Protest The Hero have carved an identity for themselves that is so revolutionary within heavy music that to call them “unique” would be like calling Louis C.K. “pretty funny” or the classic “Star Trek” television series “influential sci-fi.” The band effortlessly balances high-minded artistry with wit and whimsy, substantive viewpoints with wanton tomfoolery and masterful musicianship with true songcraft.
Across Protest The Hero’s cinematic fourth album, Volition, spider-fingered arpeggios, walloping bottom heavy brutality and dynamically theatrical vocals the group have made their stock-in-trade remain unrivaled. Their storied career has earned them a Revolver Golden Gods Award, two Canadian Independent Music Awards, a Juno nomination, and millions of views online leading to a #1 debut in their home Canada. But it’s the groundswell of loyal supporters who’ve connected with the band’s spontaneity, authenticity and depth that continues to propel them forward: when they set out to crowdfund Volition, PTH met their goal in 24 hours and had more than tripled that sum when it was over.
“We thought, ‘This very well could end our band,’ but we dove in headfirst,” frontman Rody Walker explains regarding his band’s crowdfunding experiment. “The fans responded in a way we could have never expected. It really rejuvenated us. It was a breath of new life.”
Lead guitarist Luke Hoskin concurs. “We were dumbfounded when it surpassed [our goal] so quickly. We knew we’d be tapping into our core fans, but we didn’t know so many of them would help spread the word.”
The Indiegogo campaign backers will each receive something special, while Volition will enjoy the benefits of a traditional label model (including marketing, publicity, retail and distribution muscle) thanks to a new partnership with Razor & Tie for the record’s official unveiling.
“A lot of the songs are about integrity in rock n’ roll,” Walker explains. “Some people say rock music is dead because they aren’t hearing it on the radio. Radio is dead! Rock music itself is very much alive and well.”
Protest The Hero’s hyper-charged bombast is as urgent as their spiritual forefathers in Canadian agitators Propaghandi and they are as skilled as any of the musical shamans who the fill pages of guitar and bass blogs. Metromix once wrote that Hoskin and Tim Millar are “deserving of their own Guitar Hero game.” Bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi displays a dexterity and fluidity that sends fans furiously searching online for tips and tabs. The entire sound is all buoyed by Walker’s recognizable and charismatic wail, as distinctive as the voice that leads fellow Canadians Rush.
It’s no surprise that Protest The Hero made a fan out of Dream Theater co-founder Mike Portnoy or that subcultural tastemaker Decibel described them as “phenomenally talented, intense and heavy.” They are just as given to taking a page from the Noisecore movement of the late ‘90s spearheaded by bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan and Botch as they are to wander into the esoteric but bizarrely radio-friendly territory of a band like Faith No More. Protest The Hero expertly mine the most head-scratching strains of progressive minded metal music, excavating the melodic truths at the heart of the style. They’ve long endeavored to pay equal attention to the visual presentation, as well.
Protest The Hero’s fourth album contains some of their heaviest and most progressive material, while alternately offering increasingly melodic punk elements that open the door to even bigger horizons. “The music is still bat-shit crazy a lot of the time, but there’s more structure,” Hoskin notes. “On our first two albums, I’d play them for friends and they’d say, ‘This part was cool but it never comes back!’ That was the intention at the time. Now we bring parts back and expand on them.”
Volition boasts the heaviest song Protest The Hero has even written, “A Life Embossed,” a fast-paced and complex barnstormer with dissonant guitars. It’s topped with vocal declarations against breed-specific legislation regarding pitbulls. “Plato’s Tripartite” is infused with even more venom for modern events, decrying the misogyny that can lead to physical abuse, demanding that society take a shared, collective responsibility.
The first song the band wrote for the album musically, “Tilting Against Windmills” (the title is from “Don Quixote”), rails against the homophobia of religious fundamentalists. “I almost called the song ‘Kirk Cameron is Gay,’ but I was vetoed,” Walker says, with a laugh.
Walker’s love of all things “Star Trek” continues unabated on the more lighthearted “Clarity,” which smacks down “Star Wars” once and for all. Musically it’s “an all around assault” according to Hoskin. “We wanted a first song that, when it’s done, people just press pause because it has kind of punished their senses.”
Protest The Hero possesses a chemistry that dates back to a time before any of the guys in the band were old enough to drive. They recorded their first 7” record when they were all just 13 years old and embarked on a “Rock The Vote” tour the day they finished high school. The band’s technicality and Walker’s vocal range were evident already on their 2005 debut album, the conceptually driven Kezia. The Onion AV Club awarded sophomore album, Fortress, an “A”; Alternative Press gave it four stars. Scurrilous showcased a potent and broadened accessibility.
After years on the road with friends and peers in bands like Killswitch Engage, Avenged Sevenfold, All That Remains, Bullet For My Valentine, In Flames and Trivium as well as stints on Vans Warped Tour and Australia’s Soundwave Festival, founding drummer Moe Carlson exited the band on the eve of Volition’s creation, marking the first and only member change since Protest The Hero began.
Protest The Hero drafted gargantuan heavy-hitter Chris Adler, best known as the driving force behind monolithic modern metal band Lamb Of God, to perform session duties during the Volition recording process. “Getting Chris made sense to all of us,” Hoskin recalls. “I think Moe was even in on that discussion. He was the first guy we got a hold of and he said ‘Yes’ right away, before any kind of a deal was even worked out.”
As much a career long culmination in style and spirit as a new chapter in their continuing evolution, Protest The Hero’s Volition sits mightily alongside the catalog, the music videos, the mandatory crowd participation of their performances and every other detail of the band’s expression, part of a burgeoning legacy built on truthfulness and artistic independence. Commercial conquering has never been the goal; making statements, planting a cultural flag of sorts, has always been paramount.
“I hope people see the whole package,” says Hoskin. “The music, videos, promo photos, blogs, studio updates – all of it. I’d like some perplexity over the whole thing. ‘What in the world are they doing?’"
“Even if we are never ‘successful’ I hope that people will remember us as important,” Walker agrees. “That may sound egotistical, but I’d love to have a lasting legacy of unflinching integrity; that we didn’t play by anyone’s rules other than our own and the people who cared about us.”