Sound — 9
After the primarily analog-recorded "Act I" album The Protomen return with their sophomore album, a journey through country-western, '80s rock-pop, and operatic influences. For this album The Protomen recruited producer Alan Shacklock, and might I say this album's mixing and production was top-notch. With The Protomen traversing numerous different genres a good producer was needed, and Shacklock fit the bill very well. Every track (except for "The Fall" which I'll get into later) was expertly crafted. Most of the songs have several auxiliary synths, which can easily get lost in or overpower the entire mix, but Shacklock pulls it off very well for the most part. One outlier is the penultimate track of the album, "The Fall." The song uses multiple guitars, synths, and a choir who sings some of the best lyrics I've heard in a while. But unfortunately it is drowned out by the other instruments to the point where one can hear the choir, but it just sounds like vocal "ahh"s or "ooh"s. The arrangements overall are magnificent for a rock album. As opposed to "Act I" which was a pretty straightforward rock/punk album, Act II touches on many more of the band's influences. Whether it be country-western tracks such as "The Good Doctor," big band numbers like "The Hounds," more grandiose arrangements such as "The State vs. Thomas Light," or even the upbeat '80s-style pop rocker "Light Up the Night," each and every track beautifully showcases the instrumental ability and talent of the band. One thing to note about the progression of this album (this will also be explained further in the "Lyrics" section) is that the style of the songs follow a sort of chronological pattern along with the story. The opening track takes place before the city becomes industrialized, so it follows a more acoustic vibe. Whereas later in the album, once the antagonist has industrialized and progressed the city, the tracks start to include more "tech-y" sounds such as synths and electric guitars. This sonic progression makes the underlying theme and the album as a whole much more enjoyable to the intent listener.
Lyrics — 10
Taking place before "Act I," this album is the 2nd Act of a (predicted) 3-Act rock opera about the life of Dr. Light, living in an Orwellian dystopia, based loosely on Capcom's "Megaman" franchise. Just like in "Act I" several themes are taken from the works of author Ayn Rand on the philosophy of Objectivism. Explaining all of these would take up more time than I would like for a simple review, so here's a "brief" plot synopsis: Dr. Light and Dr. Wily have developed a way to industrialize their troubled city with the use of robot labor. Light gets cold feet right before they are set to unveil the robots (see: "turning on the city," a key theme) but Wily convinces him to go through with it regardless ("The Good Doctor"). After Light does this, Wily heads over to Light's house and tries to convince Light's wife, Emily, to run away with him so they can rule over the robots together, and to leave Light because he doesn't have the will to control the robots. Emily refuses, and so Wily has one of his robots stab and kill her. Light walks in at this time to see the murder, but cannot do anything about it. The police show up almost right after Wily and the robot leave, seeing Light alone with Emily's dead body and the knife the robot used to kill her ("The Father of Death"). Wily, now the sole proprietor of his and Light's creations, holds a press conference to implicate Light as the murderer. He then sends out a city-wide warrant for Light and uses this search for Light as an excuse to unleash his legion of telescreens upon the city ("The Hounds"). Light is apprehended and put on trial. Despite being found "not guilty," he still feels guilty for Emily's death (having "made the man who laid his hands" on her) and the inevitable death of the city ("The State vs. Thomas Light"). However, due to Wily's efforts against Light, Light is ostracized by the citizens and is forced into hiding ("Give Us the Rope"). With Light gone, Wily can finally initiate his plan, making the city more dependent on robots and less of a working class ("How the World Fell Under Darkness"). Fast forward a few years, the city is still under Wily's control. A new protagonist is introduced in the character Joe. Joe wonders about life outside of the city and talks about all that's wrong with it. He gets on his motorcycle and decides to ride to the very edge of town, where he is confronted by one of Wily's old robots, the one who killed Emily ("Breaking Out"). Joe confronts the robot, stating that he's heard rumors of him from the citizens. Joe decides that he doesn't care about the murderous things he's heard about the robot, and attacks him. Meanwhile, an older Dr. Light is watching this confrontation from an alley. Joe manages to stun the robot, finds the robot's gun, and aims for his final blow. Light runs and grabs the gun from Joe before he can shoot. Light tells Joe that he must destroy what he created, and shoots and kills the robot. Light and Joe hide the robot corpse and retreat back to Light's tenement ("Keep Quiet"). Light devises a plan for Joe to destroy the main antenna that sends the broadcasts to the telescreens. If Joe does this then Wily loses his grip on the city. So Joe gets on his motorcycle, rides back to the heart of the city, into the skyscraper that houses the antenna, and plants some explosives Light gave him in the building ("Light Up the Night"). Unfortunately for Joe, the explosives go off prematurely and he is caught in the blast. As Light watches he sees Joe's body falling from the building, to which these great lyrics are dedicated, "Climb to the top of the World. And as you stand tall, you will see, that when you fall, you will fall from a height most men will never reach" ("The Fall"). Light is at the very least happy at first, having destroyed Wily's main source of propaganda, but then he hears a faint beeping behind him. Wily had created a second, secret antenna tower. Wily had been anticipating an attack like this, and such an attack would give him the jurisdiction to take the city under martial law. Light comes to the conclusion that he can do no more to help the city, and does not try to move when the building is falling down on top of him. The building comes crashing down, all of the debris falling around Light, but none on top of him. He finally brings himself to read the note Emily left him the night of her death. The note consists of her explaining that the world is too much for one man (Wily) to control, and that its only hope is Light. Light regains confidence, and escapes just before the robots get to the crumbled building ("Here Comes the Arm").
Overall Impression — 9
As compared to this album's predecessor, "Act II" has much better production, arrangements, and overall feel. The listener's opinion of the message/theme is completely subjective, but in my opinion it showcases Ayn Rand and George Orwell's ideals very well. Favorites from the album would have to be "The Hounds," "Keep Quiet," and "Light Up the Night." I can't pick out anything I really dislike about the album except for the mixing on "The Fall." I would definitely purchase the album again if it were somehow stolen (I bought it as a digital download so...). Overall I can't recommend this album enough. It's just a phenomenal piece of work from a terribly underrated band.