Protest The Hero Ė Fortress
Release Date: January 29th 2008
Record Label: Vagrant Records
When you base your successful debut full length on a hyper ambitious concept told from different viewpoints, expectations are naturally high for the dreaded sophomore release. A band can either head in a totally different direction or follow the success garnered from their original formula. Canadaís finest shred powerhouse Protest The Hero opted to take the second path for their follow up to Kezia, not fixing what was clearly not broken, but at the same time trimming the fat and honing the sound that worked the first time around. Fortress is here and will not disappoint those who were fans of Kezia. Unfortunately, itís definitely not going to convert those who didnít like Protest The Hero from the start.
This album is Protest The Hero magnified. The vocals are higher and more outrageous in their grandiosity, the guitars are peppered with more light speed hammer ons and pull offs, and even the bass is more prominent in the mix. Itís at this point that you can probably decide whether this album is for you or not. If the high-pitched vocals grated on your ears before, they will really be unbearable to you this time. On the other end, if you loved the rapid-fire time changes and complex song structures, you will be more than satisfied with Fortress. ďBloodmeatĒ is a great opener and an excellent taste of whatís to follow. The syncopated intro is what you might come to expect from tech-core acts before the song morphs into a decidedly more straightforward rock verse before once again switching directions to a slower breakdown section. With the amount of transitions the band goes through in this one song, itís pretty impressive that the song is coherent at all. Such is Protest The Hero and their knack for making completely different bits and pieces somehow fit together into an interesting bigger picture. Another great example of this is the stand out track on the album, ďLimb From LimbĒ. Utilizing the vocal acrobatics of Rody Walker and the pounding drums of Moe Carlson, the track is an onslaught of every facet of aggressive music. There are sections of the song that emote the proggy keyboard leads of Dream Theater while others take the steady double bass beats of heavier 80ís power metal, but all these different aspects melt into one coherent song; fast and hard as hell. Itís great to see such technical aspects of music being brought back to the forefront. Sweep picked guitar lines and bass tapping are abound throughout the disc displaying just how scary it is that these guys all have a median age group that doesnít surpass the early 20ís.
The vocals will be the deciding factor of this album for you if you are a fan of the harder side of music. Some can find it nasally while others will find it jaw dropping. This is pretty much the story every time a high-pitched singer is involved, so this argument is not necessarily new, but it is important. That being said, for fans of this sound, Rody Walker puts in his best performance to date with Fortress. Itís apparent that he experimented more with different vocal methods when recording this album and for the most part it works. On Kezia, he really only let loose and screamed on one song while other members handled the screaming. On Fortress, his screams are all over the place. Considering the fact that not only can the guy sing and heís got a pretty unique scream as well, this is a good thing. It only adds to the interest in seeing a band this fast and aggressive using a front man that actually sings as opposed to growling every line. This vocal clarity also makes Protest The Heroís weakest aspect more apparent, the lyrics. The topics on this album walk a thin line between being taken seriously and being over the top tributes to 80ís metal cheese. Luckily, they balance it pretty well (as well as you can balance it) and having read interviews with the band, I knew that it was a conscious choice to go all out with the fantastical references, so it does not affect the overall product. The music in the background will make you forget all about it. I spent a lot of time with Fortress and Iím glad that I did because at first I was kind of let down. The music all sounded the same and the riffs, although fast and technical, had no feeling. After a month of listening to it, I can say that, yes, the riffs sound incredibly similar sometimes and some melodies sound like they were already heard on Kezia. Itís not perfect nor is it going to change your opinion of the band, but what it is is a solid follow up and a hell of a fun listen for people who just want some fast and technical music during the January drought.
There are parts of the review I definitely agree with. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to listen to the record as a whole. It is truly a solid record. Plus the fact that these kids are only in their early 20's makes me wonder what they can do in the future. I guess we will just have to wait and see.
I'll probably have to give this a better chance, because as of now, I've felt that these guys - while amazing in their own right - are just Vagrant's attempt at prog-metal-shred-fantasy-screamy-stuff.
But Tom's description of the music (as with almost all of his reviews) really make me want to explore bands that I've kind of passed up because he (Tom) makes them sound so damn cool. Perhaps I shall go and stream this baby today. Great review, brother.