With the release of 2012's TRST and 2014's Joyland, TR/ST's Robert Alfons quickly became one of the leading artists within the dark electronic pop scene of the 2010s. This swift ascent took a toll on Alfons, who needed some time to process the attention and avoid burnout. Fortunately, the years he spent reflecting and refining his creative process paid off: The Destroyer, Vol. 1 is a near-perfect balance of Joyland's vibrancy and the churning gloom of TRST (not coincidentally, to make the album Alfons reunited with former bandmate Maya Postepski, who performed on TRST and serves as a co-writer and co-producer here). Like TR/ST's music as a whole, The Destroyer, Vol. 1 is both ambitious and intimate, and the care Alfons took in making and introducing the album to the world via a slow trickle of singles also extends to its craft. These songs aren't as freewheeling as Joyland, an album whose wandering was a major part of its artistic breakthrough. Instead, and in the best possible way, The Destroyer, Vol. 1 is a more calculated work. Every element feels powerful and purposeful, whether it's the synth hits that puncture "Colossal"'s pulsing menace like divine rays, or the feral screams and gut-punching drums that make "Poorly Coward" a grimly kinetic portrait of despair. Alfons' lyrics are just as potent as his music, reaffirming his almost uncanny gift for writing massive songs that still feel specific enough to be meaningful. When he sings of "life and all its lows" to one of the album's catchiest melodies on "Grouch," it's one of many examples of how the interplay of light and darkness in TR/ST's music remains both fascinating and relatable. Though the moods Alfons creates are sometimes hard to describe, they're easily recognized: "Gone" teeters between heartbroken and uplifting as he grapples with shame, loss, and redemption, while "Bicep"'s beats are nearly as huge as its existential crisis. Even if The Destroyer, Vol. 1's emotional peaks and valleys aren't quite as pronounced as they were on TR/ST's previous album, the range of its songs -- and how organically they fit together -- is still striking. As The Destroyer, Vol. 1 winds down, Alfons finds different ways of expressing the vulnerability he introduced on Joyland. "Control Me" is deceptively serene, with gliding synths that nearly disguise its downhearted lyrics. "Wake With" is its flip side, using slow-motion melancholy to mask the tiny glimmer of hope and love that closes the album. Moments like these are a brilliant distillation of what makes TR/ST so special, and though The Destroyer, Vol. 1 is only the first part of a larger work, song for song it's Alfons' most accomplished work yet.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares