Review by Brexaul on August 2, 2023.
Ah Greece, the magnificent land of heavy metal. I’ve rambled about it in some of my past reviews and I will keep saying it, the guys down there have found the holy fountain of everything epic, and they are bathing in its waters like a dog in a heatwave. The new strike comes from Protean Shield, a band that would have gone under my radar, unless a musician I now hold in the highest regard hadn’t poked me about it. So, what is a Protean Shield? An ancient artifact of arcane magic? The bloodlust of battle turned into music? A mayhem of intricate guitar work and epic feeling, or all of the above?
Protean Shield plays epic heavy metal in the truest sense possible. Sure, there are some power metal flairs here and there, especially in the guitar work, but the delivery is unmistakably epic as it goes. Big points to the general epic feeling go to the singer Harris, who has a magical ability to transport you right in the center of the battle with his barbaric mid range chants. I understand his voice is a bit of a niche, especially for people not familiar with the more primal aspect of heavy metal, which creates a small paradox, since the album is polished and sophisticated enough to reach a more “musical” audience, which ironically might be put off by the berserker vocals, while on the flipside, the festival beer chuggers who love this kind of delivery, might feel overwhelmed by the seer musical prowess the band demonstrates.
The guitarwork is... man, I really don’t know how to describe this properly. This is the finest guitar work I’ve heard in ages, it feels like a weird mix of Blind Guardian and my favorite US unsung underground heroes Mega Colossus, in the sense that there are only a few discernible riffs (in the traditional sense) here, BUT the melodies and leads never stop. Again, I feel this super busy approach might be disheartening to the average battle-vest aficionado, but personally this is my musical heaven. And if you add the monstrous bass in the mix, we have one of the best guitar/bass duels in recent memory, with each instrument complimenting each other and constantly fighting for their own personal spotlight, without ever taking away from the essence of every good album, which is (or should be) the songwriting.
I’d describe the songwriting as a mix between those aforementioned bands but adding a bit of old Battleroar and Wrathblade (to honor their Greek contemporaries) in the mix, while I’d dare say some hints of Sacred Outcry, mainly due to the unconventional song structures. This results into very interesting music, engaging and demanding, fresh and utterly rewarding. This is also amplified by the fantastic lyrics that apparently the drummer of the band is responsible for (I love it when drummers are actively involved man, I really do), which build a massive world for you to lose yourself in. There is also a nice variety in tempos and song structures, as each song has its own little thing going on and at no point sounded like they were rehashing one of their previous ideas, the album is well paced and not too long, which always helps not losing focus even if the majority of the songs are mid tempo. I would perhaps prefer another fast song like 'Stormbringer' towards the end, maybe replacing 'Steel Of Ages' which feels slightly out of place compared to the rest of the album, but nothing game breaking here.
If it’s not clear yet, I really like this band and I think it has all the potential to present a HUGE album down the road. But not everything here is great and pristine, it wouldn’t be fair to say so. The drums are ok-ish, meaning they sometimes sound oversimplified in the avalanche of notes the guitars and bass throw to you, and their sound is flat and not as huge as you’d expect in this music. The drummer of course overcompensates this by the ridiculously well written lyrics as stated above, but the production could benefit from some polishing, and I don’t mean that in the literal sense as the album sounds super “clean” already, but you get my point. Harris could also mask his overtly barbarian tendencies under some extra reverb, like for example Jason Tarpey or Mark Shelton used to do, and could also be mixed better as it sometimes feels like he is sitting right next to your ear shouting commands in a battlefield which is cool and all, but a better mix would ultimately benefit both him and the songs.
Protean Shield comes to add another flavor in the already very impressive buffet of Greek heavy metal, and I can confidently say they will eventually get the recognition they potentially deserve, because they offer a package that ticks many boxes that several bands aren’t even aware that need ticking. It takes a while to get used to the (mostly welcome) deviations from the standards of this genre and the barbaric bloodlust blends awesomely with the sophisticated and complex songwriting, although ultimately making for a somewhat acquired taste. But it’s damn great at what it does. If they move slightly away from the general DIY mentality that this album has on some of its parts and they play on their strengths, we can expect great things down the road.
Rating: 8.8 out of 10526