As puberty set in, Protest the Hero were coming off of a re-release of 2003’s A Calculated Use of Sound, now retrofitted with the one-off anti-war ‘anthem’ “Soft Targets Dig Softer Graves” wedged awkwardly in the middle of its track list. “Soft Targets”, originally released on one of Underground Operations’ Greetings From the Underground samplers, was written and recorded over a year after the release of A Calculated Use of Sound and it showed. Rody wasn’t shouting anymore. His singing voice still wasn’t where it is now but for the first time he wasn’t simply yelling at the top of his lungs. The band had gotten a little heavier and a little more technical, too; there was less focus on Moe’s drumming and a higher emphasis on the guitar trade-offs between Luke and Tim and Arif had taught himself to finger tap on the bass. But the musical evolution evidenced in “Soft Targets” is unimportant to what I want to touch on. What matters is it was the end of Protest the Hero’s political era.
That became clear when they debuted “A Plateful of Our Dead”, then known simply as “Kezia”. In its infancy, performances of the song would always begin with bassist and lyricist Arif Mirabdolwhatever introducing it with the preface, “this is a song about a little girl standing in front of a firing squad”. When the album finally came out, it became clear that the “little girl” was A Calculated Use of Sound.
And that’s where the real meaning behind “A Plateful of Our Dead” comes from.
The song has nothing to do with Kezia‘s already thin-story. It has no context within the album’s ‘situation’; there is no mention of a prison priest, prison guard or the eponymous Kezia. As the last song on Kezia, only the its first line (“Don’t ever ask us to define our morals”) really applies to the previous 9 tracks. It’s to say “there are ideas here, but figure them out for yourself.”
Then the song takes a left turn.
Protest the Hero were kids when they wrote about terrorism (These Colours Don’t Run), socialism (Red Stars Over the Battle of the Cowshed) and both Gulf Wars (Silent Genocide, Soft Targets Dig Softer Graves).
They were, as the song says, “half-selves that love whole hopes”.
Like pretty much every other teenager bred on punk rock, they were looking for something to cling to (fundamentals); like every teenager, they were a bundle of hormones and angst (teenage heartbreak)
The song continues.
The band doesn’t apologize for their political beginnings (There’s merit in construction when it’s done with your own hands) but they’re clear-cut in their intent to start anew; “there’s beauty in destruction, resurrection, another chance.”
A Calculated Use of Sound will always exist (“the only proof that I have that we shot and killed this horse”) as a reflection of their youthful enthusiasm (“sounds of whips on flesh and a bleeding heart remorse”).
“A Plateful Our Dead” signals the end of an era without cheapening what came before it just like it confirms the introduction of a new ideology. The band moves on from politics with no desire to return:
When I’m In this state of reflection and you hand me whips and two-by-fours, I could never bring them down and beat the same horse as before.
In a lot of ways, “A Plateful of Our Dead” is a nice way of saying “we were sixteen, get over it.”
So no, “A Plateful of Our Dead” is not about “the prison priest burying Kezia” or “the guard not wanting to kill anymore” as I’ve read on some sites. And, honestly, you’re kind of an idiot if you thought it was.