When a band makes a great album, does its success feel like a triumphant wave to surf on? Or does it weigh like an anvil of expectation upon their future music? Polaris would have an answer to this one, with The Death Of Me releasing on Friday (via Resist Records/SharpTone Records). It’s a highly anticipated release, even though the music of previous album The Mortal Coil is still being thoroughly enjoyed by their devoted fanbase.
Using Polaris’ own words, they’ve clearly found their love and let it kill them: The five piece took the threads of opportunity that their debut album had laid out for them, and went wherever it led them. The highs and lows of being in an internationally touring (and internationally appreciated/recognised) band undoubtedly would have an impact upon a person’s life. So with this, I had to wonder if Polaris’ sophomore album was tied into this metaphorical death, capturing their collective experiences as musicians since the release of The Mortal Coil. Spending time with each of the songs of the album seemed like the best way to find out.
As far as album openers go, “Pray For Rain” isn’t an obvious choice for a Polaris record. Coming across cold, quiet, and alone, the song offers up an unexpectedly serene setting… at first, anyway. When Jamie Hails’ voice cries out poetic gems like “At the mantle of the heart…”, the mental question marks melt away (at least for a while), and the slowly building song takes the listener into the experience.
Liquid of mood and lyrics, tumbling droplets of melody and drums add to the scene. It’s as if we are edging closer and closer towards something uncomfortable, on what seems like a challenging rite of passage. Feeling progressively harder and fittingly stronger of sound, the protagonist is blasted by wind and sharpness of cold, courtesy of greater instrumental presence and complexity.
The stormy blast that the song builds up to for a minute and a half is impressive, instrumentally complex, and signature Polaris, but it felt too upbeat/groovy for some reason. It had seemed like there should have been a far more intense/dark feel with the guitars in particular on this, and it just came across like bouncy Polaris pit joy. As someone who has thoroughly enjoyed bouncing along in the squish of a Polaris crowd, this isn’t terrible, but it was different to expectations for sure, and different to what seems to be being shared thematically. So my ears have to focus (if that makes sense) on the longer notes that ooze far more ache in contrast to the groovier riff.
When this same riff comes in again later, when Jamie’s voice seems seared and oppressed in quality, there’s a greater punch that improves things, and it seems like determination and inner fire. But beyond that riff alone, it’s like the song treads a line between nailing it and not, and it’s tough to put into words exactly why this is the case. As one example, a lifting and cleanly sung chorus drifts upward with a busy circular riff around it, and this doesn’t necessarily fit in with the deprived and oppressed mood that’s been generated before it. Nor does the post-chorus instrumental section seem to gel.
I agonised over this song for awhile; trying to work out if any pre-review expectations may have soured it, or whether the song itself was truly disjointed. Reviews are obviously subjective, but I wanted some clarity of objectivity. I ultimately concluded that those feelgood riffs that are painted all over a track that’s otherwise troubled and tortured was incongruent. And I wondered too if Polaris were leaning upon choices that they expected would be enjoyed by fans based on past wins. It’s almost as if they were trying too hard to be Polaris with this one (while also sounding very much like Architects)!
It’s a rough way to start an album (and a review), but the extremely congruent “Hypermania” is a welcome second track. It’s as sonically wild and hectic as its subject matter shares, and the call and response partnership with the two vocalists is brilliant, as is the grandeur and swagger of the chorus. This beast of a tune is huge, clear in sentiment, and on point. They nailed it with this, and I won’t repeat myself in diving into detail on this one (read an in-depth take on “Hypermania” here).
Similarly, “Masochist” is wonderful in its introspection and softer search for clarity, and is another great song from Polaris. Jake Steinhauser’s appearance at the chorus captures a frustrated state of self-judgement and this is captured well by the whole band. Again, instead of repeating myself, I dove in deep when “Masochist” released as a single and you can read my thoughts in detail here. Both “Hypermania” and “Masochist” capture a protagonist scrutinising his behaviour/choices and wondering what else exists beyond these patterns.
With a truth bomb highlighting possibility, “Landmine” is Polaris’ most recent single from The Death Of Me. It’s a heavier cut from the band and is immediately grabbing beacause of this intensity. Squealing guitars and punches from the drumkit have the two-steppable track go hard, capturing the panic and suffocation of external expectation.
It’s easy to get swept up in the urgency and energy of “Landmine”, and despite its wildness, the song flows smoothly throughout courtesy of threads of sharpened guitar and agility behind the drumkit. Bass stands out pleasurably to my ears on this song, and the drum blasts of the bridge just adds to the greatness heard up to that point.
“Landmine” seems to be an anthem for the jaded, and an invitation to do something, which is perfectly placed after the two tracks before it. Ryan Siew’s guitar solo fits surprisingly well, slicing expertly through the existential tension, and I could see him leading the unhappy masses into better choices a la Pied Piper of Hamelin.
We’re hitting the halfway point and I’m bummed that I didn’t gel with “Pray For Rain” because The Death Of Me would have otherwise have been perfect through to this point. The first time I played through this album, it was out loud while I was making lunch (I usually review with head phones on). At one point I had to run to my computer, because I wanted to know the name of the incredible song I was hearing. That song was “Vagabond”.
Decidedly different for Polaris, the fifth track of The Death Of Me is a favourite. I can see it being polarising, depending on how hardcore purist people may be about the band’s sound. More rock than metalcore, “Vagabond” hooks into song memories from decades past and feels satisfying and self-assured. Jamie’s scream rains down, reminding us this is indeed a Polaris song. What I’m impressed with most is how the song flows from section to section, such as the high guitar around 0:49 that climbs and then sets up for a pre-chorus moment, before that glorious (almost pop-like) chorus finally lands.
