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Evolution Beyond All Expectation

“I’m as good as a mother fucker in an early child birth class, and we’re in Florida, livin’ it up,” emails Rody Walker, preparing for Protest the Hero’s inaugural appearance on the kid-pleasing craziness that is the Vans Warped Tour. The band may be barely out of high school, but they’re already veterans of extensive touring, and there’s no secret to what keeps them going on the road. “We stay as drunk as virgins on prom night…and listen to as much techy music (spastic ink) as possible, just to make sure we know that things are crazier than they seem.”

With screamo bands Billy Talent and Alexisonfire arguably the most popular acts among younger Canadian audiences, the timing could not have been better for Protest the Hero to come along. Their energetic, politically charged debut EP, A Calculated Use of Sound, which combined the taut ferocity of At the Drive-In with the melodic touch of Coheed and Cambria, captured the attention of many young Canadians in 2004, thanks in large part to the memorable video for “These Colours Don’t Run”, which featured the quintet performing on various Toronto street corners amidst befuddled passers-by. By the time 2005 rolled around, the band had toured heavily across Canada, resulting in a loyal fan base, but with the release of their startlingly good full-length, Kezia, the boys in the band have made it clear that they have every intention of attracting a wider audience than just the spin-kicking teenagers out there, and considering the recent groundswell of word-of-mouth surrounding the band in 2006, it could very well happen.

Protest the Hero
“Nautical”: MP3
multiple songs: MySpace

“We definitely have a strange demographic, from those lame emo kids, to lame metal kids, to lame hardcore kids,” says Walker. “People that associate themselves with genres are all lame; hopefully the people that will really appreciate what we do will just be music fans, and fans of a diverse range of different styles of music. Defining yourself within the strict walls of a genre is stupid, and I instantly lose respect for people who do it.”

A self-described “situationist requiem” (that’s pretentious talk for “concept album”), Kezia is a fascinating little story that, not unlike the Kurosawa film Rashomon, centers on three separate characters musing on one specific scenario, that being the impending execution of a female prisoner. Divided into three parts, Walker sings from the point of view of a prison priest, a prison guard, and the prisoner herself, with the lyrics, written by bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi, delicately treading the balance between poetic and preposterous. “We’re not really concept nerds, we just wanted to do something extremely detached from our previous work, and that is essentially what the CD is about, shooting to death our past and watching it die,” claims Walker. While the album avoids the overtly political themes of the EP in favor of a much vaguer message, that aspect has not left the band’s mindset. “Kezia is about how we are developing as individuals and our morals and values, and the importance of such, ergo we’ll always be somewhat political.”

Protest the Hero - Blindfolds Aside

It’s on the musical side of things that the band makes the biggest strides. Along with that very strong post-hardcore element, more progressive-minded metal influences begin to make themselves known in Protest the Hero’s sound. Drawing heavily from Between the Buried and Me, the Red Chord, and Dream Theater, the stylistic variety on Kezia is often dizzying at first, the dual guitar harmonies of Swedish death metal commingling with aggression that borders on grindcore and vocals that range from typical emo singing to full-on death growls. The explosive “Heretics and Killers” veers from pit-pleasing metalcore, to highly technical breaks, to layered vocal harmonies. “Divinity Within” meshes thrash metal with an understated chorus, and “Bury the Hatchet” starts off as a near-brilliant imitation of Swedish greats In Flames, then flies into several different tangents at the same time. Such growth from the EP to the album is remarkable. “For Calculated, we had four days in a budget studio, however it represented the time period quite aptly,” according to Walker. “Recording Kezia was about a two month period in a very nice studio with Julius Butty, who’s become a fantastic producer, and is a fantastic person…[he’s] the baddest mother fucker alive, he’s a fan of Judas Priest and I love him. He made recording that CD easier than getting KFC down south. Our record wasn’t an easy one to record, but he made it a breeze.”

Two of the album’s best songs, “Blindfolds Aside” and “The Divine Suicide of K”, feature guest vocalist Jadea Kelly, her more conventional singing style serving as a lovely emotional counterpoint to Walker’s histrionics. “Jadea’s a really good friend of mine,” explains Walker. “I’ve known her for awhile and have always loved her voice, and I wrote a few parts for female vocals with her in mind, we thought of some other people, but they sucked, and Jadea was perfect. We’ll definitely always include female vocals, as they add variety and diversity.”

In one fell swoop, Protest the Hero have exceeded any expectations people had in them, and in the process elevated them to a level befitting the very best in post-hardcore today. At the rate this young band is improving, the mind boggles at what they’ll achieve on their next effort. According to Walker, we can expect more evolution. “You can never expect the same album twice. We don’t know what the next album will be, but we know it won’t be anything like Kezia, and we hold fast to a notion of constant improvement.”

Protest the Hero - Heretics and Killers

[artist website]

Adrien Begrand has been writing for PopMatters since 2002, and has been writing his monthly metal column Blood & Thunder since 2005. His writing has also appeared in Metal Edge, Sick Sounds, Metallian, graphic novelist Joel Orff's Strum and Drang: Great Moments in Rock 'n' Roll, Knoxville Voice, The Kerouac Quarterly,,, and A contributing writer for Decibel, Terrorizer, and Dominion magazines and senior writer for Hellbound, he resides, blogs, and does the Twitter thing in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

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