About five years ago, I was about as metal as it gets for a fifteen-year old: I listened to nothing but Trivium and other metalcore and music “couldn’t be loud enough for me”. I was scavenging the net for new bands (like I would every two days), until out of nowhere Protest the Hero came up on some random forum. Pretty much everybody was stoked for their new album Fortress that would be coming out soon, so I listened to some of their material on youtube and I was hooked immediately; as if the band themselves grabbed me by the arm and dragged me right in with their technical progmetalcore. Needless to say, I became pretty stoked for Fortress and got it as soon as I could. For the next two months, nothing got played but Fortress. Nothing else. It was an amazing album, and to this day I play it almost monthly. It’s a classic for me, as it is for a lot of others my age.
And then came Scurrilous. Their third album, which strayed away from Fortress a bit, but not necessarily in a bad way. It was a more melodic album where the vocals were more prominently featured but where the technicality in the musicianship didn’t take a backseat per se. It was more balanced and catchy than Fortress was and after some considering, I decided I liked Scurrilous better than Fortress. It had a better production, the songs got stuck in your head a lot easier and most of all, the vocals were absolutely amazing. They blew me away and everyone else I told about Protest the Hero.
Now, two years later, it’s time for yet another Protest the Hero release called Volition. Back in September they released their first single and opener on the album Clarity, a slamming track that was reminiscent of C’est la Vie from Scurrilous. It showed an even more melodic Protest, that somehow got faster and heavier without abandoning their strength in writing memorable leads and stunning vocal melodies. I got stoked for the new album just like I had gotten stoked for Fortress. The fifteen-year old in me was back and drooling for another nice big glass of Protest to quench my thirst.
And boy, is my thirst quenched. Not only does Protest deliver a collection of songs that are hard as nails, the album features incomprehensible guitar leads, slapping bass solos, unforgettable vocal lines and pounding drums. Speaking of drums, this album marks the departure of long-time drummer Moe Carlson, who decided to go back to school. Filling in for him to slap some skins is none other than Chris Adler, famous for drumming in Lamb of God. At first, I was a bit skeptical on this stand-in. I knew Adler for his tight double basses in Lamb of God, and not so much for the technicality that Protest usually displayed. Would this mark a departure from the full-on confronting drums that screamed Protest in every way and would they instead go for a more laid-back style where drums wouldn’t have to be so prominent?
No. Definitely a big no. This album has more memorable drum parts than any other Protest album in the past. I was absolutely blown away by Adler’s performance. He really showed a side of his drumming that he had never before shown in Lamb of God, without echoing Carlson in any way. Especially in songs like Drumhead Trial and Yellow Teeth he shows a versatility that I would not have dared to expect. From intense double-bass sections that we know oh so well from Lamb of God to proggy tempo and measure changes.
Now for the guitars. Protest has always been known for their stunning guitar work, stunting with interesting leads while still supporting their own with astounding rhythm guitar work. The guitars have always been high in the mix and it’s no different this time around. The guitars are omnipresent but never get overbearing. You could say this album is a bit less guitar-driven than for instance Fortress or Scurrilous were. Both albums were definitely written from a guitarists perspective and it showed. Volition seems to be written more from a vocalists standpoint than anything else, where the music supports the vocals and not the other way around. With a vocal powerhouse like Rody Walker in the midst of your lineup, that is definitely a decision worth applauding.
Back to the guitars. So even though the album is not as guitar-prominent as Fortress was, there’s still a lot to discover and be amazed at when it comes to leads. In Without Prejudice, it seems as if lead guitarist Luke Hoskin never leaves the upper range of his guitar with towering leads throughout the entirety of the song. Plato’s Tripartite displays that it’s not all about speed however, with a gripping lead over the main riff that shows how musical their instrumentation can really get. Melodic, fast but never pompous or imperious.
The bass section showcases some intricacies as well. Without Prejudice seems to end prematurely, until a mindblowing slap-bass passage gets dropped that is later backed with the guitars and some floaty vocals. It’s where the song gets yet another defining moment, even after so many have already passed. Unfortunately, the part wasn’t written by long-time bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi, but by Cameron McLella, producer on the album. But like with John Myung in Dream Theater, Arif follows a lot of the guitar lines on bass, which for Protest-norms are no easy feat by any stretch of the imagination. It goes without saying that his skill is beyond monstrous and his delivery on this album is constantly solid.
That leaves me to talk about the vocals, which are the icing on the delicious cake. I’ve always been a big fan of Rody Walker’s raw, soaring voice and his delivery on this album is even more spectacular than ever before. He reaches highs on Animal Bones (which holds a Sequoia Throne reference for the zealous listener) that are beyond belief, yet manages to reach growls and grunts on Drumhead Trial that are ground-shattering. Speaking of Drumhead Trial, which is among my favorites on the album, his passionate execution is nothing but fascinating from the above-mentioned shattering lows to the ruthless screams and charming cleans. Other remarkable performances on the album are Plato’s Tripartite, where he puts soul in the choruses and closer Skies, where he shows that he has a softer side as well. Lyrically, the album displays some strong writing again, like we’re used to from Protest. Especially priorly-mentioned Skies handles a theme that is frequent in metal (death) but does it in a way that I have never heard before, namely through a plane crash. Here’s an excerpt of the lyrics to show you how deep this goes.
Embrace the fall, there is no end / No ambiguous hypothesis to comprehend
Just a promise and a final message / The descent is all there truly ever is
On an album so heavy and fast, one of the aspects that make it outstanding is that there’s still room for breathers. There’s by no means ballads on the album, but a couple of songs (Plato’s Tripartite, Mist, Skies) have calm intermezzos that allow for the listener to rest his ears for a moment before the sonic destruction resumes. Because this album is fast. Really fast. Probably faster than most of Protest’s previous works. The album is faster, heavier yet more melodic and defining in nature. This will be the album people will give to their friends if they need a new band. This will be the album that fans will anticipate to be played live. This will be the album that shoots Protest into stardom. And if all of that doesn’t happen, at least it will for me. This album is stunning to me and the best work they have done to date.
Here’s the iTunes link for the album if you feel the need to buy it! By all means, support the artist if you like what you read/hear!
Written by: Job van Dongen – October 28th, 2013