In a scene of fashion conscious, melodically challenged hardcore… five young men have emerged to change the face of fast, hard music. Protest the Hero are set to melt the face of every metal head, every punk rocker, and every music elitist. Their debut full length, titled "Kezia", embraces the technicalities of progressive rock, the speed of black metal, the power of hardcore, the lyricism of ancient poetics and the melodic structure of an 18th century operatic epic. Protest the Hero will revolutionize a dying genre and distinguish the line that divides the boys from the men.
There you have the description of Protest the Hero's Kezia, released oddly enough in a somewhat unfinished state; the album had been in development for 2 years. Although perhaps a little vague, it's the most apt description possible. Kezia may not be an album bound by length, but it is one accompanied by outstanding depth, both musically and lyrically. Set in three acts and followed by a finale, Kezia is in some respects a rock opera, but in others an enigma; a chest of ideas just waiting to be decrypted. The album uses three characters, one per act, to display their view on things; religion, politics and sexism. The finale is perhaps the "decryptor" of the band and album.
Act 1: The Prison Priest
Tracks: No Stars Over Bethlehem; Heretics and Killers; Divinity Within;
Religion is a sensitive subject, one the members of Protest the Hero felt necessary to address. They way they went about doing so was not in a direct manner (see black metal) or in a literal way at all, they did so using metaphors and biblical references. Although not against religion, per-se, the band (and many people to be honest) feel organized religion has become somewhat of crux. The way they go about doing so was using the character of the Prison Priest. No Stars Over Bethlehem beings with the final note of a piano (the rest did not press to CD properly), and as the note fades the rest of the song fades in. "This should never be", shouts singer Rody Walker. Instantly all premonitions about the band being "too young" (they were 18/19 when recording the majority of this album) to speak of such hefty issues are thrown out the window. As the lyrics "I'll burn all the lives of this angel illuminati" kick in you realize this is not another "Fuck
Catholics" album. The song and act really, speak of the turn for the worst religion has gone for. The prison priest is somewhat in a dilemma, he feels passionate for his religion, yet upset and the way it has become. "With my faith in ruins my duty still breathes strong. I'm a parrot in a cage saying prayers to belong to a textbook
of my crying, lying, dying history; a time so full of life that I was anything but me"
. The first act is perhaps the most layered in references. Whether found in the wonderfully fast tempo of No Stars Over Bethlehem
, the breakdowns and emotional prowess of Heretics and Killers
or the virtuosity of Divinity Within
, the first act does a wonderful way of using a contrast of beauty and ferocity to convey the confusion that is religion. Before you know it, the act is over and you're listening to the wonderful piano segway played by Luke Hoskin, which is sadly one of my qualms with the album. The piano is just too clean; the production, for the most, cut out a lot of the emotion found in the composition.
Act 2: The executioner/prison guard
Tracks: Bury The Hatchet; Nautical; Blindfolds Aside
Bury The Hatchet
is perhaps, in their own words, most metal song. Coming directly after the piano ending in Divinity Within
, the song somehow begins seamlessly. With a boomingly fast tempo, pounding bass and crushing guitars, this song is reminiscent of the Gothenburg metal scene, but with a thrashier, more punk flair. The song is the one of the rare occasions where you'll hear Rody Walker scream in any shape or form (the rest of the screams/yells are done by bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi and guitarist Tim Millar). The song is more or less the resume of the prison guard. He's telling us his job description and it's not pretty;
"I'll place your justice in my palm and then I'll make fist and punch your grimaced face until every last knuckle breaks and bleeds in resistance to my sidewalk painting. A mangled body twitching and regaining consciousness and closure attempting composure before a bullet in the mouth answers the questions of exposure and God..."
Ending on a sound somewhat scarily similar to Velvet Revolver, Rody sings "I swear I have compassion, I've just been trained to disregard the prisoners life...I'm the prison guard", the musical elements of the album become evident, and then the blistering speed of Nautical
kicks in. Perhaps the fastest track on the album, Nautical
shows evidence that the prison guard is also not exactly being set in his ways. The song speaks of the way soldiers and members of the law enforcement have been more or less tossed aside (Iraq anyone?), and it does so with booming vocals by Rody. Once the groove of the guitars hits you, it stops, and starts again. That's the style the band has more or less become known for since the album, just when the rhythm gets going, it stops. Nautical
is the song that brings out the punk roots of the band, but with a twist. Guitar harmonics and political distress, a combination for success (rhyme not intentional). "We woke up as men, but today, as we break the cryptic morning..." are the lyrics that lead into the albums first single Blindfolds Aside
. Although not my favourite track on the album, I can concur that the impressive vocals and melodic guitar parts (as well as the amazing tapping harmonics found at 2:33) are the perfect combination for a lead single. The song is not poppy, but it's not that heavy. The lyrics, although still on par with the rest of the album, are the most direct. Yes, the metaphors are still there, but they are not layered as much as often. The song fades out with an acoustic outro and gives us an introduction to the female singer on the album, Jadae Kelly. Although a third guitarist is evident in the song, both guitarists do a stellar job at playing melodic acoustic parts while still adding some technical flair. Rody, although singing in a lower octave than usual, does a great job of holding his own with the higher pitched female singer. As they repeat the chorus (not really a chorus, but the line is found throughout the song) "a sin I didn't care for, but a sin that paid my debts. A sin that fed my children and burned my smiles and cigarettes…", the song begins to fade out. The lyrics cut out and the guitars continue until finally you're hit with Act 3.
