Label: Vagrant Records
Released: February 11, 2008
There is a musical gray area that exists between good bands that live within their limitations and great bands that have no limitations. Bands in that gray area are clearly very, very good and deserve credit for their willingness to push the envelope of their sound. At the same time, they get dinged for lacking the self-knowledge to know when to stop pushing and to start concentrating on songwriting rather than theory. These bands avoid the perfection that can be achieved on either side of them and the degree to which they avoid it determines whether their album flirts with greatness or disaster.
Protest the Hero’s second full-length album, Fortress, certainly falls into that gray area. These guys’ chops far exceed most of their peers’. The rhythms are tight and dynamic, their dual guitar attack can be both lightning fast and beautifully melodic and Rody Walker’s vocals are as effective when smooth as when brutal. They incorporate hardcore’s brutality and thrash’s speed with moments of symphonic metal that actually aren’t all that gratuitous. In their best moments they knock on the door of the Mars Volta, but unlike Volta, their songs often lack the cohesiveness that turns experimentation into song. That and perhaps the thinness of the production are the limiting factors of the soaring potential of Fortress.
All members of Protest the Hero are under the legal drinking age (here in the US, but not in their Canadian home), yet they’ve been playing together for nine years. That may account for both their incredible ability to play together as well as their struggle to write focused songs. For such a young band, they are incredibly literate, writing lyrics that sensible enough to get a feel for the song, yet cryptic enough to keep you guessing. If they could translate that same ability into the music, they would get out of that gray area and do more than just flirt with greatness.
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