Protest The Hero’s standing within prog and mathcore has never felt as strong as they’ve ultimately proven it to be. Their releases have always been strong, falling somewhere between Coheed And Cambria if they took themselves less seriously and a more grownup Dance Gavin Dance, but they often fail to pick up traction in the same way as either of those acts. That certainly felt the case with 2013’s Volition, an album whose public appreciation has been virtually pressure-washed away since its release, and following that up with a model closer to a subscription service for 2016’s Pacific Myth unsurprisingly saw even less success. And yet, despite all of that, Protest The Hero have always had a fairly tight handle on what they’re doing, to the point where even less successful ventures have done pretty well for them, and Palimpsest looks to be primed to replicate that. There’s been no real hype around it and the announcement of its release came pretty much out of nowhere, but the inherent quality that Protest The Hero have become known for is enough of a boon to circumvent some of the more negative reactions, and that’s always a handy privilege for a band to have at their disposal.
It’s especially true for an album like Palimpsest, given that it primarily serves as a showcase of how good Protest The Hero are at balancing soaring, intricate post-hardcore and metal, and spiralling off the rails at barely a moment’s notice. And that’s mainly to their credit too, despite how it may sound; placed next to either of the aforementioned comparison points of Coheed And Cambria and Dance Gavin Dance, Palimpsest is just as towering as the former with a lot of the pretension toned back, and capable of being just as wild as the latter while actually sounding, y’know, good. And this is a good album, placed into position by its reportedly arduous creative process that seemingly explains why this album can feel as crammed as it does. And while there are individual analyses that can be made there in both the positive and the negative, this is about as lively and creative as anyone would expect from Protest The Hero, while still making its title of Palimpsest feel incredibly apt – there are new angles that have been explored, but it’s unmistakably Protest The Hero from front to back.
It’s a direct result of how maximalist the production and composition of this album feels overall, with the zipping tempos and melodies and Rody Walker’s frankly ridiculous vocal range pushed right to the front and injected with plenty of volume at all times, and on tracks like The Migrant Mother and All Hands, topped off with calamitously theatrical circumstance to make it pop even more. But where that could be easy grounds to fully lose track of everything they have, Protest The Hero are generally able to keep their efforts focused, even with the multiple shifts mid-song and the propensity for shooting off wherever they feel like at any particular moment. It’s the combination of that unpredictability with a modern post-hardcore sensibility (particularly in some occasionally excellent drum work from Michael Ieradi) that makes Palimpsest feel so exciting; it’s perhaps the biggest in sheer scope that Protest The Hero have sounded in a long time, and barrelling into that while picking up flavours of bands like glassjaw or even letlive. only helps to galvanise them more. It helps that there’s a great instrumental tone to back it up, with the perfect balance between metallic crunch and electrified, off-the-handle riffing in the guitar work, a bass tone and loose-limbed drum style that can easily replicate the manic energy of it all, and Walker and any other bells and whistles to fill up the remaining space and make it feel even bigger and more powerful.
There is a limit though, and though it doesn’t come with any great regularity, Palimpsest will occasionally find Protest The Hero overextending in a way that can see things drop for them. It’s mainly a case of not making certain moments as tight as they could be, which leads to a track like From The Sky struggling to know what to do with itself, and isolating brief, piano-based interludes as the only sources of a reprieve from the ceaseless stimulation isn’t done with the greatest amount of tact. It’s where the band seem to be falling into older progressive tendencies that mightn’t be the best fit for them, something that’s especially telling when a clear argument could be made for these songs existing better as individual pieces as opposed to the full body of work. But that would also be to ignore a sense of uniqueness that Protest The Hero bring within that, not just in the wordy, oblique lyrics, but in a sense of exploration that genuinely feels daring. It’s here that glancing towards the mindset of an older prog band works better, with the fact that so many of their shifts and erratic progressions do have purpose beyond musical flexing, and on a compositional level, it really is impressive to see how far Protest The Hero are willing to take their ideas, even if they aren’t the most locked-in that they could be.
And when that’s given its proper evaluation, this is an easy sell for any existing Protest The Hero fan. It mightn’t come together as the mind-melting opus that disparate moments hint towards, but it’s still evident of a band continuing to really push themselves even this far down the line, and put in the work for their spot high up the ladder. The moments of brilliance do stand out remarkably well, executed with verve and colour that so much prog seems bizarre averse to nowadays, but Protest The Hero channelling their stampeding momentum there alongside everything else on this album does a lot for them. It’s quite simply sketching out a standard in modern prog and mathcore than more bands should be embracing, and even if they aren’t entirely there themselves in making the most of it, Protest The Hero’s effort rings out joyously loud all the same.
For fans of: Coheed And Cambria, Dance Gavin Dance, glassjaw
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Palimpsest’ by Protest The Hero is released on 19th June on Spinefarm Records.