Protest the Hero -- Fortress
Trends in heavy music come in waves and Whitby, Ontario math-metal prodigies Protest the Hero (along with the constantly-trendsetting Atlanta sludge-progsters Mastodon) seem to be leading a new one: eccentric hipster frontman Rody Walker uses a melodic croon for the majority of the band’s new record, Fortress (Underground Operations).
While the stringed triple threat of guitarists Tim Millar and Luke Hoskin and bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi run the Dillinger Escape Plan-Between the Buried and Me gamut a thousand times better than any of the imitators, it is Walker’s urgent warble that elevates Protest the Hero to the upper echelon of progressive metal. His voice sounds like the hell-spawned child of Strapping Young Lad mastermind and fellow Canucklehead Devin Townsend’s snarl and the honey-throated weirdness of the Mars Volta frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala. While other bands seem to fear melodically singing, Walker embraces it and clearly has the necessary range and cojones for the job.
Then there are the songs: ten thinly sliced pieces of tech-metal greatness, never overstaying their welcome yet never becoming contrived. From the vicious and practically even structured opener “Bloodmeat” to the emotional high water mark of one-two punch closing opus “Goddess Bound” and “Goddess Gagged”, Protest the Hero grab you by the throat and refuse to let go, save for the occasional melodic piano bit or introspective soliloquy.
Earlier this year in these very pages I decried The Mars Volta’s new epic, The Bedlam in Goliath, as a prog-for-the-sake-of-prog exercise in self-indulgence (or something to that effect), and I’m sure my love for this album will get me called a hypocrite by those in the know. My only answer is that the Mars Volta wrote an eighty-minute album with the same ethic as Protest the Hero’s forty-minute record. Well, that and the fact that the Mars Volta descended even deeper into their nonsensical, ego-stroking lyrical ramblings, whereas Rody Walker turned in one of the finest lyrical performances of the millennium with his scrawled verses on Fortress, but that’s another rant for another time.
Simply put, if you consider yourself a fan of technical metal in the vein of the Dillinger Escape Plan, Between the Buried and Me, and Cephalic Carnage, a fan of old-school tech-death such as Death, Atheist, and Cynic, or simply someone with an open mind who wants to hear one of the most interesting and best heavy records of the year, you would be doing yourself a favor to give Fortress a spin. It won’t be your last.