Sound — 10
It's been 6 years since Canadian quintet Protest the Hero first came onto the scene with Kezia, an album that showcased the group's unbelievable technical abilities as players and songwriters. After 2008's frantic and downright outstanding Fortress, Protest the Hero has cemented themselves as one of progressive metal's top acts. Well, three years later, they're back with their third album, entitled Scurrilous. Now before this review actually begins, a quick word to the wise: crank your stereo and watch out, because this album explodes. Immediately.
Opening track C'est la Vie (a French expression for that's life) bursts with hectic guitars from the moment you push play. It showcases the band's signature sound, with vocalist Rody Walker's vocals soaring over Tim Millar and Luke Hoskin's just plain awesome guitars. Once again, they prove that they can use just about every single fret in a single song, while bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi gets his first spotlight during the song's bridge with some beautiful high notes. The song wraps up with gang vocals and drummer Moe Carlson pounding away like there's no tomorrow. As usual, Protest the Hero begin with a bang, and there really is no doubt that C'est la Vie is one of the best tracks on the album.
Next up we have Hair-Trigger, a slower, more proggy track full of tapping guitars and rolling drums. More astounding bass-work from Arif (see the tapping fills about two minutes in). The chorus is just too catchy, and Rody Walker hits some impossibly high notes before guest vocalist Jadea Kelly (fans will remember her as Kezia from the band's debut) and Walker trade off lyrics. The song ends with a truly fantastic breakdown, and there is almost no way you won't grin when you hear Rody shriek she's cold as ICE!
Tandem, while the longest song on the album (a little over five minutes), sounds like three completely different songs smashed together. It definitely creates a strange effect, but is still chock-full of weird time signatures and sweep picking to please, and ends suddenly. Moonlight, while still full of fantastic guitar work and more kick-ass drumming from Carlson, is probably the most laid-back track on the album. It proves that even Protest the Hero need a breather every once in a while, but is nothing compared to what is to come.
Tapestry features some of the band's most intricate , almost shrill riffing, and shows how much their songwriting has evolved in only 6 years, and features some of Rody's only growls on the album (more on that in the Lyrics section of this review). The vocals hit more notes that fans of the band can only dream of. Rody's fantastic vocals and the song's grandiose tone set the stage perfectly for Dunsel, a crash course in breakdowns (see the last third of the song) and ferocious headbanging.
After the downright groove of The Unending Reign of Terror (damn, that alternate-picking jam halfway in...) comes Termites, another favorite with (as far as I know) Protest's first use of double-tracked vocals.
By now, any first-time listener may be exhausted by the song's lengthy intro, but (as with every Protest the Hero album), Scurrilous really isn't an album you can absorb on the first listen. You'll find yourself revisiting this one a lot, maybe not even to see if you like it, but just to get everything out of it.
The album wraps up with Sex Tapes, beginning with Rody's piercing vocals and including a guest appearance by Propagandhi's Chris Hannah. Everyone in the band is on top form, especially for the song's straight-up Nightmare Before Christmas breakdown. The band lock into a nice groove and (contrary to the sudden end of Fortress) fade out, ending the album.
Lyrics — 9
Anyone interested in Rody Walker's death growls will be disappointed by "Scurrilous". While the album features one of his best vocal performances yet, there is almost no growling (with the exception of some sections of "Tapestry"). On "Scurrilous", Walker's voice soars, hitting some ridiculously high notes and trading in his shrieks for more melody. As already mentioned, Kezia's Jadea Kelly makes her return with some haunting, beautiful lyrics on "Hair-Trigger" while Propagandhi's Chris Hannah bellows perfectly over "Sex Tapes.
Lyrically, the album deals (as far as I can tell) with topics of everyday life in today's society. "C'est la Vie" deals with suicide, with lines such as "Stepped off a chair so he could learn to get loose" and "Stepped off a building to find some concrete evidence". "Hair-Trigger" talks about love, and it's hard not to bang your head when Rody screams "She's cold as ICE!". "Tapestry" features more of these impossibly high vocals, before wrapping up with a commentary on sex tapes on the album's closing track ("Be careful what you're looking at because it might be looking back").
Less shrieking and growling may disappoint some hardcore fans of the band. Vocally, "Scurrilous" may seem like a far cry from the vocal acrobatics that so many fans of Rody Walker love, but with this new direction, his voice has never sounded as powerful or as controlled.
Overall Impression — 9
Make no mistake, this is a different album, even by Protest the Hero's standards. There are no acoustic interludes, and the songs are more laid back than their last album. Rody Walker described "Scurrilous" as a natural progression, and I completely agree. They took some risks and tried different things, but isn't that exactly what progressive music is about? It's not all about amazing guitars and weird time signatures, you know, and "Scurrilous" (as with the rest of the band's material) is second to none.
The album fades out on a happy note; it'll please almost all of the old fans and will surely bring some new ones. But, with "Scurrilous" to add to the band's collection, it'll just make us all ask: "What took you so long?"