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Protomartyr - The Agent Intellect (Album Review)

Monday, 26 October 2015 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

“Social pressures exist, and if you think about them all of the time you're gonna find that your head's been kicked in.” Either that, or you're going to make a really moody post-punk record.

After all, this assertion from vocalist Joe Casey, on the track Cowards Starve, sums up Protomartyr's attitude on 'The Agent Intellect' to a T. The Detroit four-piece are a band that have been, judging by the doom-laden lyrics that characterise much of their new LP, entirely moulded by their environment.

Casey takes on the role of orator first and foremost. At points he sounds like a nihilistic drunk, admonishing “the man”, society's great oppressor, in typically provocative fashion. But it is all for show. Like all great pieces of art-rock, 'The Agent Intellect' exhibits more than just an aesthetic.

It doesn't take a modern day Aristotle to work out that the album title refers to the mind and how it operates. Casey is the agent, and on closer inspection his bleak monologues are more than mere rants. Why Does it Shake? demands answers for death, Pontiac 87 for religion and Cowards Starve for poverty. Whether he expects any to be forthcoming is another question in itself.

Unsurprisingly, Protomartyr tend to instrumentally complement Casey's dramatic poetry in a way that's dynamic and meticulous, not unlike fellow Michigan band La Dispute and their twist on hardcore. Ominous drums accompany Casey's polemics on Cowards Starve and undisputed highlight Dope Cloud, while several tracks employ icy reverb in between his phrasings.

I Forgive You adds a splash of colour to the palette as the band really comes alive in the groove department. Such bursts of excitement feel essential for the flow of the album, especially as Protomartyr's aptitude for writing catchy riffs easily matches their penchant for Gothic drama.

The Gothic point is important to address because it sums up the only major criticism that could be made of this record. One of Protomartyr's biggest strengths is their uncompromising honesty, but the comparisons to be drawn between ‘The Agent Intellect’ and other works all point to British bands of the ‘80s. Protomartyr borrow liberally from this period even if their attitude and message is all their own.

But, much like Mark E. Smith of the Fall or Ian Curtis of Joy Division, Casey's motivations feel sincere and authentic. Though Protomartyr draw from the blueprints of several UK artists, their struggles and solutions are all their own. Casey's auteur vision is what helps ‘The Agent Intellect’ succeed, but it's also a cracking rock record in its own right.

Protomartyr Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri October 30 2015 - BRIGHTON Green Door Store
Mon November 02 2015 - LONDON Dalston Victoria
Fri November 06 2015 - BIRMINGHAM Rainbow

Click here to compare & buy Protomartyr Tickets at Stereoboard.com.


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