Artist: Protean Collective
Album Title: Collapse
Label: Independent Release
Date Of Release: 28 July 2017
After a very lean period trawling the heavy metal underground for a new gem to bring you, I have hit the jackpot once again. The band in question today is Boston-based progressive rock/metal band Protean Collective with their latest recorded effort, ‘Collapse’. Until I was approached on social media, I will admit to never having heard the name before but after conducting a little research, I was surprised to learn that ‘Collapse’ is not a debut release. In fact, it is the third full-length album to be released since their inception in 2005.
By way of a little more background, Protean Collective came together at the Berklee School of Music, the same origins as a certain Dream Theater and more recently, the impressive Native Construct. The quartet is comprised of vocalist/guitarist Graham Bacher, bassist/vocalist Dan Ehramjian, guitarist/vocalist Steph Goyer, and drummer Matt Zappa. And coming from such a prestigious establishment of learning, it is hardly a shock to learn that this quartet are sickeningly talented, with each member displaying plenty of prowess with their chosen instruments.
As we all know too well though, the ability to play does not always translate in an ability to write good music. I’d cite Yngwie Malmsteen here as the classic example if I was being a touch harsh. The good news is that Protean Collective have put together something really rather excellent. Unlike others, I won’t delve into the technicalities at work here on ‘Collapse’, because as a failed musician myself, I’m vastly underqualified for the task. However, take it from me that this is a deceptively complex album, well worthy of the ‘progressive’ tag. And yet the masterstroke is that Protean Collective are able to disguise much of the technicality within a bunch of well-crafted and memorable songs, the kind that you’ll come back to time and again.
The reference points are myriad and diverse, with everyone from Rush to Dream Theater being shown due reverence. But aside from the ‘usual’ prog suspects, there are other influences at play. For example, there’s a definite 90s grunge/alt rock sheen to some of the material as well as a much more bang-up-to-date modern flavour when required. Normally I’d run a mile from anything that has an element of grunge or 90s alt rock to it but Protean collective are different; instead it all means that Protean Collective are dangerously close to having a unique sound, a rarity in this day and age. And it is a sound that I surprisingly really dig.
But why do I dig the Protean Collective sound so much? There are, frankly, many reasons. Firstly, on ‘Collapse’ just about every one of the ten tracks has a big chorus or a cleverly insidious hook or two for the ears to latch on to. The quartet may experiment with various complexities but they realise that they need to keep the listener entertained and ensure that they hang around for repeated spins. Equally, they recognise that heavy music needs to be heavy. As a result, the music on this album is full of muscular riffs from Bacher and Goyer, as well as powerhouse rhythms courtesy of Zappa and Ehramjian.
I also enjoy the ebb and flow that the songs offer, the flamboyant flourishes, and the sheer variety contained within the album. On a first, cursory listen, this isn’t perhaps that obvious but as you become more familiar and accustomed to the material, new things shine through that hadn’t been appreciated previously.
The opening track, ‘Dead Ends’, sets the tone of the record very succinctly. It begins in frantic style on all-out attack mode but soon settles down into a cracking track, full of chunky, groovy riffing within quirky time signatures, clever lead guitar lines and a hugely memorable chorus, all underpinned by some superb drumming and bass work. Seemingly unafraid of convention and experimentation, there’s even a foray into black metal-esque staccato riffing that’s then replaced by a gymnastic lead guitar solo.
‘Under Siege’ ups the ante in terms of technicality thanks to another intriguing rhythm and time signature. For the musicians amongst you, I’m sure it isn’t that odd, but to me, it’s as baffling as quantum physics. I love it though and it is married expertly with an even more epic-sounding chorus, boosted by heavy and incessant drumming.
There are a couple of less stellar moments within ‘Collapse’ but in general, the quality control is set to ‘superb’. Highlights include the multi-faceted smorgasbord of sound that’s ‘You & I’ that pulls together a plethora of different elements into a cohesive and engaging single composition. Most prominent are the post-rock walls of sound that accompany the build-up towards the sprawling melodic chorus and the incredible instrumental performances from all four corners of the band, with Zappa’s drumming particularly ear-catching.
‘Myopic’ is a full-on 90s alt-rock-in-prog clothing composition and it is here that the penny drops. I finally realise that both the vocals of Graham Bacher and the guitar tones of Bacher and Goyer remind me of Pist.on, that one-album wonder band of the 1990s that I rather liked in spite of myself. The similarities are only minimal and are probably entirely unintentional, but I hear them.
I also like the Jekyll and Hyde nature of ‘Shadows’, the longest track on the entire album. The first half is an exercise in minimalism dominated by Bacher’s expressive vocals whilst the second half explodes into life via some of the most extreme metal on the record, ultimately replaced by slower, more measured heaviness. The dynamics and overt drama of the composition make this a very rewarding listen, one of the best on the album.
To be honest though, almost all of ‘Collapse’ is a rewarding, if intense listen. Given it is an independent release, the production is excellent, helping to enhance the power and technicality of the music. If you are a fan of the more modern end of progressive metal as opposed to the more ‘classic’ blueprint, Protean Collective need to be on your radar. If they are not, you’re missing out; simple as that.
The Score Of Much Metal: 8.75
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:
Cradle Of Filth – Cryproriana – The Seductiveness of Decay
TDW & Dreamwalkers Inc. – The Antithetic Affiliation
Caligula’s Horse – In Contact
Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix
Arch Enemy – Will To Power
Threshold – Legends Of The Shires
H.E.A.T – Into The Great Unknown
Dyscarnate – With All Their Might
Subterranean Masquerade – Vagabond
Adagio – Life
Paradise Lost – Medusa
The Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Serious Black – Magic
Leprous – Malina
The Lurking Fear – Out of the Voiceless Grave
Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky
Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day