A palimpsest is “a manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing,” or more generally something that is altered but bears visible traces from its earlier form. It’s no small stretch to assume along with this cover and album title that the album has heavy criticism of current US politics. My assumption here is that the band views the modern, progressed version of American society to be bearing visible traces of its history.
Once we delve into the lyrics, the subtext bandage is ripped off and we see that this album is highly focused on a political message. This is far from unusual for Protest the Hero as they often outlay their opinions on social issues in their lyrics and as people seem to be quite outspoken about them. If politics are not your thing this might be off-putting, although personally I have no qualms with a political message. I actually cannot hear the lyrics too well in the context of the music, so often any message being pushed is lost on me without having the lyrics in front of me. This is possibly a positive thing as the music can be as political as you choose it to be though to some the mere mention of politics in music is enough for them to lose interest altogether.
Protest the Hero is a prolific band and have been around since before they released their acclaimed debut Kezia and with Palimpsest, they have foregone much of their older metal qualities and, for the most part, stick to clean vocals throughout this album. Rody Walker’s range is as impressive as ever and his vocal performance is fantastic on this release. The guitar and drum work is, as always, mouth-wateringly technical, however, I do find the tone of the guitar to be rather washed out at times, not crunchy and in your face but blended neatly into the music. This leans towards a more popular style of mixing rather than a metal one and is without a doubt more tasteful, though I am still a fan of balls to the wall guitar tone.
To speak more broadly I found this album to be a bit less exciting than almost all other Protest The Hero albums of yonder years. It is decidedly less heavy and chooses to focus more on melodic content. It is, for the most part, beautifully written though it does not give me that kick that I have come to expect from the band. Then there are the interludes that are entirely comprised of piano and cinematic style strings. Melancholic and peaceful but not really doing it for me.
I would not say that I particularly dislike anything about this album, however, I do not get a rush of excitement when listening to it either, which is strange considering the amount of technical vocal and instrumental work it contains. I am someone who enjoys technical music immensely and I just can’t put my finger on it but this album has an element of reservedness to it that is just not what I was expecting or looking for when I first put it on. Without a doubt this is a more mature version of the band, the song-writing is more considered (i.e., more planned, less wild) and the production and overall product extremely refined and that might be something that I personally find uninspiring. I can without a doubt objectively look at this product and go “it ticks the right boxes” but it just isn’t entirely drawing me in. To put it in context I have been a fan of Protest for a while and have seen them live twice. Volition might be my favourite album of theirs, so I am not just “a fan of the earlier stuff.” Volition felt to have many more teeth and that is what tickles my fancy when listening to Protest the Hero.
With that being said, although the album has a more popular style of production and songwriting, I find that none of the music sticks in my head. After multiple listens of Palimpsest I am yet to get a chorus lodged in my brain. The songs have a homogenous texture that makes them all blend into each other, which is not so bad when talking about doom or black metal but with an album such as this, I feel it is slightly missing the mark. I think memorable melodies are integral to most album’s replayability and on this record, Protest seems to be walking the line between message, progressive technicality, and appeal, none of which come out strongly enough in my opinion.
I did enjoy a few tracks of the album more than others: “The Migrant Mother” is a great opening with an anthemic quality. The high-pitched vocal wails of Walker, almost power metal-esque, soar above the music triumphantly. The whole album has killer guitar work. “From The Sky” gets an honourable mention, though from four minutes in the track loses me. “All Hands” and “Reverie” are others that stick out to me. Despite all that, a track like “Drumhead Trial” off Volition still blows them all out the water.
I don’t consider this a bad album, however, it’s just not one for me. If you are into everything Protest The Hero has ever done then without a doubt you have to check this one out. If you are not acquainted with the band then I would recommend starting with some of their earlier stuff, particularly if you are into a heavier style of music.
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You can grab a digital copy of Palimpsest on the Protest The Hero Bandcamp page or listen over at the band’s Spotify page. Vinyl copies are available on the Nuclear Blast website, CDs over at Spinefarm Records, and tapes at Sheet Happens.