In Praise of “Palimpsest” by Protest The Hero (#6 on 2020’s Top Ten)

Few frontmen in music today are as unique – and confusing – as Protest the Hero’s Rody Walker. A vocalist that sings like an 80s rock superstar but writes blatantly punk-style lyrics, Walker doesn’t sing like he writes and writes what should be impossible to sing well. But to give him credit, his bizarre style finally turned me into a fan on Palimpsest, and I never imagined I’d give Protest the Hero – a band I once found absolutely insufferable – a spot on my top ten.

Playing off the word “palimpsest”, the album is dedicated to the history of 20th century America and whether or not it’s as great as we remember it today. For some this will be a major selling point, and others the opposite, but regardless of your take on the lyrical content of the album it is hard to deny the quality with which Walker and company deliver these history lessons. When Rody Walker isn’t effortlessly transitioning between mountaintop highs and intimate vulnerability, the rest of the band carries on with dizzying technical prowess Protest the Hero is known for, but now with a stronger penchant for choosing good songwriting over fretboard noodling and using instrumentals to provide moments of rest and restraint before the relentless rhythms resume (something notoriously lacking in the band’s previous work). There are no ballads or slow burns here, but thanks to three brief piano interludes Palimpsest flows well and doesn’t ever feel repetitive or monotonous, giving each song a chance to stand on its own with fantastic riffs and hooks while serving the greater whole of the album.

Rody Walker is this album’s biggest strength and weakness; when his singing and lyrics work, there is little else like it, but when one or the other clash, the result is painful. This is best seen in the first minute of “The Fireside”, where Walker rattles off a near-indecipherable string of lines that comes off more as comical rambling than serious reflection; other moments have suffer from awkward delivery, such as the chorus of “Soliloquy”. But the gains the band makes here more than make up for the album’s shortcomings, and I hope Palimpsest is the template for the band’s future work.

If you have thoughts, let me hear them!

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