At first, the show seems like any other you’ve gone to. The room is impossibly hot, the combined whispers of the crowd join together to make it impossible to hear anything. Then as the lights turn down, the crowd starts to hush and The Protomen file on stage. They make a striking first impression. Decked out in outlandish costumes and silver makeup reminiscent of Kiss, you start to wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into. But just as you’re about to dismiss them as just another band with a gimmick, they surprise you with something that has been absent from music of late — a dose of raw talent. As the guitars pick up and the drums start to role like a marching cadence Kilroy, a man in a robotic-looking mask steps forward and starts to tell you a story.
That’s another thing separating The Protomen from your average band. They aren’t afraid to embrace an arcane genre that most bands would shy away from — the rock opera. Their new CD, ACT II: The Father of Death, is the second installment of what The Protomen revealed is going to be three act opera.
While both current installments of the Protomen’s work revolve around characters from Capcom’s beloved Megaman series, ACT II imagines a past never covered in the games — the relationship between Tom and Albert, understood to be the Capcom characters Dr Light and Dr. Wiley respectively.
In ACT II: The Father of Death, Tom creates an army of robots to replace men in dangerous jobs. Albert then abuses them to take over the city. This recurrent theme of the abuse of power and its relation to scientific progress continues throughout the album. And while technology proves to be the undoing of civilization,it also remains its only hope, as manifested by the heroes Megaman and Protoman. The message is that science is a power of its own and that it is up to mankind to determine whether it will use it to its benefit or detriment.
If the idea seems a little complicated for rock and roll, that’s because it is. But the band’s impressive skills make it work. The singers rip into each line with vigor and precision, making every word clear and sharp. The guitars wail and howl along with the story, while the brass section shouts out, commanding your full attention. The range of musical instrumentation includes a double bass, a cast of operatic singers, and even a token appearance by a keytar, in addition to the usual assortment of guitars, basses, drums, and keyboards.
The tone of the album is as rich as the emotions that run through it, demonstrating the familiarity with diverse rock styles The Protomen are known for — although, at bottom, this is rooted in classic rock and Indie cred. The band knows how to keep on kicking.
The record opens in a mournful mood evoking a western tableau of deserts and tumbleweeds. But the energy rapidly amps up with "The Hounds," as The Protomen weild a swinging bass line before exploding into brass-meets-rockabilly. The energy keeps building up through the rest of the album, until the finale, which leaves off on a somber note as The Protomen make their retreat — leaving us with the promise of a return — Act III. However, with four years since their self titled debut album, its a safe bet that fans will be waiting awhile to see how it all plays out.
The years between albums were not idly spent. Recently the band performed opposite Phish at Bonaroo. And this Nashville band was voted among the local top ten, a real achievement in a town known as Music City. They spent the time playing and touring earning their chops like any other band while building a die-hard fan bass known as the Light Brigade, a nod to the Tennyson poem.
Like the band, Protomen fans are a unique bunch with a penchant for dressing up in band member costumes, hitchhiking across states to shows, and even going so far as gifting the band with custom crafted Pez dispensers. During the show, as the band members march through the crowd, people reach out to touch the costumes with a near religious fervor.
It’s all a credit to the intense showmanship and expertise The Protomen bring to their music. Its easy to find yourself loving them — even if you don’t buy into the whole Megaman angle or the costumes and decadent personalities the band members adopt for interviews. They make good music. ACT II: The Father of Death is filled with consummate musicianship and tunes you’ll be humming for days.
Cryptically despite already being for sale on iTunes, Amazon, and Zambooie, the band claims that the albums true release date isn’t until December 21st 2012 (that date is reserved by believers in the Mayan Apocalypse). While it isn’t clear what will happen on that day, one thing is clear. Even if the Protomen aren’t building heroes, they are building a rock legend.