Protest The Hero
Fortress


4.5
superb

Review

by Tyler Munro EMERITUS
January 16th, 2008 | 3304 replies | 180,195 views


Release Date: 2008 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Shooting two for two from the charity stripe.

Tilt: High
Context: Kezia is a 4/5


Standards can be a bitch, and it only gets worse when you put them in context. All conditions aside, Protest the Hero's Kezia was a pretty outstanding album. Yes, its reception was black and white with little to no grey area, but a little polarization never hurt anyone. In context, however, Kezia suffered from a lot of amateur mistakes; acceptable given that it was mostly written while the band was still in high school but noticeable nonetheless. Of these issues, some reach back to Juice, a producer more suited to the Alexisonfires of the world than a band with more of a metal edge. But Juice's ticky-tacky missteps aside –the over-layering of the vocals, inaudible bass and clickity drums- the band still fell into a comfort zone. Yes, that comfort zone was entertaining, catchy and arguably amazing, but it still felt like the band started to force melodies and riffs, somewhat forgivable given Kezia's prolonged process.

The approach taken with Fortress was not forced. They worked with Juice again, but he heeded complaints, fixing more or less all of Kezia's little quips, but most importantly, they (being Protest the Hero) didn't write and record this album while trying to balance 11th Grade History and a rigorous touring schedule. This time, context is doing them all the favours.

Musically, Fortress marches to a much deeper tune than its predecessors. A result of a conglomerating prominent low-end, unrelenting harsh vocals (we'll get there) and more aggressive songwriting, Fortress is head and shoulders above Kezia in terms of sheer heaviness. It also refines the band's sound into one that is irrefutably metal. While there's no shortage of punk and (post)hardcore, calling this metalcore is to ignorantly shove aside all of the other non-metal influences. Fortress runs up, down and around the gamut, incorporating encompassing influences subtly into a progressive metal setting, one thankfully lacking in James LaBrie and 'it was all a dream' epiphanies.

"Bloodmeat" is not only the single, but easily the safest track on the album, however it is not to say it doesn't stand out. It is a failsafe, blending an improved Kezia formula with a "Saddest Day", "Sugar Coated Sour" sense of dissonance. But as soon as "Bloodmeat" ends after a brief "you think it's over but it ain't" fakeout, "The Dissentience" kicks in and you're off to the races. While "The Dissentience" is perhaps a little fragmented and awkward on its own, it introduces listeners to Rody's newly embraced bag of vocal trickery. This is where I change the subject and get to one of those things I said I'd get to.

The vocals, unrelentingly executed by Rody (with some help from the rest of the band, the producer and Ceci the studio cat) deserve their own paragraph. And before I go for the gusto, I'll say it now and get it out of the way: the 11-second scream at the end of "The Dissentience", the guttural "royalty must die" growl on "Bone Marrow" and the seamless high scream to mid-growls placed throughout the album are Rody. Arif, who was previously believed to have performed the majority of the growls, has only one actual recorded line, a brief growl (that's underneath Rody's scream) on "Wretch". This is not as trivial as you'd initially assume, for my point is not that Rody pulls out all the stops (he does) or that he's expanded his repertoire ten-fold (he has), but rather that Rody was given the freedom to do as he saw fit on Fortress. He is the vocalist and it's made abundantly clear, and luckily this time around he's shown not only extensive improvement in his myriad of styles, but in his ability to show restraint and maturely appropriate harsh and clean vocals where they fit. Rody has matured over the course of the band's young career and this is no different, as he vies to keep the harmonies natural this time around and limits the layering that hindered his performance on Kezia. Of course, the freedom does get a little over-exemplified in some instances, mostly in the occasional "fuck yeaaaaah" ad lib or in the girlish, Vince Neil inspired falsettos in "Wretch", which thankfully lasts all of three seconds. His sometimes whiny intonation is almost completely absent without the overly harmonised cleans, and he's expanded his range far beyond his newly honed harsh vocals, pushing out higher notes than you'd expect as effortlessly as you would hope. Oh, and if you're wondering about Ceci the cat, you'll hear her on "Wretch" (and this is purely trivial), as she meowed while being held by Rody as he tracked vocals and they decided to keep it in the final song. It doesn't make sense in the context of the track, but it's a fitting cue (of which there are many) and certainly lightens the load.

