Since forming in 2001 and bursting onto the scene with the sprawling narrative that was Kezia, Protest The Hero have amassed themselves a sizeable following and a reputation for technical wizardy in their arrangements and vocalist Rody Walker’s astonishing vocal range. During the anniversary tour for Fortress, however, Rody suffered horrific vocal issues that nearly derailed them and almost forced him to hang up the mic for good, so it’s fair to say there was uncertainty aplenty as to if, never mind when, we might see a new Protest The Hero album.
Arriving four years after EP Pacific Myth and a whopping seven years after their last full-length Volition and the result of a gruelling, arduous creative process that saw every moment have to fight for its place on the album and the minutiae pored over incessantly, Palimpsest sees the band not necessarily aiming to recapture the past but instead forge a new path ahead with renewed vigour.
Opening the album is ‘The Migrant Mother’ that begins with cascading drums before Rody dispels any doubts around his vocal ability; he may not be able to hit the same high notes as before but the emotional heft of his voice and even its versatility is heightened this time around. The song, emblematic of Palimpsest as a whole, blends genres in the way PTH have always done but it’s taken to dizzying new heights here. From elements of power metal bombast (‘The Migrant Mothers, ‘Reverie’) to the pop-punk meets prog of ‘All Hands’ as well as embellishing songs with cinematic synths, the band manage to channel a more diverse range than ever before, from A Day To Remember to Blind Guardian and everything between.
Musically it’s almost business-as-usual with exactly the guitar heroics we’ve come to know and love from Luke Hoskin and Tim MacMillar, the arpeggio runs and harmonic flourishes sitting alongside swelling melodies and crunching riffs. In contrast, Mike Ieradi’s drumming feels somewhat looser - not sloppy at all but more freeform and relaxed, though still more than capable of keeping up with the rapid shifts and manic speeds PTH are known for. Songs frequently turn on a dime, with ‘The Fireside’ for instance, towards the end goes from full steam ahead to the band dropping out and Rody closing it out with a quietly-sung passage and minimal accompaniment. Vocally, ‘The Fireside’ stars punk yelps that contrast with more grandiose, soaring vocals that could come straight from a power metal record (‘The Migrant Mother’, The Canary’)
Lyrically the album doesn’t shy away from politically-charged moments, whether they be wrapped in allegory or razor-sharp quips, including co-opting the modern right-wing MAGA rallying cry (“Lets! Make! America great again!” from ‘Rivet’) to instead call for a more compassionate world instead of one harkening back to so-called ‘glory days’. ‘The Canary’ also tells the story of aviator Amelia Earhart, her biplane and transatlantic flight - though some may balk at Rody’s lyrical choices (“Women must pay for everything / They do get more glory than men for comparable tasks / But they also get more notoriety when they crash”).
Despite the straight up odd lyrical faux pas and subpar conclusion - ‘Rivet’, while an excellent closer that accurately sums up Protest The Hero in 2020, doesn’t quite find its feet in parts - Palimpsest is a wildly successful return to form. The band sound reinvigorated, brimming with confidence and it’s clear this is a labour of love, constructed with incredible attention to detail from song sequencing to fill placement. It successfully builds on the punky, proggy foundations of their earlier works, marrying them up with newer influences and lessons learned along the way to make a triumphant return to form.