Released: 2013, Razor & Tie Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Canadian prog-metallers Protest The Hero snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in most impressive fashion with their fourth album. Their dicey decision to forgo a label and finance Volition with a crowdfunding campaign turned out to be a stroke of genius as they raised nearly three times the $125,000 they hoped to. And when drummer Moe Carlson's departure on the eve of recording threatened to throw a monkey wrench in the works, the band managed to secure the services of Lamb of God's Chris Adler, who's work here is predictably fantastic.
Indeed Volition is pretty fantastic in its own right, as the band put their money – well, actually, their fans' money – where their mouths are and craft an album that is not only challenging and inspired, but inviting and undeniably likeable. You can get a pretty good idea of the thought process behind the music here on the scathing, almost punk rock “Underbite,” where frontman Rody Walker assails the “bullshit” mentality of bands who feel the fans owe it to them instead of the other way around. And the fans certainly get their money's worth here, whether they contributed or merely purchased Volition.
Of the myriad prog/tech bands out there, Protest have always been one of easiest to warm up to, on one hand because of Walker's stellar, crystal-clear vocals and on the other because the band always valued the power of the song over technical indulgence. So despite the relatively complexity of the music, as well as the obvious dexterity of the band members – notably nimble guitarists Luke Hoskin and Tim Millar - it always had something for you to grab on to, be it a hook, a chorus or a catchy aside.
This is especially true of Volition, which is both heavier and more streamlined than 2011's Scurrilous or 2008's Fortress while still providing a pretty jaw-dropping display of musicianship. A track like the brilliant “Mist” is loaded with flitty, finger picky guitars and a bracing pace – not to mention an almost chamber music conclusion of piano/violin/acoustic guitar – yet rides a welcoming riff much of the way through and a rousing chorus saluting “Goddamn Newfoundland!” that sinks its hooks in deep. More direct are the opening salvo of “Clarity” and “Drumhead Trial” that pack plenty of punch even as they stutter step their way through some pretty eclectic arrangements.
Adler's presence is more prominent on “Tilting Against Windmills” and “Without Prejudice,” if only because they are more furious and rhythmically challenging, and his obvious chops keep things moving along nicely. Ironically, the funky, plucky basslines that rides atop his drums on “Prejudice” come courtesy of producer Cameron McLellan instead of band bassist and one-time main songwriter Arif Mirabdolbaghi. Not sure what to make of that.
Walker's typically impeccable vocals are less warbly and more authoritative here, though he rarely gets screamy even at his most belligerent, as on “Underbite” or the feral “Animal Bones.” A slew of guest backup vocalists, including regular contributor Jadea Kelly, add harmonies to flesh things out or, as on “A Life Embossed,” play bad cop, even though most of the time they seem a bit superfluous given Walker's range and impressive lung power.
So much could have gone wrong with this album given that the band were essentially left to their own devices in the studio with a huge wad of house money to play with. Instead, it proves that integrity and artistic vision are still alive and well, and that bands can operate just fine outside a system that has been collapsing in on itself for some time. Protest The Hero put the faith of their fans to the test with Volition, and their faith has been rewarded in spades.