Act 3: Kezia
Tracks: She Who Mars The Skin Of Gods; Turn Soonest To The Sea; Divine Suicide of K.
She Who Mars the Skin of Gods
is my favourite track on the album. The next two are my second and third favourites. In short, this is, in my opinion, the strongest act on the album. Starting off with a pick scrape, this song picks in to another fast punk tempo the song takes a turn for melody. Taking out the majority of soloing found in the live version of the song, they've traded it in for some groove. This is a groove oriented track, and I love it. It's the introduction to Kezia, and although bleak, it let's us into her psyche (if fictional characters have them). Going from fast to slow and back again, the song is just beautiful. Just as you get wrapped up in the melody, the song becomes confusing. A breakdown of sorts comes in, only it's not an ordinary breakdown. Using 6/8 timing (6/8 with the down beat or accent on 1, every third time on 6), the band gets your head bobbing only to fuc
k you over once more. The song comes to a close and the female vocals come in, but before you know it, it's over. Once She Who Mars..
is over, you're hit in the face with the lovely sweep picking of Tim Millar and you're told to Turn Soonest To The Sea
. Perhaps the most blatant song on the album, as well as the most epic, this track deals with sexism using a technical and virtuosic flair, with a touch of Disney toward the end. This song is full of breakdowns, plenty of "chug chug", as they say, and most importantly it ends with a giant sing-a-long. Ending with an eerily happy sounding vibe (accompanied by not so happy lyrics), this song has become a fan favourite at their concerts, and understandably so. The ending goes as follows;
"Maybe someday when this bloody skull has dried I'll know our city is in ruins and the greatest source of pride is a monument of dicks and ribs and gender crowns we wore where underneath a plaque will read "no woman is a whore".
It's poetic, really, but also kind of disgusting. For those who don't recognize the metaphor, the lyrics are referencing the story of Adam and Eve. "You'll be asking for your rib" is a play on the fact Eve was created from Adam's rib. The song fades out and a sound sample kicks in...Ready...Aim...The Divine Suicide of K
kicks in, and this is slowly becoming my favourite track on the album. The intro of this song is, well, complicated. The drumming in this track is mind blowing. The guitars, as always, speak for themselves and the bass (from what you can hear of it) is crazy. Seriously, although not as evidently technical at first as the rest of the album, this song is nuts - the cymbal work in particular (1 minute in sticks in my mind). The drumming then takes a backseat to some wonderfully awesome alliteration ("It's true that tactless teem totem-poles turn tolerance to tired taboos"), proving the guys really did pay attention in English class. Anyway, the song fades out with female vocals and before you know it the "situationist requiem", for the most, has come to an end. It's time for the finale, and what a finale it is.
Track: Plateful of Our Dead.
"Don't ever ask us to defy our morals"
...Well if you were hoping for clarification, look elsewhere. While the song does encapsulate the entire feel of the album, it doesn't necessarily clarify anything. What the preceding acts speak of is up to you to figure out own your own. The finale more or less just let's you know that the band does not agree or disagree with anyone's side; they've formed their own opinions and you should get your own too. This has more or less become the bands mantra; when they played with Anti-Flag and Bad Religion, they made waves simply by saying "It's easy to just say 'Fuck
you' in regards to Bush, but that's been done so many times, of course Bush is a tool, but please guys just have your own opinions." This track is musically flawless; it's got melody, it's got groove and most of all, it's got technicality. The song goes from fast to slow, hard to soft. The bass in the track is brilliant, and this is more or less the only song you're really going to hear it in. Whether it's by showing off or adding layers, Protest The Hero makes it clear that they'd "rather kill a stupid flower and spread it's seed around" than tell you what to believe.
Kezia is an album I can't stop listening to. Whether they're using metaphors, quoting the Bible, or referencing literary items, the album is simply just brilliant. I'm pushing 2000 words and have yet to even scratch the surface, but as the final song says "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". So rather than beating a dead horse, I'll just leave you with my final thoughts. This album was distributed by Universal Canada, and the band is (at the time of release) signed to Underground Operations.
Official website: http://www.protestthehero.com
The band has just signed a deal with Vagrant and will now have the album released in the US and Europe.