Considering the prog metal trajectory they’ve been on for just shy of a decade now, it’s easy to forget that Canadian stalwarts Protest the Hero started out their career as a punk band. Of course, the punk roots are still intermittently noticeable throughout their post-Kezia discography—take the verses in “Spoils”, for instance—but for the most part, it’s plainly apparent that the band have comfortably adapted to a more technical, progressive sound over the years. In light of this, it’s actually somewhat surprising in retrospect that it took until 2017 for a more punk-oriented side project to arise from the band, but we’re now presented with Mystery Weekend, a three-piece featuring vocalist Rody Walker and drummer Mike Ieradi from Protest alongside guitarist/bassist Dan Hay.
Debut release Surprise (apt, huh?) is many things, but it’s first and foremost just a whole lot of fun. Walker shines in particular; his timbre and lyricism working perfectly with the punk rock sound Mystery Weekend shoot for, to the point where he almost seems more comfortable in this environment than he has with Protest’s progressive metal in a little while. The mix is gorgeous and full, with the instrumentation clear as day throughout, while Ieradi and Hay hold down their respective duties with aplomb.
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The album starts on a particularly strong note, with the driving chorus in opening track “Theodore” being an immediate highlight. The remainder is then relatively consistent in tone, perhaps flagging a little near the middle, before “Barfly”—a short-but-sweet banger which might as well be an Every Time I Die cut—rips the album back to life. Despite that slight dip in the middle, there is a freshness that permeates all of Surprise, and it’s plainly obvious that the trio massively enjoyed themselves during the making of the album. Walker himself spells it out on “Mission Statement”: “Just trying to carve out a place / Where I belong / Just want to have some drinks, and write a couple songs”
Bottom line: Surprise is lots of fun. Do you like fun? Of course you do. But it also manages to be more than just a silly nine-track romp, with some inventive songwriting and great hooks to be found in between. Not that we expected any less of Walker and co., but perhaps therein lies part of the surprise?