Prototype – Catalyst
Thrash metal is a genre with much potential for development by melding with other musical styles, and because my musical tastes gravitate towards the progressive, I find that integrating that genre’s sophistication into thrash can, if handled correctly, intensify its raw energy and apply it to a broader palette. Teramaze, Believer, Communic, and Tourniquet are four success stories, who merge varying degrees of thrashy heaviness with such genres as power metal, classic metal, avant-garde, industrial, and classical; underground Los Angeles prog-thrashers Prototype panned for gold at this collective stream on 2012’s Catalyst, and unfortunately went home broke, leading to a frustratingly monotonous listen.
My first thought upon listening to this disc was its similarity to one of the aforementioned bands, Teramaze. Similar to the Australian melodic/technical thrashers, Prototype is largely dependent on aggressive riffs and precise drum patterns, with keyboards nonexistent and bass nondescript except during the rare mellow interludes; a spacey melodicism suitable for the band’s metaphorical, philosophical lyrics sporadically replaces the metallic onslaught, including but not limited to brief instrumental pieces, and grants the foursome a quality they can call their own amidst their fellows. The two opening tracks fairly well introduce Prototype’s, well, prototype style; the formally Latin-titled opener Inceptum lasts a mere ninety seconds, composed of industrial percussion, sparkling layers of guitar ambience, swinging bass harmonies, and a spaceship engine noise crescendo before the title track’s main riff surges through the speakers, evolving from crudely pounding chords into a staggered combination of old-school thrash and a catchy melodic figure, then grinding to a halt and marching into a galloping 4/4 beat. Guitarist Vince Levalois’ vocals generally sound like a hybrid between the animalistic snarls heard in Mastodon and the classic Metallica/Slayer thrash shout, and during the harsher musical environments, he displays himself as an average thrash metal vocalist; his alkaline timbre, however, is extremely thin, strained, and lacking range, and thus Levalois’ attempts to sing more cleanly, as on the melodic stomper The Chosen Ones, or less commonly backing various vocal lines with growls are weakly executed, either unmemorable or annoyingly grating. He is simply left behind by the musical surroundings as the title cut’s guitar bridge jams alternating bars of 6/4 and 7/4, then 7/8 and 9/8, a passage that proves the band’s instrumental skills can progress their songs much more than their vocal capabilities.
A more extended stay in Hotel Prototype reveals that the band just doesn’t use that progression often enough for even an EP of material, much less a full LP: the aforementioned amenities of the opening two tracks about comprise the specs sheet. Prototype’s riffs are not as diversely genre-bending or inventive as their peers, and the band’s diversions into melodic thrash are just too melodic, without any sense of impending doom or darkness that might complement the aggressive portions and serious (when audible) lyrics; the riff structures themselves largely switch between simplistic or dissonant chords and repetitive mid-tempo chugging patterns with sufficiently bland regularity that each song’s main riff starts to sound almost identical to the last. The monochromatic vocal performance and the consistent meter (4/4 or 6/8) and key signature throughout most of Catalyst only accentuates the similarity between tracks, such that not only are riff patterns recycled throughout the album, but so are the song patterns, causing me to nod off frequently by the album’s second half. The spacey instrumentals in between are more promising; the again provocatively titled Illuminatum is the rare case where Prototype’s heaviness and melodies blend effectively, stitching together heavy bookends with a deliberate build composed of fluttering clean guitar and airy bass and cymbals, if both atmospheres are still cut from the same cloth as the remaining album, and transitions smoothly into the upcoming eight-minute My Own Deception. While that following song is as familiar as the others, except requiring one minute of patience more than the rest, this transition at least shows capability to build effective thematic developments. The album improves somewhat in its latter stages, with Gravity Well offering more space in its strummed chord pre-verse portion and fine applications of harmonic tension within the verses, but the wordless background vocals preceding the verse are dissonant with the music and Levalois’ soaring chorus doesn’t soar, but instead hits the roof of his range and embarrassingly attempts to drill through it. The Ageless Heart of Memory is, if nothing else, at least faster, and the lead guitar break of Exiled, largely because of its consistent melodic theme with actual thematic development, is one of the best among an album of technically solid but ultimately faceless ideas. Closing track Communion, surprise surprise, offers absolutely nothing new to the album and treads water until it ignominiously fades out without leaving any impression behind.
The third sticking point is Neil Kernon’s production, which recalls for better and worse one of his most recent works also within the technical thrash metal genre, Tourniquet’s Antiseptic Bloodbath; the guitars possess enough balance between frequencies for a thrash act and the drum tone is clean, but the bass is difficult to detect and, worse for a consistently heavy band and noticeable almost immediately, the dynamic range has been compressed so dramatically that when the instrumentation piles up, the drums are shoved almost completely into the background, their hollow reverberation far weaker than acceptable for anything calling itself thrash, and the guitar tone feels flattened, like it should be even punchier and fuller than it sounds. For an experienced band with experienced staff, such production is entirely needless and hurts the listening experience, as a wall of noise can only intensify monotony. If monotony was what Prototype’s doctor ordered on Catalyst, then almost every box on the order form was ticked, except for occasional forays into different atmospheres that, when at all interesting, are only interesting because they don’t sound like a carbon copy of the contiguous disc. However, nobody will ever strike gold and spearhead the advent of forty-niners by repeatedly panning in the same river. Judging by the pans of fool’s gold that consistently characterize Catalyst, Prototype should leave California and seek their fortunes in Alaska if they want to get rich quick.
Andrew’s Rating: 2.0 out of 5