apocalyptic predictions appear throughout Casey’s lyrics and in one instance even goes as far as correcting a previous “note of hope”. “Day Without End”, the album opener, challenges the idea behind “Half Sister”, the closing track of Relatives in Descent. Casey explained this in an interview with The Fader, saying, “The idea of a day that never ends is quite disturbing to me. The song is trying to place all the events in the present, whereas in the past and on previous records, it has been a lot of looking back nostalgically, but sometimes bitterly.”
Mortality is another dense theme, due in part to Casey’s feelings on his own life but also the death of his father. In an interview with NME, Casey said, “People say it gets less hurtful or frightening or sad, but that’s not really true – it just changes colour and form. I also feel like, if I live long enough, I’m going to have other loved ones die, and it’s something that I have to move beyond, at least in writing about it, because it’s been going on ten years now. I feel like I’ve talked about it from different angles across these first five albums, these chapters. Those can be about that, and then I can move on.”
These two particular themes are ones we often shy away from. However, on Ultimate Success Today, they’re not just delivered all dressed in melancholy, but more like a word to the wise for living.
So far we’ve only covered theme and lyrics, so what about sound? Well, the Protomartyr we know and love remains, although slightly more controlled. Gone are the effects and distortions and in their place we hear clarity and collaboration.
Saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and singer-songwriter Nandi Rose Plunkett are among those to appear. These collaborations are the result of the Consolation EP which featured The Breeders Kelley Deal, a collab the band were inspired by.
And there are still songs to headbang along to; “The Aphorist”, “I Am You Now”, “Michigan Hammers” and “Processed by the Boys” for example. “Processed by the Boys”, much like the album, has been acclaimed since its release as it explores authoritarianism and in particular, Donald Trump’s use of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
So, as the apparent end of everything approaches and we search for the source we’ll never find, if nothing else, we’ll have Ultimate Success Today to see us out.