Maybe I fell in love with this album when “like suicide, like suicide” in “Palms Read” is wailed over an instrumental ensemble that communicates any emotions or message that Protest the Hero choose to lay over it with vocals, but in this example perfectly enfuses the listener with angst.
Or maybe it was when I heard “Wretch” in its entirety for the first time and got lost in its intricate web of riffs, rhythms, and guitar effects that change up and mix themselves around like aces in a deck of cards, but are somehow always found in the chaos and pulled out without error or hesitation in exactly the right order in the manner of a street magician.
Maybe it was when the piano solo at the end of “Spoils” came on and I realized that this band could pull off multiple genres while retaining their emotionally charged touch that gives every song on Fortress its incredible quality.
Maybe it was when I realized that every time I listened to this album it always imbued me with a hopeful, optimistic mood despite its moody, often tense and sometimes violent lyrics.
Maybe it was when I realized that when I listened to certain particularly evocative passages of songs, my thoughts turn to someone I hold particularly close in my heart. My feelings are perfectly matched by the angst-filled lyrics due to a certain ambiguity and reticence I feel in the relationship I have with this person. But its hard to not to think my anxious mood is merely love when Rody Walker belts out “she is the dusk, she is the dawn, she is the moon, she is the stars” amidst a soaring background, followed up by a otherwordly solo and then a dizzying barrage of guitar that makes what little of my brain that’s still thinking sensibly completely melt. And then, as if to pull me back to Earth, rebuking me for dreaming while everything is getting away from me, he screams “SHE IS HERE, SHE IS GONE!”. Against some fading guitar tones, he repeats, as if only to me, in a whisper: she is gone.
Yeah, I’m about 12 listens in, and Fortress blows away anything else I have heard in 2008, any other metal album I have ever heard (except maybe Songs for the Deaf by Queens of the Stone Age), and as each song flies by me again, it climbs up my top 20 album alltime ranking spot by spot.
If you have not heard this album, hear it, as soon as possible. You will probably not be blown away on first listen – there is simply too much to take in, as some songs have 15-20 separate riffs and musical themes in their 3-5 minutes. Don’t be turned off by the occasional death-metalish growled vocal or shrieked high note. Don’t be intimidated by Dragonforce-esque soloes (one of their guitarists actually guests on one track and rips off two amazing soloes) that are mind-numbingly fast yet retain their musical qualities and tonal value on listen after listen, gaining luster and coherence with each successive play.
And, because this is at its heart a metal album, even if it strays frequently from “metal” with its forays into subtle horn and string sections as well as piano soloes and dramatic pauses, do not be afraid to crank this thing’s volume until the riffs bleed out into you and you meld with the tones and make them your own. Yeah, I get a little poetic and indulgent in language when talking about this album.
And a little damp in the underwear as well.