Prototype - Catalyst 4/5

Reviewed: 10-1-12


1. Inceptum
2. Catalyst
3. Cynic dreams
4. The chosen ones
5. Illuminatum
6. My own deception
7. Into oblivion
8. Impetus
9. Gravity well
10. The ageless heart of memory
11. Exiled
12. Communion

In an ocean of copycats and soundalikes, Prototype have successfully carved out a niche of their own. Out of the ashes of (since-reincarnated) Psychosis, guitarists Kragen Lum and Vince Levalois took the Bay Area thrash instincts of their previous outfit and merged them with more progressive and technical influences, aided by the monster musical prowess of their rhythm section, consisting of bassist Kirk Scherer and drummer Pat Magrath. The resulting concoction is a marketer’s nightmare. (Prototype used to be confusingly labeled a combination of Alder-era Fates Warning and Metallica, although neither comparison is particularly fitting any more.) But it’s a thinking headbanger’s dream.

‘Catalyst’ is Prototype’s 3rd full-length CD, and it’s been a long time coming. Their last CD, ‘Continuum’, was released back in 2006. It was an arduous and taxing slog for ‘Catalyst’ to see the light of the day on Nightmare Records. Now that the CD is here, I am pleased to report that the band’s labors have not been in vain. ‘Catalyst’ is a truly impressive piece of work. To these ears, the band have taken their foot off the gas pedal a bit, shedding some of the Bay Area thrash stylings for more of a Communic kind of musical vibe. (This development isn’t surprising, given that Lum has Heathen, and Levalois and Lum have Psychosis, as outlets for their more traditional, thrashier creative impulses.) Don’t get me wrong: The songs are bludgeoningly heavy in parts (with many twists and turns), but the tempos only rarely reach breakneck speed and many of the riffs have a modern, downtuned, almost mechanical feel. Also, the level of technicality has, if anything, been raised on ‘Catalyst’, with all 4 players delivering absolutely masterful performances. For fans of top-notch, tasteful, melodic and technical guitar playing, especially, ‘Catalyst’ is a veritable auditory feast. Many tracks have lengthy musical passages where Levalois and Lum can really spread their wings, and they weave a dense web of riffs, melodies, solos and textures, without ever descending into mindless shredding or showing off.

Several other aspects of ‘Catalyst’ deserve special attention. Vocally, Levalois has always been something of an acquired taste, with his limited Hetfield-type range and his noticeable straining. But his voice has always had an emotional quality that resonates with me. His performance on ‘Catalyst’ may be his best ever. It is certainly his most surprising, given the occasional deep, harsh growls that he utilizes this time around. Those who loathe extreme vocals need not fret, as the growls are sporadic at most and are simply added hither and yon as another flavor, another dimension to the songs. In terms of production quality, Prototype have once again impressed. ‘Catalyst’ just may be the best sounding CD I have heard this year. Lyrically, Levalois has gone off the deep end this time into an amorphous, ill-defined science fiction concept. There is no clear or obvious thread, and I haven’t studied the lyrics in detail, but they read like a War of the worlds/Independence day/Signs (you know, the Mel Gibson crop circles movie) alien invasion type story. Everything’s understated, intentionally veiled, and open to interpretation, so I look forward to delving into the lyrics more in the coming weeks and months.

Be forewarned: ‘Catalyst’ is not some kind of easy listening background music. There’s a lot going on in these songs, without cheap thrills, easy hooks, or saccharine adrenaline rushes. It’s a challenging 61-minute listen, but it’s also an intensely rewarding one for the patient, focused, diligent listener. I’ve only owned ‘Catalyst’ for a week, and I know for certain that there remain many layers of the CD that I’ve yet to peel back. Already, though, I am connecting the dots on some of the musical themes that link the songs. More importantly, I feel an instinctual emotional attachment to songs like “The ageless heart of memory”, “The chosen ones”, “My own deception” and the title track. This is one of those CDs where it seems unfair to assign a numerical score until you’ve played it a couple dozen times and lived with it for a few months. Even now, though, I can sense enough of the beauty, power, and majesty of ‘Catalyst’ to award it a solid, comfortable 4/5 score, with the caveat that if you ask me a year from now, don’t be surprised if the rating is ratcheted a notch higher.




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