Click around The Armed’s Bandcamp page and you’ll notice a theme. The first four tags of every release are as follows: “punk,” “destroy,” “detroit” and “hardcore.” You can’t get more self-aware than that. Indeed, the Midwest collective plays a strain of hardcore—think Trap Them, All Pigs Must Die and Nails, for starters—that wants nothing more than to break shit.

With a semi-anonymous line-up that prefers to swap out drummers, the band’s secretive nature about who played what on which release adds a certain mystique and makes for an interesting narrative, but that’s about all it does. What is certain about their new album, Only Love, is that they’ve chosen hardcore veteran Ben Koller (of Converge, Mutoid Man and Killer Be Killed fame) to play drums. It’s a respectable choice, to be sure.

And given the content of Only Love, it’s also an odd one. Whereas previous releases tended to be variations on a theme—psychotica music designed to overpower—they’ve taken a sharp left turn here. For starters, the album is not hardcore-based, which is to say the songwriting doesn’t use guitars and drums as its primary weapons. Instead, the band has taken their aggression, throat-shredding vocals and all, and filtered it through electronic arrangements. Elements of industrial (as on “Apperception” and “Heavily Lined”) and dance music (like “Middle Homes” and “Nowhere to be Found”) are scattered throughout. And when guitars do act as more than accents, the feeling is closer to post-punk and indie rock than hardcore. The Armed have played around with lighter sounds before (“Dead Actress” and “Dead Artist” from Untitled and the shockingly pretty “Second Hand” from the Common Enemies EP come to mind), but they’ve never done it for an entire record before.

The end result is not hardcore in the purest sense of the term. And yet, despite not relying on guitars that stab and threaten and a jackhammering rhythm section that can split concrete, the songs on Only Love are every bit as confrontational and disorienting as anything the genre can offer. “Nowhere to be Found” sounds like a haunted arcade machine, “Parody Warning” resembles a dial-up modem going haywire and “Ultraglass” is an indie rock song that’s trying to find its footing after being stuck inside of a washing machine on a heavy load cycle.

And then there’s album closer “On Jupiter.” It’s the longest song here and the album’s most adversarial. Over its seven-and-a-half minutes, it morphs and contorts itself into various grotesque shapes using pulsing strobe light electronics as its main tool. “On Jupiter” opens with an inviting vocal melody, but by the end it’s sucked you into an ugly, discordant mess. This is music that you’d come across at a rave in a long-abandoned warehouse where most of the windows are busted out and there’s a better-than-even chance of a stabbing.

So can you call Only Love a (hardcore) punk record? In the literal sense, no. There aren’t three chord sprints, simple song structures or anything of the sort. The aim isn’t simply to conquer through sheer blunt force. It is, however, in the metaphorical sense. After all, what’s more punk than smashing your own sound and gluing the pieces back together to discover something new?

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