Protest The Hero


Written by: AP on 01/01/2014 21:20:07

My fascination with Protest the Hero has its origins in the fact that when this Canadian progressive metal band wrote their first album "Kezia" eight years ago, they purposefully wrote songs they absolutely could not play; this in order that they would become better musicians. Once that challenge had been overcome, they had on their hands one of the most surprising, unique and dazzling debuts in my memory, and, to celebrate it, the quirky bunch that they are, they had the audacity to shoot a video for "Blindfolds Aside" in which they played through most of it blindfolded. Since then the group's output has only grown more scintillating, with instrumental wizardry forming the very core of their music, rather than manifesting itself through a handful of moments that defy the imagination. This fourth album, "Volition", is no exception.

The most apt way to condense "Volition" into a single sentence is to refer to it as songs written for nerds, by nerds. There's a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek attitude to its elusive lyrics (courtesy of the charismatic and ever-so poetic Rody Walker) and perpetually uplifting tone, giving it all the feel of some outrageous graphic novel full of space battles, scantily clad heroines and pitch black humour. In essence, "Volition" is what Between the Buried and Me would sound like on nitrous oxide. But despite the unhinged nature of the record, Protest the Hero have no desire to be dismissed as a comedy act - and indeed, to classify them as such would be a gross misestimation of their ethos. Walker's singing, from a technical standpoint, is sublime; a kind of pop-punk meets power metal concoction from which the screaming of past efforts has all but been subtracted, and he sings with such overpowering bravado it quickly becomes intoxicating. Protest the Hero are fortunate to have so talented and charming a vocalist, as it is more often than not his contributions which paint the band's off kilter song structures memorable. There are of course slightly more tempered parts amidst the wildly noodling leads and syncopated rhythms as well, such as the roaring foundation riff and relatively standard timing of "Without Prejudice", or the magnificent chorus and soothing outro of "Plato's Tripartite"; but by and large, if perplexing axemanship or mathematic drumming is not up your alley, "Volition" will likely be a difficult album to appreciate.

There's a myriad of guest performances on "Volition", too, with virtually every track featuring a cameo from more or less known musicians. Among these, most people will of course recognise the name Chris Adler, the iconic drummer and cowbell enthusiast from Lamb of God, who stepped in to deliver all of the drumming on the record when Moe Carlson exited Protest the Hero just prior to its recording. Rest assured, cowbells are a rare occurrence (if they're there at all) though, and given the complexity of this band's music, they could hardly have chosen a man more capable of providing it with a deserving rhythmic foundation than Adler, whose name is a frequent inclusion on various World's Best Drummer lists. Other than Adler's constant presence, the most recognisable guests are inevitably Jadea Kelly and Kayla Howran on "Clarity", "Drumhead Trial", "Without Prejudice", "Yellow Teeth" and the already mentioned "Plato's Tripartite". But the exquisite songsmiths that they are, Protest the Hero have ensured their fairer vocals are woven into the songs in an involved, rather than contributing fashion. The finesse with which the guests fall in and out of the songs is on par with the collaborative techniques employed on Converge's "Axe to Fall" record, to the extent that omitting the fact that they are there from the review could very well obscure it, even from alert listeners. Well, except for the lassies of course, given the distinct lack of testosterone in their voices.

My intuition tells me that those of our readers who have reached this point will be familiar with Protest the Hero's past repertoire, so naturally the question that begs resolution is how "Volition" compares to "Scurrilous" (2011), "Fortress" (2008) and "Kezia" (2005). The obvious, and perhaps somewhat anticlimatic answer is that much of it resembles the two most recent outings. It's as dizzying, mesmerising and brilliant, though given the ever-increasing abilities of guitarists Tim Millar and Luke Hoskin, and bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi, the level of musicianship is a notch greater. What really distinguish it from its predecessors are the aforementioned cameos, each adding his/her own nuances to the songs, whether it be the female singing, additional male singing, or Raha Javanfar's violin and fiddle bits. The nerd within me loves this stuff, but the style remains, I would think, an acquired taste, as the manic ADHD-core professed by Protest the Hero can be quite difficult to digest. There are no slow songs on "Volition" (only a select few slower passages within a number of the songs), and as such one must be prepared for a floored pedal and melodies delivered with all the semblance of multiple strobe lights from beginning to end.


Download: Clarity, Without Prejudice, Yellow Teeth, Plato's Tripartite, Skies
For the fans of: Between the Buried and Me, Periphery, The Safety Fire
Listen: Facebook

Release date 28.10.2013
Razor & Tie

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