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Album Review: PROTEAN COLLECTIVE The Red and the Grey

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Protean Collective, a heavy progressive-rock band from Boston, has emerged with a new album called The Red and the Grey. I wrote about them back in 2011 because I thought their sound distinguished them from the endless hordes of prog-rock bands out there. Though I knew it in the first place, their new album shows I was right to sell them to you guys in the first place.

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In case you're not familiar with the band's music, the foundations are very much rooted in bands like Mastodon and Meshuggah, but with slices of Porcupine Tree and King Crimson layered on top. Protean Collective excels at employing dual approaches to their music: aggression matched with melody, dramatic moments paired with calmer ones, and simplistic arrangements blended into dizzying guitar solos and all an irresistibly solid rhythm section.

About those guitars, I think it's only fair to thank Graham and Steph for actually making memorable guitar parts. Far too many bands get lost in the mentality of, "let's make the solos as difficult to play and relate to as possible, people will be so impressed!" Instead of getting lost in this trap, the players here know that its better to make solos that make sense in the context of the song, like those on "Exposed" and "Room 16: Our Ghosts."

However, it would have been nicer if Steph was turned up a little louder in the mix, as her leads tend to get buried just a bit too much in songs like "Until We're Bones", where a louder high-end would nicely cut into such a dense-sounding track. That said, it's exciting to hear so many different types of riffing employed here, from heavy jackhammer-style punches, to palm-muted machine-gun tremolo picking bursts.

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As for the melodies, the band knows how to make a catchy chorus line. The earnest and almost desperate lines on "Reckless and Fearless" provide the listener with a clear idea of what the speaker is trying to express, another hallmark of good writing lost on many other progressive bands.

Singer Graham Bacher gives a very consistent performance here, with a clearly defined style of smooth, clean vocals. But at times, this consistency can turn into a disadvantage. I realize what the band is going for here, they're using very heavy arrangements without being tied down to using screaming vocals. But still, there are many moments on The Red and the Grey where I was waiting for Graham to let loose a bit and at least yell a little more, or lift his voice up an octave to add some drama to gel better with the music, or even put more of his diaphragm into the mix. His vocals do a great job of setting the mood, in a way very similar to Tool's Maynard or Deftones' Chino, but he should take a cue from both singers and not be afraid to add some heat to the water every once and awhile.

From both a musical and songwriting perspective, the band has blown the lid off their humble beginnings. Promising as it was, the band's first LP pales in comparison to The Red and the Grey. For listeners looking for a heavy, groove-laden progressive record that's unafraid to explore it's own world, this is the album for you.

8/10

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Favorite Songs: "In Waves", "Only One", "Reckless and Fearless", "The Red and the Grey"

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