Music contains few mysteries these days. Much less ones that leave more questions than answers as they reveal themselves.
Ghillie suits, cult accusations, hired actors, and flights of fancy, they’ve all been a part of the Armed‘s journey — until now. While their recent decision to be front-facing about the who’s and what’s regarding the curious Detroit collective, for those long ingrained in the madness of it all, it’s slightly harder to embrace the truth.
Read more: 5 most underrated post-hardcore albums of the 2000s
For album five, Perfect Saviorsthe band are toting honesty. In various interviews, vocalist Tony Wolski (who has gone by various pseudonyms including Adam Vallely and Clark Huge) has been open to his place in the band and how the focus on their shenanigans was beginning to feel trite. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to put the focus squarely on the music — a core component of the Armed that has delivered with every shapeshifting release. Still, that doesn’t mean there’s not a whole lot to unpack. Here, we’ve compiled some information to give you a headstart — though, as they’ve openly admitted themselves, sometimes the truth is more complex and stranger than fiction.
Who are the Armed?
A seemingly easier question to answer in 2023 than any of the last decade they’ve been active. The concept behind the Armed is simple — a rotating cast of creatives producing melodic and punishing hardcore. From Converge’s Kurt Ballou to Queens of the Stone Age’s Troy Van Leeuwen, the various lists littered about the internet are an endless scroll of musicians with various footings in rock and hardcore. They now travel the lands as a six-piece — Wolski, along with Cara Drolshagen, Patrick Shiroishi, Kenny Szymanski, Randall Lee, and Urian Hackney.
But that’s just the framework. Constructed around this is a lore that twists and turns with every music video, or passing interview answer. The reality they once would have had you believe is that they are a group orchestrated by key protagonist — and occasional antagonist — Dan Greene. Within their music videos, the bespectacled, cult-leader-looking figure cuts a menacing aura. But this is where things get intricate. Enter The Armed Multiverse.
Their beginnings stem from the hardcore band Slicer Dicer. After their dissolution, the members took up the mantle under this new pseudonym. A natural evolution into the Armed’s direction took hold. In 2009, the group’s debut album, These Are Lightscame firing on all cylinders. Mixed by Ballou — an integral player, and purported key orchestrator to the Armed — the years between 2009 and 2015 are where the Armed truly began to emerge.
It’s at this time the band toiled across a solid block of EPs: 2010’s Common Enemies — which features the prequl of recent single “Liar 2”, the far less-groove-laden but infectiously biting “Liar” — 2011’s Young & Beautifuland 2012’s Spreading Joy, with various outlets favorably comparing them to Dillinger Escape Plan, thanks to their incisive modern take on hardcore. Trying to discern just who was involved at this stage is easier said than done. While there exists an interview with the band from a limited release of Common Enemies — where Tony is indeed Tony — the fragments of information dotted about the internet rarely offer any glimpse behind the scenes.
Their 2015 Untitled album is the closest the Armed have remained to their hardcore beginnings. Most importantly, it’s where the Armed truly begin. Self-released on their own label, No Rest Until Ruin, the building blocks for the confusing, enthralling, and even cinematic vision of the Armed began their ascension.
Fast forward, and 2018’s Only Love moved to new sonic plains. Bringing synths into the mix, this bolstering of the Armed’s sound is matched by their expansion into the cinematic world. Every single began bringing to light a new character, from interpretive dancers to loners seeking salvation, the puzzle pieces began changing shape and have since refused to remain in place.
Who is Dan Greene?
Dan Greene exists. But he is not the figurative Dan Greene. In recent interviews, Wolski has confirmed that Greene is a person, but the symbolic avatar of the Armed’s exploits playing out on screen is not him. The real Dan Greene is allegedly on the cover of Untitledalong with cameos in sporadic videos (“Liar,” “Paradise Day,” “ALL FUTURES”) – the same person also bares a resemblance to a photograph posted for the Armed’s 2021 AMA.
The fictional character’s story is equally as beguiling. Purportedly played by photographer Trevor Naud, the video for Untitled‘s “Paradise Day,” the first entry into the Armed’s cinematic mindset introduces one Dan Greene as a frustrated office worker ignored by colleagues, eventually freezing at a karaoke session. Zoning out and unleashing hell upon the track, the fragments of his mind begin to fracture, setting the groundwork for his future escapades.
