Review Summary: When fear steps into the light…Ultimate Success Today
’s lyrical content might have taken even the band by surprise lately. Despite finishing work on it last year, the album can very well be a soundtrack to 2020 so far. It feels quite relevant as it discusses several unfortunate social and political events, as well as daily struggles we all face. Front man Joe Casey seems more fed up than ever, painting an often appalling yet appropriate portrait of society today. He extracts his stories mainly from urban America, however, you can pinpoint the universally applying moral decay behind them. Musically, this is arguably the most mature and settled Protomartyr LP. The first half focuses on mid-tempo grooves mostly, each instrument smoothly wrapping around the others. For example, first single, ‘Processed by the Boys’ shares an infectious, start/stop rhythm that punches its way through. The guitar washes during the coda gradually evoke a certain defeated vibe that is sprinkled all over the album. The Sci-Fi scenario Casey develops slightly masks the increasing itch highly influential people and/or institutions have to gain power and more directly control the masses these days.
Adding to the overall picture is the inevitable detachment and ominous anxiety displayed on the moody opener, ‘Day without End’. The jazzy saxophone, courtesy of Jemeel Moondoc, introduced here plays a solid role to the uneasy atmosphere. ‘Tranquilizer’ further explores its sounds, building considerable tension. While the guys switch from volatile bass lines to full power bursts, Joe toys with painkillers and the love-hate relationship people have with them. Inspired by a personal health scare episode, the man was happy to ease the pain, even though it meant numbing him down (plus, the damage they cause in the long run to the body and brain). Moreover, on ‘Modern Business Hymns’ the vocalist melds paranoia, greed & segregation into a cynical mix over contrasting, militant chord progressions. The often cryptic lyrics are carefully layered, so you can interpret them in multiple ways. Same goes for ‘Bridge & Crown’, as well as ‘Worm in Heaven’, which expand the band’s sonic palette, boasting subdued moments, especially the latter. Degradation followed by death are main topics, initially viewed as something fearful, trying to avoid it as much as possible. Nevertheless, the inevitable happens, but you can take it literally or figuratively. That’s part of the record's lyrical charm.
Other themes tackled on Ultimate Success Today
are the duality of human nature, being a victim & inflicting damage unto others as a person or part of the system. To accompany such bipolar subjects, Protomartyr have worked on dynamics, creating a wider array of sounds from sharp, noisy moments to cinematic, eerie segments. There is considerable depth, particularly lyrical, offering the listener a significant amount of brilliant content to dissect. It may not be the album some fans wanted, still, it is an important step forward in the band’s sonic journey and overall development.