It’s often said you can’t judge a book by its cover. When it comes to music, you can’t judge a band from its album cover. Take Protest the Hero’s new record Fortress---in the foreground is a female goddess, arrows piercing out from her shoulder armour, her long flowing hair blowing out from under a helmet adorned with antlers. In the background, two symmetrical rams’ heads face away from each other while a glowing sun illuminates the entire scene. Most people would assume it’s some sort of punk or metal record, filled with crunching riffs and screaming vocals---and they’d be right.
Still, Rody Walker, Protest the Hero’s lead singer, defies the stereotype of the dark metal mind or the spit-and-venom-spewing punk. “I’m a big fan of Trek of all kinds,” says Walker from the band’s tour bus. Admitting the sci-fi series’ role as a tour time-killer, he says, “I feel like a real dork...”
TV habits aside, Walker and company (guitarists Luke Hoskin and Tim Millar, bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi and drummer Moe Carlson) are like so many of Canada’s best punk and metal bands these days (think Billy Talent from Streetsville) in that they hail from suburban Ontario---in Protest the Hero’s case, Whitby.
Shortly after forming, and while still in high school in 2003, Protest the Hero released a debut EP, A Calculated Use of Sound. The band came to Halifax immediately after grad and gained a reputation for kinetic live performances and the hard political stances they took in their lyrics. The band’s debut full-length, Keiza, was released in 2005 on Underground Operations Records and soon caught the ear of Rich Egan, owner of mega-indie Vagrant Records, which released the album stateside.
The group has largely stopped writing about politics, lately favouring more literary-inspired concept records. Walker says the time he and his fellow band members spend on the road takes their attention away from global events. “We don’t have the right to preach a uniform political message,” he says. The singer also acknowledges the maturation of the band’s worldview following A Calculated Use of Sound. “There’s a common saying,” Walker begins, “when you’re 16 you’re a communist, at 20 you’re a liberal and at 45 you’re a conservative.”
When it came time to record Fortress last summer, Walker says there was “no plan...strictly action” in the studio. But he concedes there was some structure to the recording sessions. The starting point was the same as before---the dense lyrical concepts bass player and chief lyricist Mirabdolbaghi created. Once he penned the rough lyrics, the whole band wrote music around them. Walker came up with the (often screamed) melodies. Following this, the lyrics were reworked before the song was finished.
A new twist to the template came when Vadim Pruzhanov, of English power metal band Dragonforce, provided keyboards for the song “Limb from Limb.” The track inspired the band to start, according to Walker, “picking around with some synths” in the studio. Everyone felt the keyboards created an underlying fullness to the record and decided to include them on many of Fortress’s tracks.
While many aspects of the band have evolved over the past few years, Walker’s onstage interactions with his fans have remained constant. He’s become well known for fostering an antagonistic relationship with audiences. During a gig in Utah, opening for Christian metal band As Cities Burn, Walker repeatedly told the crowd the headliners were in the back slaughtering goats as sacrifices to their heathen gods. The singer says it was his way of coming to terms with “the obligatory nature of the record industry.” He says that he can’t bring himself to do the typical “hello St. Louis” rock star thing, so he toys with the audience instead. “I’d rather have an entire audience mad at me.” But even Walker admits he can go too far. The last time Protest the Hero played Fredericton, for example, Walker took exception with the way some of the crowd was dressed and verbally abused them for it. And while he knows it was, perhaps, an error of judgement, if he has any regret he isn’t showing it. “Hey. Shit happens when you party naked.” a