Ace epic cover
Once again, this is a record that keeps slipping through the cracks and yet one that I never intended to neglect. Although I can never quite remember how it sounds like, I know full well who I got it from. It was during an online record sale organized by Profane Existence about ten years ago. Money was needed to cover some debts (I think) and parts of record collections had to be sold away to that effect. I was an active member of the message board at the time so got the full list early and managed to grab a copy of Legion of Parasites' Lp, The Prison of Life. Needless to say that I was ecstatic to finally get hold of such a classic and although I realize that to still boast about it to this day is a tad embarrassing, I can't really help it. Yes indeed, the deal was pretty good. In the list there were a couple of records from bands I had never heard of but looked interesting judging from the short descriptions that accompanied them. So, upon reflection, I wisely added two Ep's to my shopping list, one being Jesusexercise's fantastic Ep, while the other was Positiveness by Protess, which was said to be a female-fronted anarcho hardcore band from Japan (or something along these lines).
Protess formed in 1998 in Sapporo, hometown of Slang, a major player in the Japanese hardcore game (u feel me?) and as a matter of fact they may still be playing, as I have seen live videos from 2015 so it is possible. If it seems to have been singer Yumi's first band (correct me if I'm wrong), the other members were already playing in bands when Protess started. Guitar player Koyuru was in the furious Japanese grinding hardcore band Knuckle Head, along with bass player Takeharu and drummer Taketora who were also playing in Barricade, who were more of a distorted noizy hardcore unit. I am clueless about the actual origin of the name but I came up with three theories:
1. During a drunken band meeting in a bar, after much deliberation, everyone agreed on Protest and went on to celebrate the newly born band. However, a glass was spilled on the sheet of paper where the name had been written down. The next day, no one could actually remember which name they had settled for but fortunately the sheet was found. However the last letter of Protest was blurred and unreadable and the "t" became an "s", hence Protess instead of Protest.
2. The band had a very good friend called Tess and was originally conceived as a pro-Tess act.
3. It was a spelling nod toward the classic female-fronted Japanese punk band Gomess.
Anyway, I suppose Protess are best remembered nowadays for their 2008 split Ep with melodic punk band Signal Lost from Austin that was released on Prank Records, but even that would actually be a rather optimistic assumption (I mean, who still listens to records from the late 00's?). The band's first demo, recorded in 1998, was a raw but meaningful endeavour which set the tone for what was to come in terms of inspiration and songwriting for Protess. Although there was certainly a traditional Japcore vibe on the demo - especially in the faster bits and in the typical backing chorus - Protess did not aim primarily for that sound and were more progressive and versatile, "modern"-sounding if you wish, trying to blend different beats and genres in order to create a passionate whole. Of course, many bands were trying the same thing worldwide and you could argue that this artistic drive and desire to innovate was very much contextualised and even characteristic of the late 90's and early 00's. The 1999 split Ep with Noise Pollution on MCR showed the band in a much tighter mode with a very clean production that highlighted the band's emotional aspect (arguably a bit too much) but it was Positiveness, thanks to a potent and crunchy sound production from one Koji who had already recorded materials from Crude and Mustang, from that really summarized what Protess were all about.
I cannot claim to be a massive fan of the type of hardcore sound Protess were going for in 2001, however the song on the first side of the Ep, "心に花を", is undeniably a hit. It manages to be heavy, epic and triumphant in a Japanese hardcore way, diverse but coherent without ever losing the listener in spite of its length (almost 6 minutes) and above all intense and passionate. The song is mostly a dark, mid-paced number that reminds me of Scatha, Debris and Unhinged, with punishing and heavy tribal beats (the drumming is fantastic all around), but there's also an actual melodic emocore moment toward the end that gives Anomie a run for their money as well as a genuine and epic burning spirit abrasive moment. The vocalist Yumi sounds very ardent, both indignant and hopeful, and the fact that the words are in Japanese confers even more intensity to the prosody and therefore the song. On the whole, "心に花を" works very well and never sounds disparate, on the contrary, its circular structure of echoes maintains its narrative quality, which is something you always need to have if you are going for epic moody hardcore. The second song is not bad by any means and sounds quite similar to the first one, but it just is not as inspired and catchy to ears and it didn't grab my attention.
As mentioned above, a band such as Unhinged (who are cruelly underrated if you ask me) must have been a major influence, especially with the female vocals and the emotional but heavy and angry music, and I can definitely picture a Protess recording for Nabate. Beside them, I suppose the tentacular destructive power of His Hero Is Gone must have played a role in influencing the band as well as UK tribal hardcore bands like Scatha and Sedition (the visuals of the Ep certainly point in that direction), maybe some Antisect and Anti-System and obviously other progressive emotional hardcore bands that were contemporaries but that I know nothing about (but then, I decline omniscience). I don't really listen to that type of music anymore but I really enjoyed playing Positiveness. Of course, it is quite dated and the last decade was overrun with hardcore bands who wanted to be heavy, epic and melodic (cough neocrust cough), but Protess sound and look first and foremost as a genuine punk band who played hardcore with passion and in the end that's exactly what you need to have for an Ep to be solid. This one was released on Sprout Records, a label run by Tsuyoshi (who went to be sing in the MG15 fanboy band Desperdicio) that also released materials from Sacrifice and Youth Strike Chord. I just love the manga-like drawing of the band on the cover (I am a sucker for those) but haven't been able to find other pieces from the artist, so if you are aware of some, please let me know.
Incidentally, the copy of the Ep contained two photographs from Protess playing live somewhere in 1999. I have no idea who took them but they are pretty cool so here they are.
There's even a bloody sticker!