By David DeRocco

Progressive music, by definition, should always be moving forward, mutating, morphing and transforming into new and exciting hybrids. Take PROTEST THE HERO for example, five friends from Whitby who have evolved into Canada’s pre-eminent progressive metal/hard rock band.

Attaching a label to a band like Protest the Hero is a difficult task, given their instrumental proficiency and penchant for exploring the loosely defined parametres of progressive minded metal, math core, noise core and similar musical ilk. It’s a sound that has earned the bandmates – vocalist Rody Walker, guitarists Tim MacMillar and Luke Hoskin, bassist Cam McLellan and drummer Mike Ieradi – some high-profile fans including Dream Theatre co-founder Mike Portnoy. But as an exercise in labelling, how would guitarist Tim Millar define the band’s music if he was explaining it to his grandmother?

“I just say it’s rock or progressive rock or hard rock,” laughs MacMillar, who’s gearing up with the band for a showcase May 23 at Thorold’s Moose and Goose. “I don’t try to define it too much. I like the words progressive and aggressive.”

Aggressiveness is a characteristic the band has always applied to their music and, more recently, to their career choices. When it came time to produce their fourth album, for example, the band grabbed the reins away from parasitic record companies and opted to “crowd-fund” the project through Indiegogo. Setting a target of $125,000, the band turned heads when fans responded by funneling over $340,000 into the project in just 30 hours. It was a ballsy but successful move that MacMillar says came as a welcome shock to the band at a critical time in their ongoing evolution.

“I think that what most surprised us was how quick something like that happens,” says MacMillar. “We were at a spot where we had to figure out how we were going to pay for an album. We didn’t want to go the record company and owe all that money. We launched the plan at midnight, and when we woke up we were at 80 percent of our goal. That was most shocking, how quickly it happened.”

The end result, the 2013 release Volition, featured guest drummer Chris Adler from Lamb of God sitting in for the departing Moe Carlson. The album was a focused and cohesive sonic assault that peaked at #1 on the US Indie charts while earning Protest the Hero the 2014 Juno Award for Metal/Hard Music. For a band that’s toured the world, earning fans from South Africa to Europe to across North America, the award was taken in stride according to MacMillar.

“We’re not huge on awards. We don’t write music to try to win awards, but it’s kind of a nice icing on the cake to be recognized by someone like the Juno committee. We got nominated in 2008 for best rock album. We didn’t stand a chance against Sam Roberts and Matthew Mays. But it’s good to see them awarding hard and aggressive music.”

Besides helping the band fund their project, the crowd-funding initiative provided Protest the Hero with something even more valuable – a direct list of contacts to all the fans who donated to the project. MacMillar says that data base of information proved to be a vital link during their recent mini-tour of South Africa.

“It’s so nice to have that direct connection with those people at the end of it all,” he explained. “That was one of the biggest things lost when record labels are selling your music. You never know who’s buying it. With (crowd funding) you get a spreadsheet of all the names. While we were in South Africa, I sorted the list and found 10 people locally who had supported us. We got in touch when we were there, so cool to just look up a fan, find their name and get in touch with them.”

The focus for the band now is fully on the music and a sound which they have continued to refine since the 2004 release of their universally acclaimed debut, KEZIA. That 10-song tsunami introduced the world to Protest the Hero’s technically brilliant yet chaotic blend of hard metal – along with the awesome video for Heretics & Killers featuring band members dressed as Wizard of Oz flying monkeys trying to work odds jobs in the aftermath of the Wicked Witch’s untimely demise. MacMillar says that while the band is not mellowing, they are becoming more polished in the way they write and present their music.

“I think that’s something we’re learning as we get older; it’s not as crazy and all over the place as some of our earlier stuff. Looking back on old material, it was constantly moving forward. Now with our writing, we’re trying to repurpose some parts of the song, and have an underlying theme that ties it all together musically. We’re trying to flush out ideas more. We’ve never been happy just writing a verse and a chorus. As much as we try to write songs that have some kind of structure to them, at the end of the day we just kind of get bored.”

Fans of the band will unlikely be bored when PROTEST THE HERO performs their intimate club show at Moose and Goose. And for those who haven’t seen them on stage, what can they expect?

“We usually play for an hour, pick stuff from every release in the catalogue. We like to deliver a balanced set, some old stuff mixed in with the new stuff. The singer, depending on how he’s feeling, will tell some ridiculous anecdotes between songs. We’ll try not to screw up too much. We’ll just try to have a good time!”