Review Summary: Fortress maintains the catchiness of Kezia but multiplies the technicality and musicality by at least ten-fold. A contender for album of the year.
Protest the Hero had a lot to live up to. Their last album, Kezia
, was certainly a breath of fresh air and brought something undoubtedly new and exciting to the genre. The band’s combination of uncompromising technicality with almost sickening catchiness captured my attention listen after listen, and the album still continues to do so. Bottom line is, Kezia
kicked ass. And that was only the band’s first full-length album. Where do you go after creating such a superb album? Protest the Hero could have easily made another album just like it, but definitely didn’t. The band’s newest album, Fortress
, shows how far this young band can push themselves as both musicians and songwriters. There’s nothing drastically different from Kezia
you could say, but just amplified to such a high level that it could fool you into thinking it’s a different band. Fortress
maintains the catchiness of Kezia
but multiplies the technicality and musicality by at least ten-fold.
The first thing that you’ll notice when putting on Fortress
is that the musicality is at an all time high. “Bloodmeat” starts off with rapid-fire riffing with plenty of time signature changes, soaring leads and more tapping (both on guitar and bass) than all Van Halen albums combined. And the funny thing is, “Bloodmeat” is the band’s simplest song on the album. Throughout the album’s forty minutes you barely ever get a chance to catch your breath, save for the piano interludes at the end of each block of songs. And this time, the piano leads are much less awkward and don’t feel as forced as they did on Kezia
. The interlude after “Bone Marrow” is simply amazing, as it starts peacefully and then accelerates into a swift session of arpeggio runs. Protest also took plenty of stabs at experimentation also, like adding synth orchestration in some songs, quirky carnival-style riffing in “Palms Read” or the hilariously cheesy keyboard solo in “Limb From Limb”.
Both of Protest the Hero’s guitarists, Luke and Tim, have really stepped up their game and it’s impossible not to notice. “Sequoia Throne” is the perfect example of this, where the ape*** tapping never quits until the last minute or so hits you with a quiet, catchy vocal moment until Luke comes back in with an impressive set of sweeps that could put The Human Abstract’s “Mea Culpa” to shame. “Bone Marrow” has moments that reminded me of something that would come right out of a Spastic Ink album, especially at 1:39 or the final descending chromatic run at the end. These are just a few examples of what’s to come. I could ramble on for days about the album’s plethora of ridiculous guitar leads, but for my sanity and yours, I’ll leave it at that. While I’m all for some serious shred in Protest the Hero, I can’t help but feel like the rest of the band gets a bit overlooked because of the demanding guitar work Luke and Tim do. When you’ve got such a stellar bassist, there comes a time to just lay back and let him show his chops. I understand that Fortress
was Protest the Hero going absolutely insane, but a little moderation never hurt anyone.
Since I mentioned the bass, let me just say that I can’t get enough of it. Arif, when you can hear him, is the coolest part about the album. His work on here is none less than amazing. Whether it’s playing technical tapping lines in “Bloodmeat”, “The Dissentience” or “Goddess Bound”, laying down a downright funky slap-line in “Bone Marrow” or “Spoils”, or simply keeping up with the demanding guitar riffs, it’s captivating throughout. It’s just a damn shame that it’s often hard to hear what is going on. But that’s the price you pay when you have at least two guitar parts and very involved vocal parts. Moe Carlson is easy to overlook because of the rest of the band, but it’s never boring and he always keeps a very tight groove with the rest of the group. He’s always tasteful and knows clearly what to play and when. The groove section at 3:15 in “Bone Marrow” is a great example of Moe just laying down great beats and creating a great atmosphere with Arif and Rody. His drumming is always on point and there’s really nothing to complain about.
Vocalist Rody Walker has really come a long way in the past few years. He was fine on Kezia
, but something was missing. Well, he’s found it now and it really shows. Rody now has a much wider range, be it the low, almost soulful vocals in “Bone Marrow” or the crazy-high parts in “Sequoia Throne”. Rody is now also a much better screamer also, be it low death growls or the higher shrieks. There are still a few awkward melodies here and there, but that’s barely noticeable because he’s improved so much. In short, Rody’s vocals on Fortress
are dangerously close to perfect.
The album’s technical, that’s for sure, but what I really liked about Kezia
was the catchiness in just about every song. Fear not, skeptical listeners! While Fortress
isn’t as easy to get into as their last LP, it’s not without plenty of moments that will be stuck in your head for days, maybe even weeks, on end. The chorus to “Bloodmeat” positively soars. The ending vocal passage in “Palms Read” is just too fun to sing along to. “Wretch” at 1:12 brings a smile to my face each time. “Sequoia Throne” at 2:22 is a definite head-bobber. And the grooves in “Bone Marrow” might be the coolest part on the whole album. The technicality is much easier to notice, but that’s not to say Protest has left behind what so many of us loved about them.
It’s only January and I can already tell that this will be one of the year’s best albums. Protest the Hero exceeded many of the expectations I had and took their sound to a definite new high. The guitars absolutely rip, the bass smokes, and Rody’s vocals are just too cool to describe. If you’re looking for technical metal that can contend with Between the Buried and Me or Necrophagist, this is for you. If you’re a person who loves singing along to songs in the car, I’d suggest this too. And if you’re looking for both, you better have heard of these guys. This is Fortress
, and everyone better listen up.
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