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Protestant: True Believers

May. 13, 2008
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  It is often taken for granted that hardcore punk is—and perhaps should be—the domain of the young. Young adulthood is a scary time for most of us, and what better way to express one’s youthful angst than by identifying with a music scene that embraces those feelings of alienation and confusion?

  I don’t think I would have made it through adolescence with my sanity intact without records like Black Flag’s Damaged and Minor Threat’s Out of Step. Those albums provided me with a useful outlet for my youthful rage and, perhaps more importantly, made me realize that I wasn’t the only one feeling so, well, out of step. At a time when one’s identity is incredibly unstable, any sense of community becomes paramount, and hardcore punk became the one place where I felt truly accepted.

  By the time I reached my mid-20s, I believed I had outgrown hardcore. I found myself dismissing records that had once meant the world to me as simple, one-dimensional, even juvenile. Along with many other kids that grew up within the hardcore scene, I felt that this style of music did not really speak to the complex realities of my life. I was caught up in going to the right schools, finding a good job and falling in love. I was too busy to be angry all the time, and perhaps too self-conscious to profess my love for a genre that, by the late-1990s, seemed to offer the discriminating music listener only a mindless glorification of a past that was long gone. In my mind, I had grown up while hardcore punk had remained a perpetually angry, emotionally stunted 15-year-old. It was time to move on.

  Yet a funny thing happened after I turned 30. Faced with a new round of anxieties and insecurities (broken marriages, fatherhood and career difficulties, to name a few), I found myself reconnecting with a series of hardcore punk albums, including the hate. the hollow., the latest album by Milwaukee’s Protestant. Making this record all the more attractive to me is the fact that all of the band members are either over 30 or approaching that milestone birthday.

  When asked why they continue to play hardcore, the band’s initial response is quite punk. Guitarist Chris Ellis simply notes that “everything else is boring.” However, when pressed a bit further to explain their commitment to Milwaukee’s hardcore punk scene, the band’s answers are quite telling.

  “It’s pretty inclusive,” says vocalist/guitarist Cory von Bohlen, of the beauty of hardcore. “You could listen to other types of music and not really be so involved.”

  And one gets the sense that this ability to become an active participant within the world of hardcore punk has proven absolutely integral to the way in which the members of Protestant have come to define themselves both as musicians and as individuals.

  “Music is such a defining thing, and when you do it for so long and grow up being punk rock, it just evolves with you,” explains bassist Jesse Smith.

  And there is a definite feeling of musical evolution within the hate. the hollow. While the record nods to such seminal, straight-ahead hardcore acts as Negative Approach and Infest, it also embraces the musical complexity that marked such mid- to late-’90s acts as Rorschach, His Hero is Gone, Tragedy and From Ashes Rise. At the same time, a number of songs on the album approach the very un-hardcore length of five minutes, and—through experimentation with volume, song structure and tone—move away from the “shorter, faster, louder” formula that often defines hardcore. There is an epic quality to such tracks, as these songs embrace an aesthetic that is more overwhelming than cathartic, more stifling than explosive.

  The lyrics for the nine tracks that make up the hate. the hollow. also help create the claustrophobic atmosphere present on the album, as both the band’s music and words bear down heavily upon the listener. This is an incredibly bleak album, one concerned with, as expressed in the title track, “the distance left between and behind.”

  Perhaps because all of the members of Protestant are well past adolescence, the feelings of anger, disillusionment and loss expressed on the album feel incredibly earned, and incredibly real. By the time von Bohlen, on the album’s final track, “Asleep,” screams, “Time needs to get out of the way/ Time needs to break,” Protestant has made it clear that hardcore can effectively address the perils of growing older. Like many of its followers, punk rock may not age gracefully. But, at least in the hands of true believers such as Protestant, it will continue to remain relevant.

  Information on Protestant’s new album can be found at myspace.com/protestantmilwaukee.


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