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Storming the Fortress

Juno-nominated rockers make their way to Whistler, fresh off European headlining tour

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Who: Protest The Hero

When: Monday, March 30, 9 p.m.

Where: Merlin's

Cost: $10 in advance, $15 at the door

On the surface, the men of the Canadian metal band, Protest the Hero, just seem to be having a hell of a good time making music. But there's a bit more to their sound than the heavy riffs that first meet the eye (or eardrum, in this case).

Vocalist Rody Walker; bassist, vocalist and lyricist, Arif Mirabdolbaghi; vocalist and guitarist Tim Millar; guitarist and pianist Luke Hoskin; and drummer Moe Carlson have actually been making music together since they were 12 years old, and living in Whitby, Ontario.

"We don't really count the first two years as they were mostly bad punk covers," Walker wrote in an e-mail interview. "As for how we've matured, it's difficult to say; we once loved farting and swearing and we still do... our music has improved a bit, I guess."

In an industry - and world - where a label can either make you or break you, Protest The Hero has been dubbed everything from hard rock and hardcore to heavy metal and progressive, and everything in between. They say it's rooted in metal but it has definite progressive and punk elements, thanks to groups like NoFX. But Walker has a few other personal favourites: "Fantasy Emo, or progressive screamo... both are funny."

The goal was never really to make a full-time career out of their music.

"Our only aspiration as a band was to play the dungeon in Oshawa," Walker said. "After that the big old shit ball just kept rolling and picking up more shit as it rolled and here we are now. I still don't know if I would call it a career, but it's certainly full-time."

Well, something must be working for them, whether they're pushing for a long-term career, or not. This year, the group has been nominated for a Juno Award for best rock album of the year, alongside four other groups of talented Canadian musicians, all with a far different (read, lighter) sound than Protest The Hero's.

Their indifference towards the whole Juno scene is rock 'n' roll, true to form.

"It's peculiar to say the least; we could have never expected it," Walker said. "It certainly validates our existence as alcoholics to our girlfriends' parents. We won't win, but we don't care."

The group is currently in the midst of their first European headlining tour, with stops in Germany, Belgium, The UK, France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Austria, and the Czech Republic along the way. So far, their sound has been met with a warm reception, even with the diverse metal scene overseas.

"The strange little hot topic kids still exist but not in such a great abundance. Goth seems to be alive and well in Germany, specifically," Walker said.

Walker sees touring as both the best, and worst, part of the whole musical gig.

"It's a combination of the two. It's hard to be away from home and our girlfriends for such extended periods of time, but... we get to run around different countries acting like children and getting drunk out of our fucking minds."

But behind their raft of impressive riffs, Protest The Hero's lyrics have a surprisingly strong and cohesive storyline.

Fortress , the group's second full-length album for Vagrant, is a perfect example of this deliberate, structural approach. It's broken up into three-song movements, titled On Conquest, And Capture and Isosceles - shall we say, a bit of an unusual approach for a metal group.

"It's inspired by operatic movements," Walker explained. "It's the idea of making certain parts more cohesive than others."

Mirabdolbaghi writes all of the group's lyrics, and on this album, the lyrical content deals with things like "refeminization of deities," explained in the band's bio: "It has to do with Goddess Worship, and how there has been this degendering of the Lord and Savior, and the suppressed feminine."

Okay, so there's clearly meaning behind their music. But on the most basic level, what are they trying to accomplish?

"Through the music we are essentially trying to push ourselves to our creative boundaries," Walker said. "If it's not a challenge to play, it's not fun to play. We write music to push ourselves, and keep ourselves interested in a dying art form."

After their gig in Whistler, the group plans to be on the road touring for the next six months, before taking a bit of time to regroup and work on material for their next record.

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