Armor For Sleep: What To Do When You Are Dead


During 2015, we’re going to be looking back on some of the best albums that were released 10 years ago and discussing their legacy. Feel free to share your thoughts and memories in the replies. Enjoy!

Suicide. Regret. Death. Guilt. Grief. Confusion. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? In a year when many bands emerged with pseudo-emo anthems, Armor For Sleep managed to create one of 2005’s most captivating and thoughtful albums. What to Do When You Are Dead is like a suicide note captured on tape, delving deep into concepts of depression and fear without feeling disingenuous.

The New Jersey rock act solidified their reputation with their sophomore record. What to Do When You Are Dead combines technical brilliance and thematic brilliance, positioning the band for fame. The instrumentals themselves have a profound impact, but it’s Ben Jorgensen’s vocal work that is truly legendary. His hollow, agonized delivery pierces through every emotion – anger, sadness, defiance, and emptiness.

Jorgensen’s lyrics narrate the journey of a young man who takes his own life, traversing the afterlife and gradually coming to terms with his fate. Along the way, he reflects on relationships, purpose, and loss, portraying the resonant pain of depression rather than glorifying suicide or exalting emo culture.

Despite the heavy themes, the band’s delivery of each song possesses a painful beauty. Tracks like “Car Underwater” and “The Truth About Heaven” showcase crunchy guitars and soaring choruses. The screeching guitars on “Remember to Feel Real” battle Jorgensen’s angry defiance. There’s poignant irony in the opening lines of “So here’s the truth, you were right all along / They were never my friends and I was living a lie / But I won’t fall for it next time.”

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The technical execution and overall production of the record make it easier to digest than expected. What to Do When You Are Dead is undeniably a rock record, yet its quiet moments hit the hardest. The delicate guitars on “Walking at Night, Alone” give Jorgensen the chance to explode with sorrow as he repeats, “Don’t leave me alone!” during the chorus.

From start to finish, the album swings back and forth on an emotional pendulum, evoking a desire for the protagonist to find relief or release. On the epic closer, Jorgensen sings, “I saw pretty clear that when I left you all stayed the same / Now I think I believe that I was never alive in the first place,” repeatedly crying out, “Don’t believe that the weather is perfect the day that you die” as the album concludes.

Whether you perceive the work as an anti-suicidal statement or simply a story that grasps the reality of battling such thoughts, the poignancy is hard to ignore. What to Do When You Are Dead serves as a reminder of the internal war that many individuals face on a personal level.

With rapid growth and maturity from their debut, Armor for Sleep transitioned from an indie-emo afterthought to a highly sought-after act. They signed with Sire Records and released their major-label debut, Smile For Them, in 2007. Unfortunately, their fairytale-like success came to an abrupt halt.

The band’s breakthrough resulted in an uneven album that lacked the conviction and direction of their previous releases, leaving fans confused and new listeners uninterested. They released one final EP in 2008 before going their separate ways.

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Looking back, it’s difficult to imagine the band’s unique and dark approach appealing to a major label audience. What to Do When You Are Dead was never intended for rock radio, despite the music’s appeal. While the mid-2000s scene explosion saw some bands achieve crossover success, it left many more casualties in its wake. Armor For Sleep may be among the most painful and frustrating examples.

We can only speculate whether avoiding the major label circus would have allowed the band to stay together and pursue their unique brand of dream-like, thoughtful rock. Regardless, What to Do When You Are Dead teaches us that pain must be acknowledged, not suppressed. It serves as a fitting tribute to a band that departed far too soon.

By Kiel Hauck

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