We've yet to fully make sense of the 2012 calendar year, but by all accounts, it seems this is the year of the "return." "Return," as in bands coming back from lengthy periods of inactivity, able to pick up where they left off, into the waiting arms of their respective fan bases. It's a testament to the immense loyalty that exists within our scene, something that would never be afforded to any pop or commercial rock band. Their fans are flighty and fickle as they come...not metal's. And because few in metal aspire to make music their full-time job, the understanding that exists between fan and band allows outfits like Prototype to take care of their proverbial business at home, then release a new album when ready.
After a six-year layoff, the Los Angeles-based progressive metallers are back with Catalyst (Nightmare Records), an album where upon conceptual ingenuity (think X-Files, but less cheesy) meets brash heaviness and melodic risk-taking. Led by the duo of Vince Levalois (guitars/vocals) and Kragen Lum (guitars), Prototype deliver on thrash-on-Nevermore numbers like "My Own Deception" and "Gravity Wall," while an intense forward-thinking concept ties the entire package together, of which Levalois does a thorough job of explaining below. We caught up with the singer/guitarist to talk about what the band was up to during their time off, lineup changes, and the potential for life on Mars, a subject that metal is so very fond of...
Blistering.com: You have the benefit of being a part of the progressive metal scene in which the fans are both loyal and at times, hard to impress. Any concern on that end? As in, not being able to live up to Continuum?
Vince Levalois: We don't really concern ourselves at all with what impresses others, etc. We create for ourselves. We play what sounds good to us and do the best job possible. Whatever someone walks away with is their own vision or idea. If it's a positive experience, then we're happy to have touched someone in that way. If not, then we don't really care. In the end we're still here and we know that we have a fan base that enjoys what we do. That's all that really matters to us in the end.
Blistering.com: I'll take a guess and say that the usual personal responsibilities (i.e. family life, work, etc.) are some of the reasons for the delay. By tending to these things, did it make you appreciate and/or miss the band even more?
Levalois: That is true to a certain extent. Other responsibilities also include side bands, etc. for most of us, which also cause delays. Although all of us have aspired to be full time musicians, touring, etc., the reality is that it's not always possible for everyone financially. Still, we're able to produce music and release it and have the privilege of having fans that enjoy what we do, even if on a more limited basis than other bands out there. If it were financially feasible for us to hop on a tour, trust me we would.
Blistering.com: How nice is it to have [drummer] Pat Magrath back in the band?
Levalois: Pat is a force to be reckoned with on drums and we're stoked to have him back on Catalyst. He brings a particular dimension to the Prototype sound and is thoughtful about the parts he injects into the music.
Blistering.com: Catalyst is such a complex, yet well-composed and easily digestible album. How long have some of these tunes been in the works?
Levalois: We've been working on some of these for a few years. However, once the songs are established, we rarely go back and change them dramatically in structure. We don't necessarily review them to find out if they need refinement, etc. What was left to do was to think about sequencing and how the concept of the album was going to come together.
Blistering.com: You've employed a science-fiction storyline for the album. What can you tell us about it, especially the Unfamiliars?
Levalois: It's basically a story of how life came about on our planet. The Unfamiliars are the "aliens" that caused life to spawn here, albeit unbeknownst to them. They are a civilization that has been scouring the galaxy for a place to call home. Nomadic in nature, they hop from planet to planet where civilizations exist and drain energy from them. The energy they need is not physical; it's actually emotional by human standards of thinking. They need "negative" energy, as in the kind that is created by all of the bad side of human nature. But, the reason why we create this is because they, in part, created us.
Other civilizations they'd overtake would die off and have no remaining energy for consumption. Yet, we produce an infinite amount of negative energy because it never gets depleted. These Unfamiliars cannot be seen or heard or otherwise initially. They can only be felt, as in a possession of sorts. With this assimilation, some human host may gain powers that they don't immediately perceive. These powers come in different flavors, such as mass persuasion, healing, magnetic personality, etc. Over our history, notable figures have been able to channel these powers to their advantage. Think Hitler, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Jesus, Mohammed, etc.
We hope to release a template that explains the story song by song so that the listener can get a "picture" of what's going on. Ultimately, there's nothing more we'd like than to have this made into a movie!
Blistering.com: Something like "Chosen Ones" definitely has an extraterrestrial feel to it. What's it about?
Levalois: A subset of the Unfamiliars believe they are The Chosen Ones to find their race a permanent resting place. Unfamiliars are a highly political civilization, and they exist in clans and factions.
Blistering.com: With NASA's recent Mars exploration, do you think there's a chance they'll discover life on another planet?
Levalois: I have no doubt that we will find life outside of earth someday. Whether that's on Mars, Europa or a comet, who knows.
Blistering.com: The introduction of seven-string guitars has certainly beefed up your sound. Was it easier to churn out heavier stuff by using these?
Levalois: By default, the sound is heavier and it also inspires heaviness. This was something we gravitated towards and it complemented the material we were writing perfectly.
Blistering.com: Live dates for the band have been scarce over the years, so are there any plans to rectify that in support of Catalyst?
Levalois: We would really like to, but again, it comes down to economics. If there's enough demand for us to play out on tour, then opportunities will present themselves and we'll consider all opportunities.
Blistering.com: Kragen also does time in Heathen, so do any of the other members engage in side-bands?
Levalois: Pat also plays every once in a while with Amerikan Made. Both Kragen and I play in Psychosis together, which is a more straightforward thrash outfit.
Blistering.com: Finally, what's on tap for the rest of 2012, going into 2013?
Levalois: Right now we're focused on the release of Catalyst and its promotion. We definitely wants to play some local shows and get the live juices flowing again soon. With any luck, some opportunities will present themselves and we'll get to hop on a tour soon!