Google the word `Palimpsest’ and the explanation you will receive describes a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces of the original remain.
If the above description seems to be a bit convoluted, then you get the idea of the lyrical infusion of ideas which spark the creativity of Whitby Ontario progressive heavy metal band, Protest The Hero.
Superficially, this four-piece outfit (with an additional support bassist) blast out bombastic heavy metal with Rody Walker doing his best Bruce Dickinson, power rock vocals, but also like metal heavyweights, Iron Maiden, Protest The Hero’s six studio releases all boast strong conceptual lyrical themes.
On the phone from his Whitby abode, Walker says he is flattered by the Iron Maiden comparison and agrees that the twin guitar threat of Luke Hoskin and Tim MacMillar supporting his own air raid siren vocals is not dissimilar to Maiden’s distinctive sound.
But check out the band’s latest ‘Palimpsest’ release and hidden amidst the high energy production elements of these 13 tracks are some extremely strange if not engaging lyrical concepts.
The album’s debut single “The Canary” is about U.S pioneer aviator Amelia Earhart and her yellow bi-plane who was the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean May 20/21 1932.
“The Fireside” is about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous soothing radio broadcasts to the U.S nation during the 1930’s economic recession and World War 2. “All Hands” recounts the infamous `Boston Molasses Flood of June 15th 1919 in which a 50-foot storage tank containing 2.3 million gallons of raw molasses exploded, sending a 25-foot wave of sticky goo at a speed of 35 mph through the streets of North Boston, killing 21 people and injuring another 150.
“Migrant Mother” was a title given to a series of seven photographs taken by Dorothea Lange of migrant worker Florence Owens Thompson which depicted the strength of American Motherhood and was later turned into a 32 cent U.S stamp in 1998 while the album’s closing track “Rivet” is a clear Anti-Trump rant even though Walker mockingly repeats Trump’s rally slogan; “Make American Great Again”
The album’s oddity is that spliced in amongst the album’s heavy metal production are a total of three brief piano-based interludes; “Harbourside”, “Mountainside” and “Hillside” which allow the listener to take an aural breather from the record’s frenetic pace.
“Yes, it’s like a cleansing of the palate,” cracks Walker. “We are aware that our music can be a little gratuitous at times, there are a lot of moving pieces in the production. It’s all very fast, it can be difficult to digest, so occasionally, we let our listener relax a bit.”
Original members; Walker, Hoskin, Millar, original drummer Moe Carlson and original bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi (who both left the band in 2013) have been challenging their fan base since debuting in 2005 with their first album, Kezia, following the release of a two-song EP in 2002 `Search For The Truth”. Signed initially to local indie label Underground Operations and picked up in The U.S by California-based Vagrant Records, Protest The Hero have never compromised their style during almost 18 years of existence although by the time they released their fourth album, `Volition’ in 2013, the band (which now featured new drummer Mike Ieradi) were looking for other options to market their records.
This meant going the crowd-sharing Indiegogo campaign route with the band targeting a financial goal of $125,00 which they reached in just 30 hours, finally raising a total of $341,146. “We looked at it like a certified pre-order for our record but there were some voices from the music world who were speaking out against crowd sharing. These people have been brainwashed by the industry, they think there is only one way to put a record out but they haven’t woken up to how long crowd-sharing has been going on. There are a lot of other industries that have profited by crowd-sharing, this is just another way to independently market your record.”
With the release of their fifth album “Prime Myth” in 2015, Protest The Hero’s marketing strategy took another tact, working with Band Camp, the band initiate a subscription service, releasing one of six tracks each month before packaging all six tracks into one EP.
Throat problems to Walker created delays to Protest The Hero releasing their new opus, forcing the cancellation of a number of tour dates in Europe and the U.S. “The reality is that I couldn’t sing for a while and I wasn’t doing anything about it,” Walker admitted. “It was a lengthy recovery because I made it lengthy through my procrastination. Still, it was frustrating sitting on top of the pending new release for a long period of time.”
For a band which has been touring constantly for the past 18 years, Protest The Hero are still recognized as an indie band. And although they’ve played with the likes of Alexisonfire, Avenged Sevenfold, Killswitch Engage and Black Label Society (just to name a few!) Walker noted that acceptance-wise they are still light years away from receiving the same global recognition bestowed upon the likes of Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest.
“Those bands are iconic. Black Sabbath was the first of their kind, Judas Priest’s Rob Halford revolutionized the gay music scene,” Walker noted. “But to be in a really big band, you have to be prepared to sell your soul a bit. And in order to do that, you tend to lose what makes you unique.”
No one will accuse Protest The Hero of selling out! They did receive a Juno Award in 2014 when `Volition’ was voted Top Metal/Hard Rock Album and they did beat out Alexisonefire in 2004 for the Canadian Indie Awards Top Metal Artist/Group award as they continue to develop novel ways to promote their new releases.
“It’s difficult to analyze yourself and to compare yourself to other bands,” Walker concluded. “The reality is that we’ve sold a ton of records, we’ve travelled the world and not had to work too hard to achieve this. I measure success by the things that I have done and the experiences that I have had in those scenarios. On that basis, I am fuckin rich!”