“Nowhere To Be Found” from Only Love finds chaos ensuing under the production eye of Greene, a reveal completed near the end of the seemingly innocuous video that soon devolves into madness and disorder. Throughout the cycle of their third album, the expansion went from world-building to reality-destroying, pushing boundaries with bizarre concepts that become harder to dissect the more you return.
Greene was even the subject of a religious tome released alongside 2021’s ULTRAPOPan idea cemented in the group’s 2022 live album ULTRAPOP: Live At The Masonic. A concert film that plays out like a Shyamalan entry into the musical world, it all fantastically removes you from reality and keeps you guessing while the band shift and shape between collaborators with ferocious intensity.
But for the most part, Greene beguiles as a stoic figure. Often painted in a normy light — an office worker with a stomach full of stress-ulcers — the Armed videos give him an outlet to dance, scream, or menacingly mug for the camera, often taunting the band (Live At The Masonic) or himself (“Sport of Measure”). The deification of the figure is key in the rabid fandom, with the faithful pinup references and potential meanings around the collective’s releases. It would seem that his place in the Armed’s story has both been overstated and understated over the years. He was the purported puppet master, songwriter, and vocalist — though having never graced a stage with his presence — but his true purpose is to be a conduit for whatever madness or direction they find, often to his detriment, including the death of his skateboarding buddy in the video for “FT. FRANK TURNER.”
Are they a cult?
In a word, no. While the pointed-Infinity symbol that adorns their releases wouldn’t feel out of place on a gritty Netflix documentary, the Armed have always been about community. It’s where they’ve fostered their fanbase, particularly in riotous house shows, and where the ideas they deliver often root themselves in. While the fanbase relishes in the cult aspect that’s often been encouraged by the band’s videos — particularly Live At The Masonic — it’s less cult and more of a religious experience for those on the inside. Their shows have come to be nothing short of Sunday Service for the faithful, with many wearing “My Name is Daniel Greene” name tags, or lore-branded merch as a Bat signal of sorts.
2021’s ULTRAPOP sought to expand upon this facet of their vision. Finding the band literally changing their physicality by bulking up and turning themselves into ripped purveyors of demonic white-noise pop, the rollout was treated like the founding of a new movement that the orchestrators unflinchingly believe in. The Discord server that came off the back of the world-building fourth album now plays host to bringing their fans together. Through memes, cataloging, and indispensable fact-finding, the Armed faithful spread the good word with the energy of an eager, erm, cult.
No good fan army would be anything without a signature, and in the case of the Armed’s faithful, you’ll often see a singular word imposing itself on any band-related post: refract. A catch-all that means nothing yet means everything. It signifies inclusion without exclusion. You can choose to refract or not to refract. But if you’re on board, it’ll mean more than any definition.
There’s no end to the Armed’s trolling and toying with both their fanbase and any passerby. While every article is quick to mention the usage of actors and stand-ins both onstage and in interviews, there’s no end to the collective’s online quirks. There’s even a video of Greene auditioning (pretty well, to be fair) for Stone Temple Pilots (with Wolski on guitar) before an abrupt gearshift into chaos.
For Only Love’s single “Role Models,” in collaboration with Adult Swim, they recruited one Tommy Wiseau (the guy from The Room) to appear in a ghillie suit and react accordingly to his first listen of the song. Which, if you’re familiar with his vibe, is an incredible addition to the Armed canon that feels as creepy as it does enlightening.
“FT. FRANK TURNER” is possibly their most publicized stunt to date. The 2019 single was announced to much confusion from all not involved, including Frank Turner. Even featuring a vocal line from Turner — from a session he confirmed he conducted with Ballou (cementing his place in the Armed canon), the artwork comes adorned with Frank Carter (Gallows (UK), Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes).
They also come toting reality-show familiarity. “Heavily Lined” sees Greene interrupt a packed bar in a seemingly unstaged move they replicated with “Liar 2”’s recent video featuring a beat-up looking Greene dancing on a street in broad daylight under the watchful eye of himself while the band intersperse glancing over like a hidden-camera show before all leaving waving goodbye to the viewer. The fourth wall is one they’ve always bent and broken, often with on-the-nose antics as the aforementioned or with broad audience-prodding maximalism (“AVERAGE DEATH”).
While the future for the Armed may be one of truth and honesty, the reality of them being a collective that feeds off of reaction means the goalposts can change at any time. Perfect Saviors is supposedly the closing of a trilogy of albums examining pop culture — an art collective mission if ever was one — so whatever’s coming could very well change face entirely. The only certainty is they will continue to refract.