Prototype - Continuum 4/5

Reviewed: 7-14-06


1. The way it ends
2. Probe
3. Devotion
4. With vision
5. Synthespian
6. Sea of tranquillity
7. Transcendent velocity
8. Seed
9. Undying
10. Heart machine
11. Cold is this God

Sometimes the sound of perseverance can be inspiring to behold. That this 'Continuum' CD exists at all is a testament to the unwavering will and indefatigable spirit of southern California's Prototype. Bursting on the scene in 1992 under the moniker Psychosis, these lads have spent the last 14 years absorbing more than their share of lumps from a heartless music industry. From unstable (or, worse, indifferent) record labels to a forced name change to an endless procession of spontaneously combusting drummers, Prototype have run a veritable gauntlet of horrors that would have destroyed lesser bands eons ago. Rather than throwing in the towel, the band (whose nucleus is guitarist/vocalist Vince Levalois and guitarist Kragen Lum) have simply grown stronger with each new round of adversity, quietly honing their craft to a razor-sharp edge and biding their time until the tides of fate turned in their favor.

A fortuitous signing to Lance King's dependable Nightmare Records last year may have provided just the break in the clouds that Levalois and Lum had been awaiting. The result is 'Continuum', the band's 2nd full-length CD (there have also been several demo tapes and EPs circulated throughout the years) and the triumphant fruition of their years of toil. Prototype specialize in a brand of progressive thrash metal that sounds like nothing else in today's cookie-cutter music scene. As guitar players, Levalois and Lum are rooted in the beloved Bay Area thrash style, so there are plenty of crunchy, aggressive but still melodic riffs on display. However, Prototype also have one foot in more progressive sounds, as demonstrated by the unconventional drum patterns and the band's propensity for weaving acoustic bits into their arrangements. The result is a fairly complex stew of disparate elements, vaguely akin to a head-on, freight-train collision between early Metallica and pensive Fates Warning.

I was always "hit-and-miss" on Prototype's previous output. Sometimes the transitions between jangly parts and thrash elements were not as smooth as they should be. Sometimes the songs didn't seem quite fully developed. And sometimes Levalois's clean-but-straining vocals were not quite sufficient to tie the whole package together in a satisfying way. To these ears, however, 'Continuum' is a home run, a triumphant culmination of the blueprint Levalois and Lum have been refining for all these years. Finally, the thrash and progressive components seem balanced in near-perfect harmony, with seamless transitions between the 2. This batch of songs (consisting of 6 new tracks, 3 updates of chestnuts from the 1998 'Cloned' EP, and a scorching re-recording of cult favorite "Cold is this God" from the Psychosis days) is undoubtedly the band's strongest to date, successfully blending technicality and memorability. And Levalois's tireless dedication to improving his singing has paid off in spades, as he has raised the bar substantially here. Nowhere is Prototype's improvement more striking than in the 'Cloned' tracks ("Synthespian", "Transcendent velocity", "Seed") presented anew here. They're instantly recognizable as the same songs, but the fleshed-out detail work in the performances, the crushing sound job (thanks in part to Neil Kernon's mix), and Levalois's vastly better vocals catapult what used to be good tunes into the realm of excellence.

I suspect that Prototype may lie outside the comfort zone of many regular readers of this website. Their unique sound does not resonate with everyone; in fact, I know that one fellow contributor to this site is decidedly underwhelmed by 'Continuum'. On that realization, I cannot give this CD a blanket endorsement. But I love it. If you have a craving for a CD that is both heavy and melodic, both traditional and experimental, both complex and catchy, and truly unique, you just might do the same.




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