When I say the cat lightens the load, here's why: "Wretch" is an intense track. It not only features the band's most explicit [Ron] Jarzombek influence in its circular 12-tone riffery, but it features many prominent lyrical cuts that effectively outline much of the album's sometimes overbearing concept. To make it clear, Fortress is not the kind of concept album that revolves around a strict narrative. To make it clearer, Fortress does not concern itself with characters; yes, Genghis Khan and Flidais (among others) are mentioned by name, but the album more closely revolves around ideas. "Wretch" perhaps best outlines these ideas with some of the album's stronger lyrics, with lines such as "Suppressed and unaddressed the simple fact remains unspoken, in silence left unbroken, on a bed bound and gagged with culture, language, myth and law: our goddess gave birth to your god -From a wounded womb where her flesh scarred and raw -
Our goddess gave birth to your god." and "as they barter their boulders and martyr their soldiers; teach a man to tear her fucking head from her goddamn shoulders"
, but it's "Goddess Gagged" that tosses out, "the goddess abhors us for what we have done -- bury your daughter and pray for a son," a personal favourite. Basically, Fortress carries along many intense concepts based in both poetic theory (Robert Graves) and historical occurrences, lending itself to far less cryptic interpretations and more ideological appreciation.

"Wretch" is one of three main standouts, the other two being "Palms Read" and "Bone Marrow". "Palms Read" is worth noting for several reasons: its arpeggios and musical theatre-like melodies instantly herald reminiscence of "Turn Soonest…", just more concise and a lot cooler, but it also makes "Limb from Limb" much better, a necessary feat because "Limb from Limb" is grossly hindered by a guest keyboard solo done by Vadim of Dragonforce. As you've probably imagined, the solo sounds more akin to what you'd hear during Contra 3 than on an album that takes its ideas pretty seriously (barring the aforementioned Ceci the cat cameo). In short (long), Vadim's solo is ridiculous, unnecessary and while his name brings a lot to the table, it may do more harm than good, because while the majority of it (it's in two, and still relatively succinct) appears over a portion of the track where more or less nothing happens, it sounds (and I can't say this enough) fucking ridiculous. Seriously, we're talking Atari 2600 noises here. Luckily the track does redeem itself with a dry, sickeningly filthy groove, an obvious band-aid solution to them not being able to say no to a buddy whose intentions were almost definitely good.

To backtrack, "Palms Read" is important because it highlights one of the albums strongest positives as well as some of its negatives. There's a soundclip that comes in at the end of the track (or the beginning of "Limb from Limb") that says "two minutes and y'lads are in for a surprise", followed by an implosion of the song that had (seemingly) just finished. The song spirals out into a flurry of technicality, aggression and even features a carnival-type riff. But, if you're listening to the album on shuffle, that 1:22 clip will sound completely random, totally meaningless and kind of stupid. Listen to the album as intended, however, and you'll hear that the [supposedly] random, context-less ending of "Palms Read" is actually just the beginning of "Limb from Limb". There are actually a few soundclips on the album, and most of them don't really make sense. "Wretch" ends (or "Goddess Bound" begins) with "you wanted to see the galaxy", and while the lead that begins the track is a little Trekian, it still doesn't make sense in context of the lyrics. "Sequoia Throne" ends with some unnecessary and distorted pop- track, and then there's the aforementioned meowing.

I'll forgive and forget the album's occasional faults, as they're seemingly more reliant on over-enthusiastic post-production than actual songwriting. And while the clips may be contextually random, they're significant to the music because they act as cues and place-markers, two things found aplenty on the disc. "Palms Read", for example, features the one and only solo on the album, though it's a somewhat underwhelming pop-and-slap bass lead that serves as more of a "something is happening" than a "check me out". And, in terms of it being underwhelming, I mean merely in context of the basswork Arif lays down throughout the rest of the album, which is funky and pummelling, thunderous and groovy.

I'll also forgive these flaws because they're grossly outweighed by perks. Musically, Protest almost sound like a totally different band. It's not to say they've done a complete 180°, but rather like the band finally made the album they wanted to. While "Bone Marrow" places more emphasis on the underpinning sythns of the first two tracks, its heavy orchestration still takes a backseat to its varying structure, which fluidly transits from hyper-melodic up-tempo to ball-crushing gutturals and chugged syncopation, all of which are made twice as effective by the interwoven bass slapping. "Spoils" takes its abstract lyrical concepts (dealing with the point between anima/animus) for a ride alongside a mostly thrash inspired tune, while "Goddess Gagged" crosses the bridge from Bay Area [thrash] to So-Cal [punk] hinting at the sound a young Protest exhibited on the now ancient "Silent Genocide". Each sound, influence and idea is worth noting and separating because of how cohesive the band makes it sound, shoving it into their distinguished style and making it blend together naturally.

Fortress also effectively masters a balance between technicality, shred, melody and songwriting, since none of the tracks rely on a singular lead or solo (since there really aren't any), and the leads and shred serve more as emphasis than excess. The drums no longer resonate with an overly-clicky sound and while the bass does still occasionally fade as a result of meticulous guitar dubbing and non-stop guitar leads, Arif's work is finally pushed far enough into the forefront for fans to actually hear him for once. Fortress also embraces the band's clear cut affinity for musical theatre (cheese to the layman), something undisputedly present in the innumerable epic vocal crescendos that carry along with a sense of melody that would perhaps inspire Vanessa Hudgens to send Mr. Walker some raunchy photos sometime in the next year. What I'm trying to say is that the hooks are insanely melodic and alarmingly catchy.

