From the first listen, I knew that the debut album of Sydney’s Polaris would be tough to review. Not because The Mortal Coil was hard to get into, nor lacking in any way, but that I simply wasn’t confident that I would have enough adjectives in my vocabulary to cover what I was hearing.
To produce The Mortal Coil, the five piece of Jamie Hails (vocals), Jake Steinhauser (bass, vocals), Rick Schneider (guitar), Ryan Siew (guitar), and Daniel Furnari (drums) spent a month together in a Mollymook holiday house. They had Carson Slovak and Grant MacFarland of Atrium Audio to oversee the recording, and set up two workstations in the house. Of the experience, Rick shared “While stress would inevitably makes its way into the process, the end result is something we are all very proud of, and I’ll personally always look back on that month fondly“.
“Lucid” at the first track is one heck of a way to start an album. Distorted sound at the introduction barely prepares you for the fire that’s coming. Once it hits, your ears barely know what to notice first, captivated by intricate guitar work, relentless drumming and Jamie Hails’ intensity; all of these parts making up one fluid machine that we’re being asked to keep up with. ‘Aggressive and full of this dark adrenaline’ is how Jamie describes “Lucid” and we would agree with that!
“If it consumes me, let the script upon my tomb read:
I found my love and let it kill me”
To my ears and soul, “Lucid” feels like pressure upon someone, relating to something they chose, that they can’t escape or back away from, needing to overcome doubt instead. It’s a powerful statement for anyone in a creative field that is pulled back to their art, while also feeling the weight of delivering something they’re proud of. With this track, it’s an affirmation of being passionately ‘all in’, even though passion can resemble a heavy weight at times.
A moment of stillness in “Lucid” echoes a need to pause and look within in, and the powerful chorus (“So here I am for what it’s worth..”) blows away anything that prevents them being completely open to work with creativity as it comes through them. It vibes as: ‘the experience of creating may be heavy, but we love it.’ Amen to that!
Before you’ve caught your breath from “Lucid”, you’re straight into “The Remedy”, which also has been released as a single. “The Remedy” is addictive riffs and grabbing beats, engaging from the outset. It’s about here you’ll start to wonder if The Mortal Coil is in fact the album of the year. We’re putty in Polaris’ hands before the vocals even start. The band’s dual vocals work brilliantly together in capturing dark heaviness, as well as a feeling of seeking something without resolution.
Similarly to “Lucid”, “The Remedy” could also reflect the aliveness that Polaris find in music, and the pressure to conform and let go of these dreams which are not necessarily understood by others around them. The vibe is they’re not getting anywhere trying to live ‘normally’, and yet they still feel pressure to.
“Like a chain, in a way we are all bound to our fate”
The sick breakdown section and shift into the last chorus feels like an opening up and standing of ground, like “I’m doing this, whether you like it or not”.
Third on the album is “Relapse” which has a lighter feel to it, though still intense and emotionally raw. This track feels like curiosity in tenderly observing someone and feeling sad about the distance between them, wondering what will become of the two of them.
“I’m nothing more than a sedentary waste of space and air”
Paranoia and frustration taint this track as the person feels taken over by their mental state/condition. They can’t get through to the person they care for and blame themselves for this, but it’s the both of them. It becomes skin-crawling in intensity of sound, digging deeper and craving more for the two, wishing they were more.
Another of The Mortal Coil‘s singles is “Consume”, which literally points a finger at the way we are raised by society as consumers. Beginning with complexity and a feeling of following threads we can never get to the end of, the feeling is “things were okay, why were we looking for more than we had?”
“Consume” shares an impression of almost brainwashing level of having each of us crafted to think of ourselves as inadequate, pushing us to look outward instead of within; a breeding ground of self-scrutiny to the extreme of self-hate.
“We know we never should have had this cross to bear”
Incredible guitar urges us onward, finding a way out of this trap. Fire is unmistakeable here with anger toward a society that made us feel like we were never enough. With an amazing chorus of soaring clean vocals and seeking guitar, we’re given the opportunity to see beyond the ‘trap’ and look to our own amazingness.
There’s a build up of pressure, waiting to burst out at the breakdown and set alight all of these false structures that never had the right to affect us. A ‘wow’ guitar solo and drums feel like reinforcement of our uniqueness and expressing ourselves and it’s all very goosebump worthy.
The track ends with anger poured toward those who would have us look beyond what we could reach and races we never could win, instead of allowing us to ask ourselves “Who are we?”.
“Frailty” is next on the album and is instantly bombarding with desperation and self hate. It’s heavy to the point of the loudness seeming like an attempt to hide; not wanting to be seen, nor pitied. While also seeking to be forgiven for how broken they are.
