Protest the Hero - Scurrilous (Cover Artwork)

Protest the Hero

Scurrilous (2011)

Underground Operations/Vagrant

The first thing you have to understand about Scurrilous is that it's not Fortress.

Whitby, Ontario's favourite prog/metal/hardcore sons took more than a few steps to ensure that the followup to their highly acclaimed 2008 release was more than just a repeat of past success. First of all, vocalist Rody Walker wrote most of the lyrics, taking over some of the duty from bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi. This means that (much to the dismay of some PtH fans) Scurrilous isn't bound together by a central lyrical theme. Also, the band has gleaned out a lot of their hardcore influence, trading pronounced, chugging rhythms for more melodic, oddly timed shredding. Protest made it known that this album would be a departure from their old stuff, and they certainly lived up to that promise. The only question is, was that departure for better or worse?

"C'est la Vie" gets the album off to a strong start–it's arguably the most complete song they've ever written, "C'est la Vie" is still PtH at their shapeshifting best; however, the transitions are a lot less pronounced and easier to get into. The lyrics (written by Arif) are clever and cheeky, and the vocal lines are catchy as hell. "C'est la Vie" embodies what the band was going for on the rest of the album–essentially a faster, more melodic version of themselves. The momentum of this song alone carries the album.

Unfortunately, the album kind of drops off from there. "Hair-Trigger" is a good track–it has all the swagger of the opener, albeit without the catchiness. The track starts to fall apart towards the end when the band pulls out a riff that can only be described as "wanky," until guest vocalist Jadea Kelly (from Kezia) saves the song with a nifty call-and-response "argument" from the point of view of a cigarette (a lot cooler than it sounds). "Tandem" and "Moonlight", although not bad songs, lack any kind of hook, vocal or otherwise, which make them ultimately forgettable tracks. "Tapestry" begins with a very funky riff, while Rody rips into the vocals with swagger reminiscent of an early Axl Rose. Despite some weird vocal part that sounds like an ironic Bloodmeat throwback, the song is going extremely well until Rody beginst to channel Chinese Democracy-era Axl, inexplicably demanding the listener to "pucker up those pretty lips of yours / and kiss my ass and shut your mouth," right before the band drops uncomfortably into a forced sounding melodic break while Rody sings something that sounds like it was lifted right out of a self-help book. Overall, however, the song is pretty good, and along with Dunsel's strong lyrics and interesting guitar work, "Tapestry" helps keep the album from derailing in the middle.

The next three songs, "Reign of Unending Terror" (an ode to Propaghandi, whose vocalist Chris Hannah appears later in the album), "Termites" and "Tongue-Splitter", suffer from the same fate as earlier tracks. They're all technically sound, well-written songs, but the lack of a vocal hook or standout instrumental part makes them almost forgettable, which is a shame, because there are some cool riffs amongst these songs.

"Sex Tapes", featuring the aforementioned Chris Hannah, is a decent closer. The music is a bit more varied and and pronounced than the rest of the album, there is a catchy vocal hook, and the band seems to get channel a lot of the energy that had been bouncing around the album but never came to fruition. It's definitely not the strongest song on the album, but it's good enough to keep the second half from being a complete write-off.

After a three-year wait, Scurrilous is a little dissapointing. PtH set out to make a much more mature and cohesive album, but in the process lost a lot of what made them so interesting. The band's punky underbelly has been replaced with shredding that's (although technically astounding) kind of repetitive-sounding. The gang vocals that defined A Calculated Use of Sound and Kezia are all but gone, and Rody doesn't offer nearly as much of the variety as he did on Fortress. Also, Rody's lyrics aren't exactly poetry. He has some stuff that can hold its own, but at least half of it is either earnest yet cheesy ("Tandem") or just plain bad ("Tapestry"). Granted, the album isn't horrible, and I'm already warming up to it (PtH albums have a tendency to throw their fans off at first), but Scurrilous is not their best stuff by a long shot. It sounds like PtH made the album they thought they should, instead of the one they wanted to.