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Aaron Waite Aaron Waite
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Presenting The Protomen

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Gaming's best tribute band is barely a tribute

This world is full of people between the ages of 23-35, covering NES music in an attempt to hold onto the awesomeness that was 8-bit gaming. They pour themselves into their work, trying to recreate each and every note exactly as they remember it from their childhood, clad in their Transformers/She-Ra jammies as they explored these lo-res environments of imagination.

But let's face it. Most of them suck. And by suck, I mean ice-pick-to-the-eardrum bad. Some even add lyrics to the audio atrocities that they've made, compounding the William Hung factor by multiples of multiples (I'm pretty sure that somewhere, a math major just got very angry with me). However, one tribute band rose out of the ashes of the tone-deaf and made their own spot in the music world whilst drawing influence from their favorite NES games. That band is The Protomen.

First formed in the early bits of the '00s, The Protomen have perfected the ability to allow an influence to guide but not rule your direction. Through their two concept albums, The Protomen have taken the ultra-thin story of the first few 'Mega Mans' (spoiler alert: a robot fights robots) and fashioned an Orwellian tale of shattered dreams, misused technology and militarization of a city ruled by an iron fist. Somehow they've managed to take such a two-dimensional (pun slightly intended) story and turn it into an epic tale of love, despair and robots.

One of the things that bothers me about modern music is that everyone is so concerned with pushing out albums every six months instead of taking the time to really polish their work and truly thinking about what they're saying with their art. The Protomen released their first album in 2005. It was a brilliant work, full of not only heart, but something that you could tell they took their time with. 'Act II' didn't come out for another four years, but when it finally dropped, it was well worth the wait.

The Protomen have adopted a flexible rock opera motif that follows the narrative of the albums with grace and ease. 'Act I' finds itself walking in the footsteps of Freddie Mercury and company, but with a candor and confidence that makes it stand on its own two feet without leaning too heavily on their fairly obvious influences. From the opening monologue of 'Hope Rides Alone' to the blistering pace of 'Vengeance' to the heart-rending ending of 'Sons of Fate,' 'Act I' was the best rock opera written about robots ever made.

That is, until 'Act II: The Father of Death' came along.

Every year of work on 'Act II' shows with brilliant sheen, pushing the band far beyond its comfort zone and into something even bigger and better. Set as a prequel to the events of 'Act I,' 'Act II' opens an almost spaghetti western feel, as if you're about to witness a fight at high noon. The album slowly evolves from this point, adding more and more electronic elements until it becomes the beautiful combination of an '80s movie soundtrack, rock opera, and Broadway musical. It has to be listened to from beginning to end to truly experience it.

As much as I don't enjoy them, I'm glad there's video game tribute bands. It's awesome to see that kind of dedication and general geekiness spilling over into the music world. I just wish that more of them would take a page from The Protomen's book and blaze their own path while using the games that sparked their imagination as an outline for their own creative work.

If you're a fan of Queen, The Who, or any epic-sounding rock band, you need to do yourself a favor and pick up a Protomen album.

If you don't, the robots win.

Aaron Waite would like to remind you that if it took more than one shot, you weren't using a Jakobs.


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