In short, Fortress is far better than fans could expect, but it's also not what they're expecting. The two tracks heard prior to release give a skewed idea of what's to come, since Bloodmeat plays it safe and Sequoia Throne is not only sort of obnoxious, but it is one of the few tracks that doesn't sound better when put in a complete tracklist. The album improves on everything established on Kezia (right down to the much more natural sounding piano codas), and it does so without the sometimes blatant repetition of its predecessor.

It isn't perfect, as for some it may be a tad excessive, but I'll be damned if it doesn't start '08 off with a bang. It's a scarily mature album for a bunch of 21 year olds to have recorded, and the pairing of its ambitious lyrical concepts and motivated songwriting is something to be admired. Much like the album closer "Goddess Gagged", Fortress leaves the listener wanting more. Sadly, it's a parallel that's there for a reason: while "Goddess Gagged" restarts a presumed cycle, Protest the Hero are avidly against encores, so use your imagination and react to the silence inside you when the music has stopped.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
Tyler
Emeritus
January 16th 2008



7924 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Got some touchups to do. Plus some more brief edits once I get the retail copy.
Sorry it's so long.

Some stuff that I'll get out of the way.

1) This is better than Kezia
2) While there's obviously tilt to this review, read it and you'll figure things out for yourself
3) I will not entertain morons who don't read the review. This is better than Kezia, and I explain that this review was written in the context of Kezia being a 4/5. Read. It isn't hard.
4) No. I will not send this to you. You can wait two weeks. This Message Edited On 01.16.08

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
January 16th 2008



16072 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Can't wait for this.
"serves as more of a "something is happening" than a "check me out"." was pretty awesome.This Message Edited On 01.16.08

LifeInABox
January 16th 2008



3707 Comments


FUCK YOU

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
January 16th 2008



17914 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Read every word.

Can you send this to me now.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
January 16th 2008



17914 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

fucking fuck your edit

Tyler
Emeritus
January 16th 2008



7924 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Also there may be some slight discrepancies in my quoted lyrics, mostly with "the goddess abhors us for what we have done -- bury your daughter and pray for a son", so I'll fix any of that up when I get a lyric sheet.

BallsToTheWall
January 16th 2008



44164 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

I haven't payed much attention to the news or hype surrounding this, also haven't heard any of the singles yet. I have no expectations so I hope this album will just blow me away the same away that Symbolic and Oceanborn did blind. Sounds good, great review too.

masscows
January 16th 2008



2236 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I was already gonna get this but good review.

I haven't payed much attention to the news or hype surrounding this, also haven't heard any of the singles yet
yeah me too, I've just heard that Kezia was good and I heard they were coming out with another album soon so I figured I'd check it out.This Message Edited On 01.16.08

Bfhurricane
January 16th 2008



6194 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Im very psyched for this. Reviews a little long, but was definitely a good read. Who the hell is Ceci the cat?

Tyler
Emeritus
January 16th 2008



7924 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

The studio cat. I believe I said that...

JumpTheF**kUp
January 16th 2008



2708 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Sounds incredible.
Hopefully my preorder gets to me before the release date.

LifeInABox
January 16th 2008



3707 Comments


Just finished up. Great job. Just those couple type-o's and I think it's 100% solid. I wonder how many people will really read all of this...

masscows
January 16th 2008



2236 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I read the whole thing.

Yazz_Flute
January 16th 2008



18735 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I actually read the whole thing...somehow.

Sounds amazing. I pre-ordered this and its supposed to come two days after it's released. Too far away =(

I really love Bloodmeat, though.

Digging: Anekdoten - Vemod

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
January 16th 2008



17914 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I like Sequoia Throne more right now because I've listened to Bloodmeat at least 300 times and I'm not exaggerating.

Mikesn
Emeritus
January 16th 2008



3709 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Very good review. It took me awhile to get into Protest, but I'm really looking forward to this.

JordanS
January 16th 2008



319 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

How has this not leaked yet........


I think Sequoia is awesome, if not just for that breakdown 50 seconds in.

JumpTheF**kUp
January 16th 2008



2708 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I read it all. And Sequoia Throne is pretty gay tbh. Bloodmeat kills though, and that live version of Goddess Bound is sweet.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
January 16th 2008



17914 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

fuck you guys sequoia throne rules

kattunlover69
January 16th 2008



1194 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

sequoia throne>bloodmeat


why?


sex vocals at 2:23 thats all..This Message Edited On 01.16.08



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