On April 27 the Detroit-based hardcore/experimental band the Armed released Only Love, the group’s second full-length since its inception in 2009. For the new effort, the Armed recruited metal-drumming vet Ben Koller [Converge, Mutoid Man, Killer be Killed, All Pigs Must Die] to handle the album’s ruthless parts. After Only Love’s split-second synth intro, Koller and the band launch into a distorted barrage that endures throughout the record’s eleven tracks. On the effort, the group coaxes a chainsaw-like cacophony through time shifts, melodic breaks, and well-tempted resolutions—all with a clever grace.
Koller explains to MD that some surprising circumstances led to his involvement on the Armed’s newest release. “Kurt Ballou [Converge guitarist, owner of GodCity studio, and Only Love’s producer] had known the Armed for a while,” explains Koller, “since he’d recorded a previous album of theirs. I was sort of familiar with them and knew they were mysterious and total weirdos, which is right up my alley. Kurt informed me that they were doing a new record and that they’d love me to track drums for it if I had time. I was skeptical at first—it was short notice, and the recording would take place right in the middle of tracking drums for a new Converge album, which seemed [like it would be] pretty stressful. The selling point for me was that at one point I’d heard that Rob Trujillo from Metallica would be playing bass. This seemed weird and farfetched, but I believed it since another friend of mine had jammed with him for a project recently.
“It turns out,” Koller continues, “Rob was never involved in any capacity. When I showed up for the session asking, ‘Where’s Rob?’ Kurt looked at me like I was crazy. Also, the Armed had sent Kurt demos for the record and made him tell me they were Converge songs so that I’d start learning them. So essentially, I was conned into playing on this album. I was so taken aback by these weird tactics that I just went with it.”
Over the course of two days, the Armed threw thirty songs at Koller in the studio. “Honestly it was such a blur that I don’t really remember doing it,” the drummer says. “They were really into this mishmash approach to assembling parts. It was a lot of punching in and tracking one part at a time, and they told me they’d piece it all together later. They also kept insisting that certain fills feel ‘more like Chad Smith.’ They’d play all these deep cuts from newer Red Hot Chili Peppers records. It was surreal. Sometimes the references were so seemingly disconnected from the parts of the songs that we were recording. Once again, I’m unsure if they were joking or not.
“It was very rapid-fire and stressful,” Koller continues. “It was just me with the bassist playing a scratch track in the control room. I’m not even sure if the bass lines were relevant to the song we were recording—they sounded confusing and very different from the demos I’d heard previously. I just tried to stay in my own head and ignore what the scratch bass was doing. I even told Kurt to turn the bass volume way down in the headphones because I could’ve sworn there were some Primus licks going on in some of the tunes. And I think a suggestion at one point was to ‘do the Converge thing you do, but faster and less shitty.’”
Koller had to make some adjustments to his usual recording setup for the session as well. “This kit was a little different from what I’m used to,” Koller says. “They were insistent on using an actual gun loaded with blanks to use as a sampled snare sound. The logistics of this were a nightmare, and Kurt really freaked out. Luckily, they didn’t carry out that plan. I think we ended up using one of Kurt’s GodCity Instruments snares for most of the session and a combination of random pieces for the rest of the drums. They kept changing out cymbals in the middle of songs, and Kurt and I were worried that the sounds weren’t going to match up. But the band kept telling me, ‘This is art, and you wouldn’t understand.’ Good point, guys.”
Well, then…let’s dive in.
After two brief quarter notes of arpeggiated synth, Koller bursts into Only Love’s intense opener with a barrage of fills and accents in 7/4. “I was counting it in 14/8, subdivided into ‘123, 123, 123, 123, 12,’” Koller explains. “I was trying to increase the intensity on a simple theme.” Here’s the simplified rhythm that Koller embellishes on throughout this section.
At 0:21, the cacophony abates—slightly—for a two-measure drum break in 13/8. “This fill follows the same accent pattern of the previous part, but it’s very stark, with no intermediary notes,” Koller says. “It’s split up with such a heavy kick that it sounds a bit like a tempo shift. Then it drops a 16th note at the end, so the downbeat of the next blast beat almost sounds like a pickup note.” Here’s the basic rhythm Koller plays during this break.
At 1:22, Koller drives a chorus with brash crashes, sparse snare accents, and persistent quarter notes on the bass drum before the band modulates to a new tempo based on the previous section’s quarter-note-triplet subdivision. For Koller, sometimes tempo shifts such as these go by feel, and sometimes he works out the math. “I’m generally into the feel approach when it comes to parts like this,” he says. “If it feels right, I’m generally not going to worry about math and modulation. I choose to go by feel first and foremost. Then if something seems weird and needs to be charted out or organized, I’ll take care of that after the fact.” Check out the rhythmic shift, which happens around the 1:40 mark. Set to a metronome, both sections maintain a pulse of 155 bpm.
“Nowhere to Be Found”
On the record’s third cut, Koller enters at the 0:05 mark with this choppy groove. “We were trying to make something playable but thoroughly broken sounding,” Ben says. “The main groove is completely linear. And there are two auxiliary hi-hat overdubs that throw things off a bit more over the course of the verses.
After this track’s guitar intro, Koller embellishes a massive blast beat around the following rhythm. Check out how the band extends and shortens the 8th-note phrase at the end of this section before resolving into a chorus at 0:30.
Koller plays a jagged 5/4 pattern against the band’s more driving parts during the opening of this tune. For the drummer, it’s a standout track. “This is my favorite song on the record,” he says. “I love the drum tones we have on this song, and the beat they wrote for it is really interesting. I love the contrast between the off-time, angular beat and the melodic vocals and instrumentation. To me it sounds like the Flaming Lips, Mogwai, Dillinger Escape Plan, and Converge wrestling in a Vitamix. We were also trying to make an asymmetrical meter sound more symmetrical. They wanted to have a song that was in five, but that the listener could nod their head to and have no idea that it wasn’t in four or three.” Here’s the opening pattern.
Ben Koller plays Tama drums, Zildjian cymbals, and Vic Firth sticks.