Protest the Hero- Scurrilous
Record Label: Underground Operations
Release Date: March 22, 2011
Scurrilous (adj): vulgar, relating to verbal abuse.
Well, that’s definitely what you’d expect to find on Protest the Hero’s latest effort, and it’s exactly what you get as well.
I’ve learned over time that Protest the Hero aren’t any ordinary prog-metalcore band. There definitely not comparable to Mastodon, anyway. On hearing the Canadian outfit’s latest release in three years, this realisation was only heightened as I worked my way through each and every song, several times over. As always, there are the things you come to expect from PTH—guitarists Luke Hoskin and Tim Millar show their skill, shredding and tapping their way through every track, bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi does his awesome jazz improv and contributes manya decent song to the record, and drummer Moe Carlson proves that he knows about every time signature ever invented. But as I listened, over and over again, I couldn’t help but notice that something, a part of their usual “chunk” was missing. While the band still had that great work ethic in them, as well as ambitious musicianship across all ideas, something was not right. And that was Rody Walker’s vocals. Because his voice is so much better than on past releases, I didn’t notice in lead single “C’est la Vie”, but on hearing track 2, “Hair- Trigger”, it dawned on me.
WHERE THE FUCK HAVE THE SCREAMS GONE?
Yep—unfortunately, there are only about two songs with mentionable screaming parts, one of which you could almost say the screaming was in between that and clean vocals. Maybe this is some clichéd thing of “growing up”, or “maturing”, because there is an evident improvement on Rody’s clean vocals compared to that on Kezia and Fortress, of the past. And that’s why Scurrilous will be the album to separate the real from the fake fans—a lot of people will get over it fast when they realise that there’s no “Sequoia Throne” here. But then again, some people might like the change.
Anyhow, without any further whining about something which is probably trivial and I’m the only one treating it like a big deal, I’ll start delving beneath the surface of this at first confusing piece of art, because that’s where all the gems lie. As the album launches into the positively upbeat and hopeful “C’est la Vie”, there comes a twinge of anticipation for the listener that this record will be another typical Protest the Hero creation, because this song is simply dazzling, and definitely the best choice as opener, showcasing all of Protest’s skills, particularly in their song writing (not lyrically, but technically). It emphasises the production, which is the similar cram a song sandwich so full of meat that is packed to the brim with juice and killer. But maybe there’s too much meat to this song, as guitars seem to be layered to the point where absolutely everything is pushed to its limits and converging with everything else. When the song finished to let “Hair- Trigger” follow, lack of unclean vocals struck me, that I was enjoying this so far without even noticing the change. But eventually this disappointed me. Protest is obviously not too scared to disappointing a number of fans this time ‘round, maybe to open their doors to a wider audience. So instead, it’s best to just appreciate Scurrilous for what it is: a 45 minute period of sublime, mathematical metal that’s at least doing much better than a lot of other stuff coming out these days. And maybe (actually quite possibly), people will dump shit all over me when they read this, because as far as they’re concerned, this album’s all killer no filler, an extensive eargasm, and that’s all that matters.
Track 5, “Tapestry”, is easily, (and this is where most people will agree with me), the best bloody song off the whole record. It’s also a progressive masterpiece—4 and a half minutes of intense guitar sweeps and (completely fucked up) double kicking, with dare I say beautiful jazziness in the bass, particularly at the start of the song, and most of all…*drum roll*
Yep you guessed it: the first and only album wide appearance of definitive screams, high, and low. Not only that, but the band has actually written some charming lyrics here as well. The song seems to be about…well, it’s about drinking, in all honesty, but I love Rody’s bellow of, “Kev's hair just keeps falling out and Chris just keeps getting fatter, but from where I sit now, on this rickety stool, none of that shit really matters because this is our Versailles!”
The follow up song to “Tapestry”, however, is the dim-witted and “seen it already” soaked, “Dunsel”. It’s not that it’s a bad song by any means—it has energy, and has some almost-screams, and as always, the technical skill and ability, or even permission, to throw profanities at us from every corner of the earth. But this song is simply annoying, because it’s something that been heard from Protest before, maybe except for the strange yet haunting and innovative use of fades and synths at the start of the song.
Then, Rody repeats many times in “The Reign of Unending Terror” that “the truth is…I don’t have any morals at all…I left them at the men’s room at the truck stop”, and that just leaves us sapped of hope for any more meaningful lyrics from this band, but it also determines one now known thing: that any and every Protest the Hero song doesn’t need good lyrical content to outsmart and engross the listener—just observe the musical standard, because it’s higher than a lot of other things coming out these days. This song succeeds because we can clearly see that Protest have found the thing that made “Tapestry” sparkle in the dark, and exercised it to much avail; a welcomed continuation which leaks into the next amazing number, the tantalising, choir driven, and free-jazz influenced “Termites”.
Passing that is the starkly contrasting, dissonance of the almost dystopic “Tongue- Splitter”. Whilst it definitely plays with it timing, (just go check it out at 2:30), it’s also got the darkest vibes on the whole album, but that’s as special as it gets.
But as we come to the end of Scurrilous, one thing is apparent: that the last song is gonna be the best one after hearing what the rest of the album’s had to offer, and closer “Se Tapes” definitely takes trumps. Put simply, it’s magnificent, and the songwriting difference between Walker and Mirabdolbaghi is evident. This song stretches much out of the typical Protest the Hero guidelines, and into the post-hardcore genre with conviction, but most of all, with powerful melodies—there aren’t too many time “mishaps” here, (not that they are mishaps, but I call them that when making comparison between the norm and the ambition). Rody also emphatically proclaims each line with such majesty that his doesn’t sound unlike Jack Black (sorry!), or even Serj Tankian of System of a Down. The synthesizers and keyboards make a welcome comeback, and there’s even an interesting yet well balanced orchestral flourish, with Italian classical influence coming into the back of the texture wall, as the band sing together, as well as in pitch with their instrumental melodies, “Be careful what you’re looking at because it might be looking back”. And whilst the lyrics are slightly disturbing, even for Protest standards, you’re engaged, and enthralled the whole way through until the traditional fade out at the end leaves you clinging on the edge; Scurrilous without a doubt ends on a cliff-hanger, leaving us wrung dry.
After hearing Scurrilous, my first conclusion and initial idea is to talk about the disappointing parts of this album, but I know that here, the good outweighs the bad by a long shot. Even so, I wanted more as I reached the end, and I can definitely see myself coming back to this for another round, because it’s clearly the precursor to much greater things that we can expect from Protest the Hero. Sure, it’s had its weak moments, but granted, not too many of them, which, for today’s musical expectations, is pretty damn good. So I have to commend the band for this effort, and also, thank them greatly for their changing for the better, (maybe I’ll get over the lack of screaming, because there’s something in this without the screaming that makes it considerably better than past releases.)
Right now, though, I’m just gonna go “jerk off in the private room” with my copy of Scurrilous in my hands.