Review Summary: Considerable technical talent weighed down by a kitschy concept and little replay value. And the singer is annoying."This album is nothing to be intellectualized.”
-Lead phlegmy yelper Rody Walker
"It has to do with goddess worship, and how there has been this degendering of the Lord and Savior, and the suppressed feminine. A lot of it is based in Genghis Khan and old Irish Mythology, about the rise and fall of the Goddess of the forest. [The theme] can be more appreciated by more people. If I had to reduce it to its simplest form, the concept is about the re-emerging of goddess worship and the erosion of faith in scientific process."
-Lyricist and bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi
Protest the Hero released its’ sophomore album Fortress
in early 2008 to wide acclaim amongst fans of the metal genre. Praised for its’ technical proficiency and “deep” concept, the album has been so popular that it has reached, at the time I’m writing this, the number 2 highest average rating from this website’s users, behind only some irrelevant artifact that only a few people have even rated. Unfortunately, this band has been more than over-hyped; not only is this album nothing close to
“classic” material. It simply isn’t good at all.
There's nothing ambitious about the lyrics, which are actually quite generic, immature stereoptypical metal tripe hidden behind dimestore existentialist language. The vocals are nothing if not annoying. The melody is almost non-existent. And hardly anything is in the slightest bit catchy or memorable.
The narrative of the songs is unclear at best. For a band that decided to emphasize concept in the form of three so-called “song suites” over individual songs, they seem too lazy to construct a truly discernible story, although they do an efficient job of demonstrating their classic metal misogyny and macho heroics.
"Heads will roll
To the River Red, across the ochre steppe
A thousand fathers killed, a thousand virgin daughters spread with swords
still wet, with swords still wet with the blood of their dead"
I sure hope nobody actually thinks lines like that are in any way profound, good, cool or even funny.
Goddess this, goddess that, swords, mountains, beheadings, Genghis Khan, you know, the typical stuff you can expect to find in the inner caves of prog metal hell. Like most terrible metal lyrics that attempt and fail to be intellectually stimulating, these songs are really only the same tired metal masculine posturing only written in a more polished language. "Goddess Bound" could easily be a David Lee Roth quote only dressed in more epic spandex. For all the pseudo-philosophy the message can be summarized as thus: have a lot of sex and such and "drink to" any regrets about your macho hedonistic lifestyle that's bound to eventually earn you a nice case of gonorrhea and 20 paternity suits. 2008
. And if you think that's the neatest sermon since MLK’s “I Have A Dream,” wait until you get to "Goddess Gagged."
The problem is that this band has no sense of humor about these ludicrous and hilariously ancient metal topics. Maybe they thought they didn't need to include any humor beyond ham-fisted musical allusions to polka and circus music or other genres, but unfortunately those aren't funny. They seem exactly as they are: lazy attempts at appearing humorous. Then again, who the hell listens to stuff like this for humor, right? Sure the lyrics are bad and the concept is nowhere near- discernible, but listen to that riffage!
Actually, after a few listens one will notice that all of these high-pitched riffs are pretty similar in sound. The listener is left with nothing concrete to hold onto mentally, other than vague noodly fret-tapping. And all of them played atop the ubiquitous palm-muting found in nearly every single metal band recording today. There are few exceptions to this relentless sea of disposable guitar-thrashing. "The Dissentence [sic]" stands as the only "great" track on the album, with an infectious chord progression and breakdown. "Bone Marrow" also has a few tight and catchy riffs, though you won't remember them five minutes after the song is over. The lack of riffs that actually manage to stay in your head is extremely disappointing in an album that focuses so much on guitar work.
The decadent production doesn’t help. "Wretch" is the perfect example of how vocal overdubs can completely ruin a chorus (or whatever you call it given the song structure), while "Bloodmeat" makes the same mistake with guitar tracks overload. It’s hard to hear any passion in a performance when it’s being glossed to a sheen.
Not that we’d really want to hear lead singer Walker’s “passion.” Walker may have the most annoying high-pitched dying-cat yelp in all of music with the sole exception of that weird little man from Chiodos. And the overdubs on “Wretch” are most egregious example of a singer that simply cannot sing without sounding as if he is moaning in pain. And this may be metal, but that doesn't mean melody should be completely thrown out in exchange for Walker's wordy screeching/ boyish wailing. You won’t remember a single melody on this album the second it’s over. They are so thoroughly unvaried and agonizing that most people will probably give up even trying to keep up with the vocals by the second “suite.” “Palms Read” features obnoxious shouting that may work on, say, a Taking Back Sunday album. But since it isn’t fun to sing along to and sounds more like bored whining rather than impassioned indignation, it doesn’t work here.
The only real strength to this album is the amazing timing and technical excellence demonstrated by the band’s drummer. So if you’re into albums that have little redeeming qualities other than the drumming, have at it.
The simple fact is that this band seems stuck in another time and place. This would have been huge in the 1980’s. But (not) sadly, we now live in the 00’s, and it’s time for this type of metal formula to go, to be incinerated by the dungeon furnace of Hades where the suffering does not cease and there is no women to plundereth. Or whatever.
Protest the Hero stands as the epitome of what is wrong with metal today: as all other "scenes" are growing and becoming more liberalized, this genre seems determined to move in the opposite
direction, marinating in archaic metal cliche's like misogyny, mythical bullshit
, riff after riff after riff that amounts to the most obnoxious of instrumental masturbation, etc. Not to say that there isn't still good music within that narrow paradigm. Just listen to Opeth, a band as "metal" as metal gets that still has a sense of melody, precision, drama, tension, and even does something lyrically, and plenty of technical skills yet. The problem is that Protest the Hero can't do any of that here. In truth, Fortress boils down to the riffs, man. Good luck trying to remember them.