The Protomen - Act II: The Father of Death


Dez 13 2009, 8h38

The Protomen - Act II: The Father of Death

I thought about not including this album in my list. It seemed almost unfair, and exceptionally biased, to put a concept album by a concept band that performs what they themselves refer to as Rock Opera, against the ranks of the rest of pop music. Yes, the Protomen write songs loosely based on the Megaman video game, yes they are fan boys fulfilling a fantasy, and yes most people who got on the Protomen band-wagon are complete nerds. None of this, however, changes the fact that after countless listens, under intense scrutiny, Act II is a modern music album, one of unwavering quality, of unflinching character, of awesome power. Few albums literally give me chills because of the pure catharsis they induce, and part of it is my subjective love of the mega man series, but I can say with no reservations that anyone who can listen to this album, even with no knowledge of video games whatsoever, and not be blown away by its superior aesthetic, craftsmanship, and execution, knows nothing about music.
The First album by the Murfreesboro/Nashville was pretty fantastic. A fast paced, high energy Rock Opera that with its piercing vocals and intense Megaman inspired guitar riffs single handedly breathed life into a relatively untapped genre. The debut, however, lacked the precision and attention to detail that modern music contemporaries had. Although very good, it was an unpolished gem, rough around the edges, that with its short song list, esoteric content, and a final filler “jam” song essentially felt just like a bunch of dudes having fun; and that’s exactly what it was. But the hands and minds of Panther, Commander, and the others in the frequently changing lineup, set their eyes to something much higher aspirations with Act II. The Protomen are known for amazing live shows, and they are essentially performers first, and musicians second, which is often hard to translate to album, but even in 2006 when I first saw them fill the tiny The End venue in Nashville wall to wall with rioting, raving fans, many in full costume, I knew their power was something great, something more than a good performance and fun songwriting, something truly awe inspiring. After 3 years of waiting, I, and the other desperately waiting fans, got even more than they bargained for.
The Album is flawless. I absolutely do not use this word liberally, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt comfortable using that word to describe an entire album. From the sweet warm twangy acoustic guitars that introduce the album, to the clean pounding Piano of “The State Vs. Thomas Light” and the high tempo, blood coursing pop anthem of “Light Up The Night”, the album never falls flat. The sound is drastically different from the first release. Gone are the heavy chugging guitar riffs dripping with distortion, and replacing them are complex and mature milieu of country western-inspired acoustic guitar, somber piano, and powerful dreamy synth-pop. In the transitory instrumental song “How The World Fell To Darkness”, a moving composition switches from the chugging of a train with clean synth notes and bombastic drums, to highly electronic sounding synth and cymbal crashes set to the endless march of what is supposed to be a robotic workforce. The album changes conceptually, from the world of the past, to that of the future. I won’t get into the story here, there is far too much to tell for anyone who doesn’t already know, but I can tell you every song is richened with incredibly detailed liner notes, exquisitely crafted lyrics, and a storytelling ability to which I can think of no worthy comparison. Amid a world of bored sounding pretentious hipster singers, abrasive hardcore screaming, and uninspiring off-the-wall punk rockers, band leader and main singer Panther delivers and unparalleled vocal performance. Lines like “I’m so tired of giving up, I’m so tired of giving in” from the addictive poppy Springsteen throwback “Breaking Out” (yes, I mean Bruce Springsteen) in character as ‘Joe’, and “So I learned how to bend steel, I learned how to make it move. - And I watched as it withstood, all the hell we put men through - with hands of iron, there’s not a task we couldn’t do” from opener “The Good Doctor” are delivered with such conviction and honesty that It’s hard to believe it’s all an imaginary story based on a video game. The Protomen are no longer just having fun, they mean serious business, on top of having fun of course. Every quivering syllable Panther utters speaks of the tireless dedication this band has to their work. The fact that the content is something so easily dismissed by potential listeners only makes their efforts more impressive. They could have used their talents to make a true juggernaut of rock music, but instead they are doing what they love, uncompromisingly, and rightly so.
The true question I had to ask in actually ranking this as my pick for best album of the year, is really how accessible is the album to those who don’t care about Megaman. The fact that musically the album is fantastic should be enough, but these are songs, with lyrics… about characters from a video game. Take a listen though, the lines and dialogue aren’t making pedestrian references to game mechanics or anything from the games really. In fact The Protomen have created a dark vision of future completely askew from the humble origins of the game. In doing so they give themselves the freedom to make truly meaningful songs. These aren’t the words of a sore-thumbed gamer nerd, but a genuinely talented wordsmith, telling a story that in the end embodies universal themes and values that most anyone can relate to. Take away the game, and the album is about love, loss, sacrifice, betrayal, achieving dreams, conviction, morality, and most importantly, hope. They frequently make references to Dr. Light, using his name as a metaphor for the last beacon of light in a dark lost city under the control of Dr. Wily. “No Matter how dark this city gets, there will be Light” character Emily decries when confronted by Wily in “Father Of Death”. Hope is really at the heart of this story. Dr. Light hoped for a better future, free from the harsh reality of the past, Emily hoped for Dr. Light to overthrow Wily and free the city, Joe hoped to learn the truth about the dark city and be free from the communist-like oppression hidden under the “Idyllic” City. These are ideas anyone can relate to, and eschew in my mind any doubts I may have had.
In the end the theme of hope, for me, applies to more than just the story of the dark future of Act II. For me, this album is about hope for music. The only weak spot is the sometimes flat and ineffectual singing of Emily, but her actual singing role is pretty minimal in the album, and really takes no serious effect on the integrity of the album. The final song “Here Comes The Arm” finishes the album on the richest note of hope, as Light muses to himself “Joe, if you see Emily, tell her to wait for me - ‘cause I’ve still got work to do” in this moment the light synth in the back drops and makes way for something familiar; the heavy electric guitar of the first album. They’ve managed to reference themselves, and connect the two album, without the slightest bit of clumsiness, but more importantly they’ve managed to follow through on their promises on an unbelievable Act II (which actually functions as a prequel to Act I) and give me the hope that Dr. Light had in his finishing lines as he eludes to his future creation of Megaman. It gives me hope for music. Hope that more people will listen to this, and understand what it means to make a truly great music album. The past couple decades has been full of pretentious disappointment, endless genre branching, stylistic cannibalism. Basically, the same old boring shit. There are plenty of great albums being made, but I had given up hope on anything actually new and fresh until this album. In wondering what, in simplest terms, makes this album, this band, so effective, I realized it was the honesty. The Protomen don’t care if you don’t like their content, and like my number 4 pick Japandroids, they are pouring their hearts out into their music with an unadulterated and utterly refreshing truth and sincerity. The Protomen have proven you don’t need a major or indie label and studio to make an amazing production, and that you don’t need a Pitchfork endorsement to have music that is charismatic, new and unique (although I would LOVE to hear what they think about the album). I realized that, for me, The Protomen have not just breathed life into the Rock Opera genre, which doesn’t even adequately describe the band, but they have breathed new life into music itself. Act II is fun, haunting, spine-tingling, entertaining, precise, cathardic, intelligent and deftly crafted. Let’s see if the rest of the music scene takes a note; they’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