Satisfying as fuck, I can’t decide if this fresh flavour of sound is where Polaris should head in the future or it is simply feeling really ‘wow’ because it’s out of left field for them. Regardless, I’m all-in while “Vagabond” veers and climbs and is basically beautiful and fierce through to its rocky and flamboyant bridge, pulling it all together for a stunning finish featuring Siew stylings. This is a definite stand-out that put a smile on my face.
Far more straight-laced, “Creatures of Habit” comes crashing in with rounded drum tones and a spray of “Can’t you see I’m not your enemy?”. Tense and confrontational, the instrumentally menacing and tight track beams like a torchlight toward the truth, trying to gain clarity. Similarly to “Vagabond”, I love how the track instrumentally leads into the chorus; climbing emotively before a high guitar melody combines with the surrender of the chorus.
“Creatures of Habit” is tough to capture in words, but it’s a pleasure to be in the moment with the song as it flows and shares lyrical honesty with strength and harmony. Defensiveness is set alight at the verses, reinforced by strafing riffs and landing as a firm punch at its breakdowns. Like a natural inhale and exhale, this song’s peaks and troughs are easy to roll with, setting up the listener for a heart-wrenching ride. Moreish in its detail, this is one that deserves repeat listens!
It’s an intriguing melody of “Above My Head”‘s introduction that immediately hooks me into the seventh. Though it’s a slightly different sound for Polaris, they unfortunately tread a slippery slope of sameness along the way. After enjoying the determined furiousness of Jamie’s voice and the repeated lines of “I need…”, I feel a little let down by the chorus that follows due to its ‘prettiness’ not at all reflecting the hurt of realisation that seems to be being shared.
As the song continues, I’m feeling this sense of over-polish instrumentally too, where a question of “Don’t we deserve to feel something more?” is then followed by a cleanly enunciated djent section that gives very little away. Unless this is specifically being shared here as an unfeeling state of existence, it unfortunately doesn’t seem to fit, especially not once the high ache of guitar joins in (which always seems to hit me in the feels, much like when ANY violin plays). The pensive ‘thinking music’ at the bridge is really cool, as is the climactic moment that follows, but they too feel somewhat disjointed. Might repeat listens help with this? I’m not sure.
I’ll tell you one thing though; “Martyr (Waves)” doesn’t need repeat listens for me to fall in love with it. What a beauty. The initial pared back and intimate setting has us up close with Jake as he gently shares an almost apologetic moment, like “Sorry, I can only be who I am”. The push and shove of externally manipulated personality is expressed by the force of the full band joining in, with Jake’s voice sounding as wounded as the experience has left him.
Clearly and cleanly (but kept feeling very genuine), “Martyr (Waves)” comes across like a combing through the rubble; an assessment after the damage, coming to terms with themselves and what remains in the aftermath. I’m impressed with how calm and measured this is, and it’s easy to fall in love with this. A blanketing via guitar lays weight, but still the protagonist stands resolute.
I sit here thinking how I would have liked to hear more like this on the album, while the arrival of strings, backing screams, and a guitar solo threaten to emotionally undo me. It’s Jamie’s moment at the bridge that finally does it, where earnest and electrified words spark a hair-raising reaction, before the outro leaves me riddled with goosebumps.
After its trickling introduction, there’s something very Bring Me The Horizon about “All Of This Is Fleeting” with its piano melody. I catch the lyric “Pastel skies that turn to grey” and love that the album artwork reflects this. Unfortunately as much as I try to get into the song, I find it doesn’t resonate with me.
I can appreciate the searching cries into the oblivion (especially the pointed edge of Jake’s frustration) and recognise a state of difficulty being shared. The track also has really great instrumental moments including a mammoth and stomping breakdown which has wall-of-death written all over it. But overall, it doesn’t inspire anything within me like other songs of the album have, seeming almost overdone, such as the orchestral/strings sections (I guess not ALL violins will hit me, huh?).
Having reached “The Descent”, it’s been an interesting ride of hits and misses not-quite-hits and I’m left wondering what the end of the album will bring. I enjoy the dark storytelling of the song, which skillfully sets up an easily visualised scene. This coupled with the backing vocals give a theatrical impression that’s kind of fascinating. It’s another unexpected stop on The Death Of Me journey.
Instrumental flares and step-downs add to the experience, as does Jamie’s heightened uneasiness and the sharpness of guitar lines above the rest of the song. The soaring chorus stays ‘in character’ with the song courtesy of the melody behind it, and the section around 3:15 is dreamy and impactful in its sink and climb, before landing in bassy melancholy. The final statement of “The Descent” is fittingly strong, keeping the same dark theatricism through to the end. It’s another great song.
Phew, what a ride! The Death Of Me showed so many different angles of Polaris across these 10 tracks, making it seem like they were stretching their wings in different areas. I enjoyed being moved by some beautiful and masterful moments along the way. Having perfected their anthemic approach to metalcore so much so that it seems too easy for them, the moments that were very unlike the signature Polaris sound stood out as really great. As a band that could do anything, I hope they keep exploring the sounds that excite them most, and not the ones they could do on autopilot.
The Death Of Me is out tomorrow via Resist Records/SharpTone Records.
There were some insanely wowing moments on this album, showing how talented these musicians are. The sense of flow through tracks (such as "Creatures Of Habit") was exquisite.
The 'misses' on this album (such as "Pray For Rain" and "Above My Head") unfortunately brought it down for me.