Protomartyr – “Ultimate Success Today”

By: Ayden Schultz

I was not originally planning on writing a review for this album. After listening to the record three times the day before its official release (thanks UPS for giving me my pre-order early), I found myself unable to dissect a single song to an extent that I felt confident enough to say I understood it through and through, and said to myself “nah.” I thought there was no way I was going to be able to do this album justice.

Ultimate Success Today | Protomartyr

Joe Casey’s apocalyptic lyricism is wondrously dense and complex, and the album’s instrumentation is diverse and beautifully bleak. In the days following my first listen however, I read an interview with Casey that, ironically, disheartened me far more than any of his boundlessly pessimistic poetry. Casey explains that while this album features prominent themes of death, especially in the last song in which Casey croons “So it’s time to say goodbye. I was never too keen on last words. I hope I said something good” it is not meant to signal an end to the band’s career. He says that it represents more of an end of an era for the band. This is all well and good of course, however, due to the extenuating circumstances the music industry has been facing recently, Casey states that this could very well be their last album. After reading this, I felt a sense of dread pile on to an already towering mound of anxiety and listlessness caused by recent events. “Why this is outrageous!” I thought “You can’t possibly take away my favorite band in recent years away from me NOW.” This is the reason I am writing this review. Not because I think I am possibly worthy of portraying this album to you in the proper light, but in hope that someone will read this and think “huh, this sounds interesting,” then proceed to listen to the album, and like it so much that they then proceed to buy the band’s entire discography, or something like that. My goal is to raise support for this band, who’s front man looks like your alcoholic uncle, so that they can continue to make more music for me to listen to. Naïve? Perhaps. But I also do not have anything better to do. So, with righteous, if not somewhat selfish intentions, let us begin.

The album opens with “A Day Without End.” A song, which in a very efficient manner, introduces many of the ideas to be expected throughout the rest of the album, something like an overture. The song contains an increasingly strenuous build, improv woodwind segments, lonely, brutish guitars soaked in reverb and lyrical themes of suffering and eternity. Following this rather short tune comes my favorite song on the album, “Processed By The Boys.” This song is a five-minute revelation, filled to the brim with apocalyptic imagery. Casey shouts like he is giving a passionate sermon, dismissing all your fantasies of the world being destroyed by some grand finale like “a foreign disease washed upon the beach” or a “riot in the streets.” Funny enough, this song was written and released as a single far before Covid-19 really took hold and even farther before the events that sparked the recent BLM protests. Casey believes that instead we will all simply be “Processed by the Boys,” a line which he delivers in such a way that is both humorous and harrowing. If you listen to only one song on the album, make it this one, especially since it is accompanied by such a fantastic and strange music video. 

Following that song is “I Am You Now,” aka the song where Casey yells at you and hurts your feelings. The instrumentation on this song is anxious and nasty, featuring beefy guitars and strung out woodwinds. I interpret this song as being about the new cynical practice of so-called “woke marketing,” but that’s just my take. Next is “The Aphorist”, a wholesome song Casey wrote with his brother about narcissism and smashing copying machines. Far less nasty than the previous track, this song is more thoughtful and somber. “June 21st” is one of the most melancholic songs on the record. Melancholic in that it portrays an unexplainable but ever-present sadness. Nandi Rose’s additional vocals help immensely with the bittersweet vibe. While this is technically a summer song, it’s one that is oppressive and aching, so I would not recommend pulling this one out at whatever beach party you may or may not have in these times. 

“Michigan Hammers” is this album’s number one banger. Given the themes of police brutality present in the lyrics, it makes sense that the instrumentation would be so violent. The rhythm section drives forward with incredible force, dragging you with it. Casey’s delivery on the choruses is sneering, and you can’t help but grit your teeth while listening. The album does not lose any momentum grinding into the next track “Tranquilizer.” With a fuzzy bassline and flailing woodwinds, this song pushes and disorients you while Casey slurs and shouts “Tranquilizer!” This track is heavy. “Modern Business Hymns” is a song about a future where all the rich go to Mars, while the rest of us perish on a dying earth. If you are a King Gizzard fan, you might find this concept familiar to the one presented on “Red Mars for the Rich” off their 2019 album Infest the Rat’s Nest. Great minds think alike I guess. Following this is where things start to get extra miserable. On “Bridge & Crown” Casey sings of a hospital for the old and dying, where patients know they have a very finite amount of time left and they must cope with impending nothingness. Finally, the album ends on the most depressing song of all, “Worm in Heaven.” On this track, Casey reflects on what he has accomplished with his writing over the past ten years of Protomartyr’s existence. The instrumentation is beautiful and ballad-like, a fitting end to this incredibly dense record and hopefully not an end to this band’s career.

Now if you found my review interesting, I hope you listen to this album. And in general, artists need to be supported now more than ever, not saying you have to buy a bunch of merch shit for your favorite artists, but y’know. In any case, “I hope I said something good.”