Review Summary: Despite the dark lyrical content, this album is more fun than kicking wheelchairs over at the Special Olympics. Oh, and the guitarists sort of rule too.
For being such a politically motivated band, Protest the Hero makes some fun music. Their formula honestly sounds like one for disaster: combine equal parts Manowar and Iron Maiden with the occasional metalcore breakdown, and the Queen-chorus and you should have an absolute recipe for suck. But for some reason, Kezia, the bands debut LP, works on nearly every level.
Technically speaking, Kezia is meant to be a loose concept album based around the perspectives of different characters (the Prison Priest, The Prison Guard, and the woman named Kezia) in a story about a woman who is slated to be executed for murder, but in all honesty, the concept almost detracts from the album. Each song on an individual basis conveys the bands political views quite well, and the story its self just isn’t well enough conceived for it to really stand out on its own. While Protest the Hero certainly garner credit for trying, the concept of the album really is a bit of a let down.
Musically, Kezia shreds. Every member of the band contributes a stellar performance, but no one shines brighter than guitarists Luke Hoskin and Tim Millar. Out of Kezia’s 10 tracks, there is no less than 15 tracks worth of almost senseless guitar masturbation of all varieties. They noodle; they wank; they chug, and then when you least expect it, they slow it down for a bit of atmospheric playing, just to keep you on your toes. Drummer Moe Carlson also proves to be quite an excellent addition to the band, providing an interesting and varied backbeat, adopting from nearly every school of rock drumming out there, from blast-beats to wonderfully spot on Keith Moon imitations. Bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi doesn’t contribute much to the record aside from thickening the guitar parts, although he does show quite a bit of instrumental prowess, especially when carrying the melody while backing vocalist Rody Walker on the bridge of “Blindfolds Aside”.
As for Walker, his vocals are generally a hotly contested issue. Unlike other –core bands, Walker uses mostly clean vocals while occasionally screaming a line or two. While some argue that his vocals hardly fit the music, others seem to believe that his voice harkens back to the classic metal of Iron Maiden and Helloween and it fits just fine. Personally, I’m split on his voice. It’s surely got plenty of range (more on that later) and it’s certainly unique for a band of such style to have it, but it seems as if half the time the vocals compliment the music perfectly and the other half it sounds miserably out of place. While the vocals are certainly a spotty subject, the same cannot be said for the rest of the album.
Possibly the most appealing quality of Kezia is the subtle variety evident in all of its 10 tracks. In under 45 minutes, Protest the Hero rip through just about every genre of heavy music, from The Red Chord-inspired mathcore moments on “A Plateful of Our Dead” all the way to the cheesy coc
k-rock slant of the aforementioned “Blindfolds Aside” and back again to the speed metal of “No Stars Over Bethlehem”, Kezia contains at least some enjoyable facet for fans of heavy music. “Turn Soonest to the Sea” opens up harder than the majority of songs on the album before transitioning into what is probably the best bridge Queen never wrote. However, instead of sounding like a cheesy rip-off, it comes off as wonderfully catchy and thoughtfully constructed, and could easily bring a smile to the most stoic metalhead’s face. The leading single “Blindfolds Aside” sounds like Manowar after a sweaty make-out session with Bad Religion, but in the best way possible.
But what sets Protest the Hero’s debut apart from the other technical metalcore bands out there is that its just a lot of fun to listen to. Make no bones about it, the lyrical content of this record may be dark and somewhat depressing, but they sure as shi
t know how to make up for it. Almost every song on Kezia will make you want to scream along with singer Rody Walker’s almost falsetto. Whether it’s the stellar pop chant-along of “NO WOMAN IS A WHORE”
or the haunting ”I swear I have compassion/I’ve just been trained to disregard the prisoners life/Because I’m the prison guard”
where Walker pushes his voice to an eerie moan over some epic guitar soloing that would make Blind Guardian proud.
As the album comes to its close, Kezia, despite the obvious flaws is an excellent album. While it may be cheesy and may also rip off the styles that hundreds of other bands have patented, Protest the Hero have made an album that is not just technically proficient with relevant lyrical content, but an album that is fun to listen to, which is something that is so rarely accomplished in music nowadays.
Recommended Tracks: Turn Soonest to the Sea, Blindfolds Aside, No Stars Over Bethlehem, The Divine Suicide of K