On October 9th, Detroit’s Protomartyr will release The Agent Intellect. Over the past year, uncompromising live performances and a strong debut on Seattle’s Hardly Art label led to a steady rise in public interest in the band. The four piece, fronted by singer Joe Casey’s spittled baritone, return with their most urgent and angsty set of songs to date.
The Agent Intellect opens with “The Devil In His Youth”, a blistering stomp with subtle nods to black metal – in particular, the dense guitar work resting in the upper register of the instrument, and other prickly, discordant changes. It’s a circular series of noise that builds on the same riff for almost three minutes, then collapses with zero fanfare. Casey’s matter-of-fact lyrics personify the prince of darkness (before recorded time, in some suburban room), ending each line with song’s title.
As on the best moments of 2014’s Under Color Of Official Right, many songs on the record feel like they could fall apart at any moment before the band reel it back in with ease. “I Forgive You” opens with a burst of jerky post-punk, remnants of Witch Trails-era Fall abound. The chorus unexpectedly veers in a different direction – sprawling, echoed chords ring out, and the band suddenly sound big enough to fill a stadium. Casey’s refrain delivers the clearest sentiment of the entire album: ”Why’d you keep on making that mistake? I forgive you, but I feel it happens all again”. For more Mark E. tinged nonsequiturs, see the dadaist rumblings of “Uncle Mother’s”, which also features an impressive shift in melody halfway through.
In addition to the only constant member of The Fall, past reviews have compared singer Joe Casey to Nick Cave. At times, Casey’s voice resemebles Cave so closely that it would be difficult for the average fan to differentiate between the two. This comes to a head on “Boyce or Boice”, where Casey even delivers with the same accent as Cave, fervor and viscera intact. In a way that’s difficult to describe, it never feels like Protomartyr is aping these groups, and they’re certainly not paying tribute. What remains on Agent Intellect is a band that truly believes in their sound, letting it exist in the now rather than rehashing their past influences.
Review by Evan McDowell