Protest the Hero’s Dostoevsky grin

Math-metal quintet hits The Brass Taps 

Protest the Hero (Courtesy)

(Courtesy)

Long before MuchMusic’s disBand and before Lights and Stereos were signed to his record label, in 1999, Mark “London” Spicoluk’s Underground Operations was but a small nexus that consisted of a fistful bands that you only knew about from word of mouth, hours spent on Myspace, or from watching George Stroumboulopoulos’ The Punk Show.  While many of the bands that originally supported Spicoluk’s label have since left to pursue other things in life and the face of Underground Operations has certainly changed, one group has only changed its name.  Once known as Happy Go Lucky, Whitby mathcore act Protest the Hero maintains its association with Underground Operations still to this day, despite having gained worldly success and being signed on to the monolithic Vagrant records since 2006.

In an execution of reifying their contemporary name, last Thursday Protest the Hero took a night off from their freshly embarked upon Jagermeister-sponsored and more commercially attractive Snocore tour to headline an intimate, 350-person capacity show put on by the University of Guelph’s metal club at The Brass Taps.

Assaulting fans with an arsenal of songs mainly from their 2008 studio album Fortress, but also including tracks like “Blindfolds Aside” and “Divinity Within” off of their 2005 album Kezia – which combined with a 2006 signing to Vagrant records also brought the band success in the States – Protest unleashed a performance that went against what lead vocalist Rody Walker anticipated about the band at the time of Fortress’ release.  In a 2008 interview with MTV, Walker described Protest the Hero as ADD metal, making reference to how the band gets bored easily and how at the time of Fortress’s release, there wasn’t any desire to play songs off of Kezia ever again because the songs were routine and they wanted to perfect their new and more complicated work.  Bassist and lyricist Arif Mirabdolbaghi confirms that when PTH plays tracks from Kezia, it’s mostly for the fans, but also maintains that when Rody did that interview, his responses were indicative of “a time in [the band’s] life where we were feeling this sort of musical frustration.”

The band’s reverence for undertaking onerous tasks might have something to do with its influences.  One of Protest’s most overt lyrical influences – especially in pre-Kezia material – is Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky.  Even the title of one of PTH’s songs, “I Am Dmitri Karamazov and the World is My Father” is a direct reference to The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky’s last novel, which is – in only a few words – about struggling with intellectual stasis.

In 2004, Mirabdolbaghi was even invited to (and attended) the 12th Symposium of the International Dostoevsky Society at the University of Geneva in Switzerland.  Reflecting on the Russian thinker, Mirabdolbaghi admires the fact that “[Dostoevsky’s] mind rebels stagnation” while also contending that there is no way he could ever cease to be influenced by him, even while “perpetually turning into someone else.”

Despite the band’s self-acknowledged short attention span and while tens of thousands of students prostrate the fruits of their hard-earned labour to the university every semester, bassist and lyricist Arif Mirabdolbaghi said that even though the band has made some obscure rider requests in the past – including birthday cakes, underwear, wallpaper imported from China, Persian carpets, and films by Dennis Quaid “because we think he’s a comic genius, even if he doesn’t realize it” ­– on Thursday Protest played it modest and didn’t ask for anything special to play at the U of G. Mirabdolbaghi also insisted that, “Our rider isn’t ‘make it or break it’ in the sense that if we don’t receive what we request we’re not going to play a show.”

According to Mirabdolbaghi, after Snocore and an appearance at New Jersey music festival “The Bamboozle” at the start of May, the band ­– which hasn’t put out any new material as far as songs go since Fortress in 2008 – is looking forward to getting back into the studio and recording new work, which they’ve already started writing.  Apart from his work with Protest the Hero, Mirabdolbaghi is further pursuing his interest in Dostoevsky.  In collaboration with an actor friend, Mirabdolbaghi is currently in the process of interpreting a Dostoevsky work for a string bass piece, the performance of which will premiere in Toronto at the end of April.

(Originally published in The Ontarion on April 1, 2010)

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