Review Summary: "Volition" might as well have been self-titled, as it's the most definitive and personality-filled album of their career.
Protest the Hero and musical identity have a complex relationship. They've always had a unique, polarizing sound that blossoms with technicality and personality, but it's always been reflected through a different prism - blistering punk for Kezia, dissonant metal for Fortress, and soaring post-hardcore for the divisive Scurrilous. The band's musical growth was obvious - song structures were tighter, vocals were more intense, guitar sweeps more virtuosic. But in retrospect, the band might have been forcing their sound too tightly to fit into a specific genre. The band's fourth studio album, Volition, born from the pooled resources of eager fans, sees the three aforementioned genres blur into a sound fully encompassing everything Protest the Hero has ever been, and is the most definitive and personalized release yet from one of the most important heavy bands of the 21st century.
"Without a word uttered, a comparison is drawn" - "Drumhead Trial" is immediately reminiscent of the melody and speed of the band's debut, and "A Life Embossed" and "Mist" are heavily influenced by the band's Scurrilous days. But Volition is an extremely dense listen, and the similarity on the surface only serves as the frothy icing on the delicious cake: sugary and enticing to get you to savor the richer and more finely crafted parts. Other differences make themselves more obvious; "Underbite" is a quirky punk rock riff on egotistical rockstars that somehow manages to be playful while avoiding annoying the listener, and "Skies" is the band's first truly epic closer, being musically intricate enough to be prefaced with a foreshadowing interlude earlier in the album yet simple enough to remain insanely catchy. Songwriting has not always been the band's strong suit - that belonged to the riffs - but here, the riffs serve the song and vice versa, and the band's maturity has manifested in polished, well-paced songs that are never boring for a split second. Fans of the band's earlier material will be pleased to know that the overall pace of the album has increased from Scurrilous, and the songs are intimidatingly fast without being ridiculous.
At this point, the band's technical prowess should go without saying, but it would be bad form not to give it a mention. Lamb of God's Chris Adler slips onto the drummer's stool for this outing, and while it's hard to notice a change while the rest of the band is playing, in moments such as the drum solo at the opening of "Underbite" he really makes his power felt. Rody Walker sings as powerfully and admirably as ever, and brings back his harsh vocals that were noticeably all but absent from the band's previous record. His lyrical presence is also felt much more; while in the past he shared writing duties with bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi, on this record he has taken over composition entirely. Whether you enjoy his hardcore punk-inspired, down-to-earth lyrics as opposed to the epic stories of the band's past is a matter of personal taste, but they suit the fun and jarring nature of the music accordingly.
Volition is an album with no flaws to speak of - the band's songwriting is refined to a tee, the audio production woes of past albums have been completely eliminated, and the album's pacing is absolutely spot on. Maturity and cohesion don't always translate to a better end product, but for a band like Protest the Hero, it's best to balance the chaos with some control, and it's a testament to the band's longevity and brilliance that they are able to finally pull it off this well. It's impossible to recommend this to someone who has always hated the band, as the act of refining something already in existence hardly makes it palatable to a completely different audience, but if you stepped off the PTH platform back when the band released Scurrilous, you should probably climb back on before the train approaches mach speed and leaves you in a dozen pieces.