The Protomen, the Problem of One and an Active Nostalgia

The reclamation of popular culture for the subversion or re-invigoration of that same culture is a delightful sight to behold. This is the delight of The Protomen. Their two current concept albums Act I (The Protomen) and Act II (The Father of Death) brings 80s distopian rock and iron worker sensibilities to the world of the Mega Man series. The projected trilogy is a rock ballad re-telling of how Dr. Light first made protoman, and then megaman to overcome the machinations of the tyrannical ruler, Dr. Wily. Fans looking for the nostalgic riffs of the old Nintendo series will find the spirit there, but overall the sound is all its own.

The overall theme of the series is the freedom cry against tyranny common to distopian rock and that it should come out of the USA in this troubled age reinforces the general zeitgeist already present. While often worthy in itself, I have to wonder at the relationship this freedom cry bears to the very tyranny it proposes to resist. The crying out of individuality and the will of one does not resist all oppression. If nothing else, the tyrant could sing the same songs as the rebel and see his own affirmation in it.

There is also a very strong theme of inheritance in the two albums. Dr. Light sings of what his father left him, and what he left to his sons. Megaman does the same in remembrance of his lost brother and of his father’s wishes, and then there is the question of what will be left to the masses suffering under Dr. Wily. While the nostalgia of gamers is part of the heart of the album, there is a much greater nostalgia still which incites the listener to action, instead of the complacency most common to that feeling when it is bereft of the question: “what for?”

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