One of the most polarizing bands in the underground (for both their hysterical, love-it-or-leave prog-hardcore-metal sound and their recent independent fundraising success), Ontario's PROTEST THE HERO are back with their fourth full-length, Volition. It's a notable album for metalheads, mainly because of a certain Chris Adler of LAMB OF GOD manning the skins for the entire disc.
"That was amazing," says vocalist Rody Walker, still sounding amazed that it all came together. "We’d known Chris for quite some time. He had sent our drummer [Moe Carlson] a message after we released Fortress, our second record, and they became drum buddies. Chris came out to a couple shows here and there. Anyone who knows him knows he’s the nicest, most humble person on Earth. We got along with him quite well. When Moe decided to leave the band, we knew that Lamb Of God were having some rough times and might actually be having some downtime, so we called Chris up and asked him, and he said yes. We were fucking thrilled."
It's thrilling, to be sure, and just as--if not more--thrilling for those of us who get excited about the idea of Noise Records compilation VHS videos is the guest appearance of Ron Jarzombek, the maniacal six-stringer of WATCHTOWER, SPASTIC INK, and BLOTTED SCIENCE fame.
"That was through Chris," says Walker. "Luke [Hoskin, guitarist] and Chris were talking and discussing bands they enjoy and Luke brought up Blotted Science and Spastic Ink, and Chris was like, 'Oh, that’s funny, I know Ron, we go way back.' He’s talking about this guy like he’s your best buddy… he’s a fucking idol (laughs). So he said he could probably call Ron up and get him to do a solo. That was all facilitated through Chris."
All these metal superstar appearance only add to the sounds of Volition, which approximate Rush gone community-centre hardcore then a quick U-turn into heavier prog metal turf, with the band's usual frantic air-raid siren/dog whistle/hardcore vocal approach. It sounds like the band's most metal output yet, but Walker disagrees.
"I sort of thought this was our most punk record, but I don’t know," laughs Walker. "It’s hard to view it from the outside because I’m so close to it."
Here's the view from the outside: this is manic stuff, all over the map and all over several loud genres, so when Walker says the old cliche of "we never really fit in anywhere," you don't roll your eyes, you think, Hmm, maybe he's right.
"I’m not saying we’re crazy innovators or anything like that," he clarifies. "We go out on these heavy metal tours and we’re not quite heavy enough. Then we go out on a tour with some post-hardcore bands or something like that and we’re a little too heavy. We stick out like a sore thumb no matter where we are. To be quite honest with you, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s best to stand out, even if it’s negative, than to just blend in."
A good example of how they don't fit in is this writer's favourite song on the album, 'Mist', a surprisingly touching tune for such a technical song, and a shockingly simple and honest lyrical theme: it's about how much the band loves Newfoundland.
“I’m waiting for the tourism board of Newfoundland to call me any day now (laughs). I know that song particularly is going to be a little polarizing because it based in the punk past of our band. A lot of people are kind of unaware of Newfoundland. The idea is to bring awareness that it’s such a wonderful place full of wonderful people that are so accommodating. We’ve had the best time of our lives there; it’s the best place we’ve ever been, and a lot of bands skip over it because you’ve either got to fly or take this long-ass ferry. But either way, it’s fucking worth it."
Volition is being released on Razor & Tie, which confused people after Protest The Hero raised the money to record the album through a wildly successful IndieGoGo campaign (they aimed for $125,000; they got $341,146). But, as Walker explains, they felt they had to sign to a label to get the music into peoples' hands... and, this is no ordinary record deal.
"Well, I think there’s an important distinction to make. It’s not a traditional record contract; it’s a distribution deal. The main thesis of our IndieGoGo campaign was that we were done accepting record advances and standard record contracts from record labels. We had initially intended to attempt to distribute it all ourselves, but with the success of the IndieGoGo we began to realize it just wasn’t feasible to distribute it all ourselves."
"For the first time, we were in the power chair, in a position of power," he continues, talking about meeting with record labels about signing a distribution deal. '[A person from Razor & Tie] took us out to dinner, and said, 'What do you want?' We said, 'We want one record, we want digital rights, we want no options and no advance.' He looked us in the face and said, 'That’s craziness. That’s not something that exists.' We were like, 'Cool, that’s fine. Thanks for dinner.' They came back to us a week later and said, 'Alright, here’s the contract with everything you fucking want.' And we just said, 'Good, let’s do it.'"
Like their approach or not, it's worth keeping an eye on to see how it turns out for the band. The fact is not lost on Walker that this is a time of change in the music industry, and he's happy to start changing the relationship that has existed between bands and labels up until now.
"I think the record industry, in order to survive, has to change," he says. "It has to change to better benefit the artist. You can’t continually fuck over bands with things like this 360 deal that’s come out, where the label gets a percentage of everything, tickets and T-shirts, which is insane. Stuff like that needs to be completely abolished. And I think if things don’t start changing, even though we are seeing the beginning of it, artists will figure out a way around the label and labels will cease to exist, or they’ll only be able to exist by putting out radio garbage like Lady Gaga."