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Protocol Hit All the Right Notes with Crushing Debut Album ‘Friar’s Lantern’

The Mumbai prog-rock band deliver a spellbinding record filled with introspection and high-quality musicianship

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David Britto Jun 14, 2020

Mumbai prog-rock band Protocol. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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If you must pick out one flaw in Mumbai prog-rock outfit Protocol, it is that they make us wait way too long until they have new music out. However, we’re not complaining any longer as it’s definitely been worth the wait. The group – who last released their anguished and emotional single “An Honest Conversation” in 2018 – are now out with a smashing new eight-track debut album called Friar’s Lantern.

Towards the end of last year, the band drafted in bassist Rajiv Menon for Vivian D’Souza. Menon would join an already stellar lineup with guitarists Sandesh Rao and Desikan Gopalan, keyboardist Rahul Kannan, drummer Nachiket Karekar and vocalist Shweta Venkatramani. “Our sound has changed quite a bit from our 2016 single ‘Alive,’ especially since Rahul came in on keys. And the writing process has also become a lot more organic and cohesive, as opposed to one person composing the entire song and other members writing on top of it,” says Venkatramani.

The vocalist also explains that the group widened their influences and soaked in as much as they could from guitar-driven prog-rock bands like U.K. outfit Monuments and Indo-American group Skyharbor to atmospheric bands such as English prog metallers TesseracT and Haken as well as their Polish counterparts Riverside.

While looking to form a unified theme for the album, Venkatramani went over interviews from Swedish prog metallers Opeth’s vocalist-guitarist Mikael Akerfeldt in which he talked about the band’s songs “Burden” and “To Rid The Disease,” opening up about how they questioned the beliefs and faith he’s grown up with. Venkatramani says, “I resonated with it because I was in a similar headspace at that time.” The vocalist adds, “The themes and lyrics have been borrowed from my personal experiences.”

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Friar’s Lantern opens with their 2018 single “An Honest Conversation” before the band juxtaposes hard-hitting sounds with delicate somberness on “Wait Until Tomorrow.” Protocol then unlock growls from Gopalan on “Gullible Child” featuring Mumbai guitarist Siddharth Shankar while “Dawn of Truth” also includes splendid dynamics. There are gradual climaxes (“Swipe Left,” “Imaginary Fire”) and mathcore delight on “Goodnight, Sweet Dreams.” The full weight of the album, however, is felt on the melancholic record closer “Perfection.”

Venkatramani says, “The album deals with the self-introspective journey of an individual, stemming from her desire to perfect her flaws, each song dealing with one. ‘Gullible Child’ speaks about how her opinions and emotions are influenced by those around her until she realizes, she has none of her own.” The vocalist adds, “The title itself Friar’s Lantern draws inspiration from a naturally occurring phenomenon of flashy lights over marshy lands.”

While themes of intensity and discomfort progress across the album, sonically Protocol has delivered a mesmerizing body of work over 50 spellbinding minutes. Plastered across the record there’s crunchy guitar riffs and solos, dazzling keyboard work, stellar bass grooves (tracked by D’Souza) and crushing drum parts composed by Karekar but programmed by Kannan for the LP as well as the Amy Lee-esque soaring vocal performance by Venkatramani herself.

Protocol recorded Friar’s Lantern at Kannan’s home studio and the keyboardist also mixed and mastered the album. “He’s managed to don multiple hats and pull it off — being creative and free-flowing while playing keys and being a practical critique while sitting in the producer’s chair,” says Venkatramani.

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Of late the band has been amping up their social media handles with content and also have a live video out for “Wait Until Tomorrow” and are planning to release another for “Imaginary Fire” to push the album out to listeners. “Online live gigs are going to be tough, since the full sound needs us all to be there, and that’s not possible because of the lag,” says Venkatramani. The vocalist does tell us that the group is working on getting good quality recording gear at each of their homes to keep rolling out material.

According to Venkatramani, due to the lockdown, it’s the longest the band has gone without meeting each other. The vocalist admits that she misses her bandmates and their “senseless jokes” but forces them to get on a video call now and then. She says, “The perk is also to see Desikan’s dog on video.” Protocol had already begun working on their next album before Friar’s Lantern dropped, so hopefully they won’t make us wait too long this time around until their next release. “It’s not the most ideal process, as we’d hoped to write this album in the jam room, but it’s okay really, taking each day as it comes,” says the frontwoman.

Stream ‘Friar’s Lantern’ below:

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