Protean Collective

Save for your factory-produced, target market-oriented teen pop sensations, all bands are ‘underground’ at some point or another. Doing some research into this band from Boston, it seems like quite a few people have high hopes for Protean Collective  breaking out to a wider audience, and after hearing their self-released album ‘Divided‘, I can see why people might be so enthusiastic. Hell, I might even share some of their enthusiasm; this is a talented and promising group of musicians with a fairly convincing sound to boot. Apparently at the top of their game in the Boston progressive and hard rock scenes, Protean Collective seem ripe to explore a greater fanbase, and providing you’re an existing fan of bands like Tool or Meshuggah , you will likely find something to appreciate with this band’s art.

If there’s anything that can be unanimously agreed upon with this band, it’s that they don’t confine themselves to one particular genre. As mentioned above, Protean Collective‘s identify falls somewhere in between Tool and Meshuggah ultimately, but there are plenty of detours along the way. On top of their progressive hard rock foundation, there are a handful of instances when the band will dive into something jazzy. The occasional sudden focus on melody also has the tendency of making Protean Collective sound like an alternative rock band a la Soundgarden . True to the band’s own testimony, they manage to pull these diversity of styles off with coherence and cohesion. For an album that technically touches upon several genres, the sound feels consistently rooted in their dark, heavy brand of melodic metal.

Although the constant toss-up of styles keeps Protean Collective on their toes, some of the life that would have been in the music is lost to a pretty murky production. While the recording quality is not necessarily poor, everything save for the vocals sounds like its being played from underneath a blanket, or anything that would have a dulling effect on sound. While the importance of production pales in comparison to something like songwriting or musicianship, the production here does have an effect of keeping the sound of the performances on a tight leash, never letting them run free. In order to verify this, I tried listening to it on a couple of sound systems, but to no avail; Protean Collective are on a professional par as musicians, and they deserve a mix that will better showcase their talent.

Musically, Graham Bacher and Steph Goyer’s guitar licks are the highlight of Protean Collective‘s sound. As might easily be expected from the band, there are hints of everything in the guitarwork, although the band appear to favor the chugging Meshuggah-like rhythms. Apart from the occasional deviation- in which the peripheral influences joyously take over- the music is tossed between headbang-able rhythms and some more rock oriented strumming. The band perform impressively, but the songwriting itself does not always astound, especially when it feels that the band recycle some tricks over and over again. The greatest offender are Graham Bacher’s vocals, which, while strong from a technical standpoint, give the impression that he reuses melodies. In particular, there is this thing where he slowly raises the pitch of his voice to climb up to the next note; it’s difficult to describe without a strong background in musical theory, but a song does not go by where he does not use this particular mannerism, and by the end, it gets to be downright irritating.

Looking past these flaws is fairly easy when the talent and tight performance is taken into consideration, however. Protean Collective are in a rare case for progressive metal where they’re relatively new and already have a distinctive sound to them. Their influences are plainly evident, but even with the Meshuggah -type chugging, there is never the feeling that the band are attempting to shamelessly copy another band. For all of their diversity however, the songwriting on ‘Divided‘ is a little difficult to distinguish amongst themselves; save for some defining ‘moments’, many of the songs feel a little same-y. Far from perfection, Protean Collective‘s ‘Divided‘ feels like a step in a longer journey towards something really great, and it will be exciting to see where the band goes with this sound.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Conor Fynes
May 1st, 2012


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