Review Summary: While the lyrics might leave you wanting, the overall superior musicality and feel of this album is very satisfying.
Ever since a good friend of mine introduced me to the song “Sequoia Throne” (which is from another album, by the way), I have been delving more and more into their speedy math metal material and enjoying the trip the entire way there. I decided one day that I needed to own a physical CD to use in my car, and so I went out and bought this album without ever hearing any of the tracks. The interesting thing is that, while the whole album is very good, it proved to me that all parts need to come together to make an album great.
Generally speaking, we think of a few different categorized groups when we listen to an album. For example, we usually lump things into large ideas—such as the lyrics, or the production, or the actual music itself. An album’s overall enjoyment level comes from the integrity of each of these parts; any one of them that falls short brings down the whole experience. Each part needs to carry its own weight to make an album spectacular in our eyes. You’ll see what I mean later on.
Let’s start off by mentioning that these guys are outstanding musicians. I think that this fact is one of the reasons I like Protest The Hero so much: every member is a virtuoso at the instrument they play. No one sounds any less than excellent in their performance. Both guitarists run around the fretboard like crazed, cocaine-induced monkeys; and the bassist, when he’s not busy making his famous bow-and-arrow gesture, follows in suit. The drummer is excellent at all the polyrhythm beats that get cranked out measure after measure, and everything sounds delightfully tight and clear. I have to make special mention of the lead singer, who probably has the most talent in a lead singer that I have heard in a long time. High, clear tenor vocals" Check. Midrange, scratchy screams" Check. Low, thunderous growls" Check. He’s literally a one-man army in voice. Just check out two tracks—“C’est La Vie” and “Tapestry”—to hear all of this vocal range (you can even look at “Sequoia Throne” too, but I won’t mention it heavily since it is part of a different album). The vocal talent is definitely the most noticeable, but it also kind of should be since it’s just that good.
Production-wise, the album sounds refreshingly clear and crisp. It’s been a while since I’ve heard a band sound so good with making everything so well-defined. All staccato notes are short and punchy; all polyrhythms are spot-on and clean. Everything is very, very well performed. It must have taken these guys a lot of work to get it that way. I can only imagine the hours of practice that took place to make sure that every 3/8 to 6/4 change was cleaner than bleached socks. Such discipline, and you can definitely tell. Also, all of the instruments are very well mixed; this more of a hat-tip to the audio engineer. I like being able to hear everything, including the ever-elusive metal basslines, and when I can pick out each and every instrument at any given part I always have to mention it in my review. Kudos to the man who mixed all of the craziness running around in this album and made it sound crisp and oh-so-delightfully clear.
Judging by the way I opened this review, you know that there has to be some sort of fly in the lobster bisque. Unfortunately, it is true: this album has one major flaw, and that is the lyrics. Now, I’m going to approach this carefully, because not all of the lyrics are bad. In fact, the song “C’est La Vie” has some of the most innovative, clever lyrics I’ve heard in a long time. I love that song because it takes such playful math metal and adds grim satire and blunt, realistic imagery in a most agreeable manner. In fact, there are plenty of times in the album where a line will play around with words or say something much deeper than its surface meaning.
My problem lies within the fact that such great writing also reeks of bad writing. Let’s use the song “Tapestry” as an example; it has the line, “This is our Versailles—palace on the swamp”. Great imagery for a line of just eight words, and it has plenty of metaphoric meaning behind it. However, we look elsewhere in the song and see the line, “Drunk as hell/ Dumb as all get out/ So pucker up those pretty lips of yours and/ Kiss my ass and shut your mouth”. I’ve tried to find a good reason for the way this line is written, and I honestly can’t find one. There is no metaphor or imagery here; just an angry dude talking about the way something is. Where did the clever alluding go" What happened to our nice, imaginative pictures" This happens over and over throughout the album, and it is honestly depressing since I know that they have the potential for such greater lyrical mastery.
The biggest offender, however, is (sadly) the last track on the album called “Sex Tapes”. The entire lyrical content is an obvious, poorly-worded, grotesque rebuttal towards certain media. After further review I can possibly see an underlying point, but the problem is that I get so distracted by the terrible writing that I basically miss it completely. The surprising thing is that this song was written by the same guy (the bassist Arif) who wrote not only the song “C’est La Vie” but also the entirety of another album “Fortress”, which is also known for great lyrics. What happened here" Where did our genius disappear to" The problem is that I know that Protest The Hero knows better—as opposed to another band like Five Finger Death Punch, who have terrible lyrics in more or less all of their songs. Since they can’t claim ignorance on this one, it’s inexcusable—I have to be more critical about the degeneration of their lyrical content as the album progresses away from “C’est La Vie” and two of the other opening tracks. It is unfortunate that such great music has to be paired with such sub-par writing that had all the potential to be something much greater.
As a whole, Protest The Hero has made headway with this latest addition, but in some ways they have also taken a step backwards. While the music remains excellent as always, the lyrics have taken an unfortunate slide downhill into a more boring, straightforward nature. Luckily, the album does save itself lyrically a few times here and there, but the overall disappointment of matching amazing music with mediocre words is too blatant. However, I feel that I am putting a large amount of importance on something that is probably trivial, so I will say this: “Scurrilous” is a great album. It’s probably not their greatest, but it is still very enjoyable. I have had this CD in my car’s player for a long time now and still listen to it all the time because the musicality and virtuosity is more or less addictive and very enjoyable. Go pick this album up if you want to try something refreshingly unique.