- Eric Whited



  • Umbreonic


    Dez 15 2009, 15h33
  • deadman182

    Damn, you put into words how I feel about this album. It was literally the only thing I listened to for a two month period. That was a great 2 months.

    Dez 15 2009, 19h01
  • DahMaht

    I love you man... It's always so aggravating going to Protomen shows (well not the show part, which is AWESOME) and hearing all the nerds out front talking to some of the band members about the origin of Sniper Joe according to Act II or other trivial Megaman factoids and then go off talking about Star Trek. I mean that stuff has its place (I'm a huge nerd too, but not Star Trek...), I just want to tell them that it's so much more than that, and you sir have nailed it to an extent I was afraid no one else would be able to. The intense chills I got from the first album were doubled for me with Act II, and now when I'm trying to tell my friends why this is the best album of '09, I'll be able to link them to your beautiful synopsis. Thank you.

    Dez 15 2009, 19h30
  • HybridDemon

    This is wonderful... thank you!

    Dez 16 2009, 1h00
  • MitchPatmag

    Very well put sir. Even if The Protomen never receive the credit they deserve from the masses and the Corporate Music industry I will forever be rocking out to Act I and Act II, And hopefully someday Act III.

    Dez 16 2009, 1h08
  • bitterfierce

    As far as non-nerd appeal goes: after I'd been obsessed with Act I for a year or so, somebody told me that the premise for the story was loosely based in a video game. It blew my mind; I couldn't believe it. Having never played any games in the Megaman franchise (or many games at all, for that matter) I did some reading. As far as I can tell, other then a couple of character names and basic concepts, the stories of Acts I and II are completely original (as if anyone could write an opera around a largely plotless 8-bit game from the late 80s!) The dystopian vision described by Act II is too powerful a fable to be dismissed as mere nerd rock. This is modern mythology. It's nice to see people taking notice. Strongly disagree with you on Emily's vocals, though. I was at the Act II release show; her solo in "Here Comes the Arm" gave me CHILLS.

    Dez 16 2009, 7h54
  • Efreisone

    I completely agree! I haven't listened to much else besides the Protomen since I first heard "Light Up the Night," and I'm still getting chills through every listen. I'm totally enamored with the Human Choir. (Especially in the demo for "Breaking Out"). I played the 90s Gameboy games a little, so I have a basic idea of what Megaman is, but I can't remember much besides a little blue guy jumping around. The storyline was pretty much a blank in my mind, but I thought it was really easy to pick up with the music. So in case you're still questioning yourself -- the band is definitely accessible.

    Dez 19 2009, 0h06
  • Vegas1

    Thank you for this amazing review. *bookmarked* PS: It would look better with some spaces and more paragraphs, it might give some the "ugh, wall-of-text" feeling

    Dez 23 2009, 16h49
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