This review required an outsider and thus, this writer presents himself as worthy sacrifice. It required an outsider because of the way this album was released; Protest the Hero, amidst much talk of “revolution” and “completely new” models of release, relied on a fan-fueled subscription model to release their Pacific Myth. Whether or not this model is actually revolutionary, it was a success: many fans signed up to receive a track each month and, overall, everyone was pleased by the perks offered to backers. That is, however, until the Kezia remaster and Volition instrumental versions were suddenly released to everyone, backer or not. Regardless, Pacific Myth itself was finally released to everyone on November 18th, enabling us to finally review it.
Some us backed the album originally; you can tell from the few times we mentioned the album on the blog. However, this writer is a Protest the Hero outsider. For years their music had gone by him and left him unimpressed, all except the masterful Kezia. In recent months, however, Fortress also managed to crack his anti-PtH sphere and drawn him in closer to fandom (and perhaps a few t-shirts). What does such an ear then, not fully recruited to the Protest the Hero cause, hear when it listens to Pacific Myth? The answer is complicated as it must reconcile the disparate facts of the quality of the album released to the backers and the quality of the album eventually released, more specifically its mix and production.
Denying the power of the writing, composition and aesthetic on Pacific Myth would be hard. It contains an energy and purpose mostly devoid from their works since Fortress, reminding us of the power their own little sub-genre contains. On tracks like “Tidal” or “Harbinger” for example, the vocals are as energetic and dynamic as ever, regaining some of the lost luster of past performances. At parts however, this excellent performance falls back into lackluster passages. On the opening parts of “Ragged Tooth” for example or on the complex passages of “Cold Water”, they lose some of the punch which make up so much of what Protest the Hero are all about. In contrast, the guitars and bass maintain an impressive presence, complexity and verve throughout the entire album and especially shine on the groovy opening of “Cataract”, one of the best Protest the Hero tracks ever.
Which brings us to the album’s eventual mix and production. The weak points of the album are infinitely exacerbated by the down right baffling choices made on this iteration of the album. On the backer version of the tracks, which this writer got the chance to hear courtesy of the backing blog members, the mix is firm and solid, shinning just the right amount of light on the obviously important vocals. However, the released version suffers from excessive reverb on many parts of the album, buried backing vocals to the degree that they become barely audible (on the opening track, for example) and an otherwise lackluster delivery of great moments on the album. The bass also alternates between booming overpower and frail weakness, leaving it an uncertain place in the mix.
What made Protest the Hero change the mix so much between backer release and public release? Malice is hard to imagine since there seems to be little motivation. More probable is a simple mistake or a different artistic vision (which they’d defend, probably, were they to read this review). In any case, the choices made for the public release deny Pacific Myth much of its power, power which relies on the cohesiveness it returned Protest the Hero, perhaps the lacking trait missing from their several, previous releases. Below these choices however, lies an accomplished and impressive return to force. If you were a backer, good on you and enjoy what is probably the best Protest the Hero album in recent years. If you were not, try and delve beneath the sub-par production job to find a beloved band returned to some of its past glory.
Pacific Myth was self released on November 18th. You can purchase it from the band’s Bandcamp above!