Protest the Hero
02. Drum-Head Trial
03. Tilting Against Windmills
04. Without Prejudice
05. Yellow Teeth
06. Plato’s Tripartite
07. A Life Embossed
10. Animal Bones
[Razor & Tie]
With each passing album, bands the world over are met with complaints from fans that their earlier work was their best. For a while, it seemed as though Protest the Hero were going to fall victim to this perceived degradation of quality. Kezia (2005) and Fortress (2008) are regarded as classics by many, so when the lyrical pen was traded from bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi to frontman Rody Walker for Scurrilous (2011), many took notice. Gone were the philosophical concepts and stories involving sexism, religion, and political opposition, and the focus was instead turned to tongue in cheek social and personal commentary. Without grand lyrical concepts to inspire an epic soundtrack, Scurrilous was without the emotional hooks and powerful orchestration that made Protest the Hero such an intense listen.
All the elements were seemingly there; Scurrilous had the technical melodic showmanship the band had become known for, and Rody’s vocal work was as impressive as ever, but there was a spark missing within the group, and it reflected across the album. Even at their worst though, Protest the Hero were never bad. In fact, in its own right, Scurrilous was a great album; the bar was just set too high for the band to reach. As unfair as it is, ask any Protest fan to rank their albums. Universally, Scurrilous will sink to the bottom.
Typically, when a trend like this starts to form, diminishing returns are expected. This didn’t affect Protest the Hero’s rabid and dedicated fanbase at all; without a label to front the cost of a new record, Protest the Hero took to IndieGoGo and smashed their $100,000 goal three-fold. Obviously, the group will never make another Kezia or Fortress, but over eight thousand fans dedicated their money to make sure another album happened without even hearing a single note of new music. It’s one thing to deliver an album when indebted to a record label, but an entirely different sense of pressure when being held directly accountable to the fans that allowed the album to happen in the first place.
Thankfully, with Protest the Hero’s fourth album Volition, the money went to the right place and was put to good use. Upon first listen, Volition comes across as having the passion of Kezia, the musicianship of Fortress, and the thematic flow and structure (or lack thereof) of Scurrilous, making Volition a working summation of Protest the Hero’s career so far. The hooks on Volition come in far greater numbers than its predecessor — the first two tracks ‘Clarity’ and ‘Drumhead Trial’ in particular do an outstanding job of setting the bar high early on — and with them a newly spurred sense of confidence. This isn’t a band going through the motions or even attempting to grasp at early work in lip-service to fans.
Assuming Arif Mirabdolbaghi was the spark the first two albums in terms of songwriting, the band manage to do quite well now with his waning input. He isn’t credited as a songwriter for any of the album’s tracks, and the most impressive bassline on the album — the slapped funk-inspired bridge in ‘Without Prejudice’ — wasn’t even recorded by Arif. Rody’s lyrics, while at times skirting earnesty, manage to hit that sweet spot of personal struggle that made Kezia so engaging. On one hand, ‘Underbite‘ is a humorous yet scathing satire on the “rockstar” mentality, but ‘A Life Embossed’ laments the legislation against the ownership of pitbulls. Trying not to tear up when Rody sings, “and if a pitbull is a weapon, you’ll have to pry them from my cold dead hands,” in the song’s climax is a struggle.
This isn’t all to say that Scurrilous didn’t have heart — Volition just has more of it. While it could be argued that Volition still isn’t quite on the same level as Kezia or Fortress, it certainly puts the band back on the right track towards the formula that got them placed so highly upon the prog metal pedestal; technical virtuosity matched with a keen sense of melody and a deeply satisfying emotional intensity. Despite all the comparisons made throughout this review, stands on its own two legs as one of the most finely crafted albums to see the light of day in 2013.
Protest the Hero – Volition gets…