“When it’s all over, we’ll never be the same”
The intensity in how flawed and unworthy they feel seems to be leading toward suicide. The collision by way of guitars matches their sense of brokenness at the breakdown. Lost in the darkness, echoing in the emptiness, they feel out of reach and call to God in their desperation. They do so while also feeling unworthy of being helped and the contradictions add to the emotional/mental discomfort being expressed here.
In the close of the track, it could be as if someone else is singing about their friend of the earlier verses that has been lost to suicide. “Frailty” is heartachingly moving from all angles.
Translating to Latin as ‘in dreams there is truth’, “In Somnus Veritas” gives us a breather of intensity. Initially, at least. With this track you could visualise the experience of someone sitting in silence and thinking about the self: ‘who am I?’, ‘why am I here?’.
“But if it’s all just some kind of illusion,
Then to what do we owe this life?”
“In Somnus Veritas” gave me goosebumps with its beautiful melodic guitar sound before expanding into a strong and massive sound. The track takes on a feeling of having the strength of mind to question everything, and to wonder what the point is, to try to gain a higher level understanding of our existence while we’re living it.
“Dusk To Day” is a slower and gentler track yet still with a massive multi-layered sound which Polaris do brilliantly. In “Dusk To Day” I recognised feelings of unease, being bombarded and overwhelmed, and finding it hard to know what’s real or not. There was a sense of being nauseous and panicked, finding it hard to connect with anyone and being stuck in an inner turmoil caused by pressure. It captures a sense of being stuck in a never ending state of not coping.
Alarmingly and aggressively is how “Casualty” vibes, and from the beginning it’s as if we’re in a fight, courtesy of pummelled drums and aggressive riffs. The track feels like a call to arms to battle forces that are leading us all astray. The entire track has a ‘wow’ level relentless intensity that’s mind-blowing.
“Not all can be saved”
Ninth on the album is “The Slow Decay” which is a huge track. Affected by a loss that occurred in childhood, they’ve been shaped by this experience by way of their understanding of mortality. In the front of their mind is this inevitable end of each of us, and not finding it easy to be at peace in that understanding.
“Decay together, we’re not built to live forever”
With yet more sick breakdowns comes truth bomb lyrics, before a momentary tender break. Heartache and grief pour over this track, and the combination of two vocalists is powerful, with Jamie’s vocals keeping the intensity of anguish present the entire time when you might otherwise expect Jake’s cleans to stand alone. The ending of the track is relevant too, in petering out to nothing. Just like us humans, hey?
The following track “Crooked Path” is looking toward someone they love who is struggling. In reminiscing, they are wanting to help their friend but don’t feel like they can. Despite impressiveness by way of guitars (yet again – Rick and Ryan are superheroes without capes, I swear), the vocals of “Crooked Path” drew my focus and were so engaging, in particular the rhythms of the “Was there something holding you back?” sections.
“What are you waiting, oh, what are you waiting for?”
“Crooked Path” was moving emotionally, seeming to express the exhausted exasperation of someone who wants to badly help their friend despite struggling too. They want their friend to know that they don’t have to suffer, if they can allow themselves to be helped. The ending feels eerily uncomfortable.
The final track of the album is “Sonder”, which is also one of the coolest words ever, reflecting that each person around us is living a life as complex as our own: “an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”
“You cowards, you cowards, you left them for dead
Left them out in the cold, they said
You liars, backstabbers, sold out your own kind
I can’t turn a blind eye, can’t rewind”
“Sonder” is sonically and emotionally heavy. It is raw and fed up. By way of meaning, it may well be reflecting the lack of understanding (as per the ‘sonder’ definition) that every one of us matters and is deserving of compassion, not simply being a body to step over on someone’s climb to the top. The sound of “Sonder” is soaring, yet also feels like stewing in disgust. They hope that the heartless are suffering for what they’ve done to others, hope they’re haunted, while also knowing that all of us will pay for the consequences in some way with our interconnected stories.
After an in-depth listen, my impression of The Mortal Coil is that it’s a collection of tracks captured about this life we live daily. It’s observing life’s frustrations, corruptions (by outside forces), and overwhelming personal pressure to be something that may not fit who we are. Polaris have used their album to share their observations by way of their own lives, and have done so with jaw-droppingly impressive sound. The Sydney five piece take us down the rabbit hole of life with them, feeling pressured to keep up, while also trying to break free of barriers that keep them from truly knowing themselves. In The Mortal Coil, Polaris are asking meaningful questions of identity, purpose, and ‘finding your love and let it kill you’, while maintaining compassion toward others.
It really doesn’t get much better than this. Congratulations on an impressive album, Polaris.
Relentlessly impressive sound without ever feeling overdone. Songs with meaning, shared genuinely and with heart. A perfectly cohesive metalcore machine.
This debut album sets the bar ridiculously high for Polaris. Good luck topping this!