BEST OF 2020 #9: Polaris
A few years ago I stumbled upon a subreddit that queried "Is Australia the best when it comes to Metalcore?". While the answers will always vary when that topic arises depending who you ask, it's always been an ongoing badge of pride that our lil country continues to pump out such stellar heavy tunes and a slew of bands who transcend the underground and captivate on a global scale. And while there is certainly no shortage of breakdowns and seething melodics bubbling away around the country, one band who yet again strode further into polished infamy this year are none other than Sydney's Polaris with their remarkable sophomore album The Death Of Me which released back in February.
Balancing brutality with a fresh take on the metalcore trope, Polaris continue to be able to stretch their limits without alienating or posturing, and their ability to reshape the heavy genre certainly not go unnoticed this year, both with a #3 debut on the Aussie ARIA charts, an an ARIA nomination for their efforts (and as a side note, their Like A Version take on Eskimo Joe was definitely a huge fave for me personally). All in all, Polaris are a case of first-class musicianship and cohesive presentation, and it's frankly exciting to see a band of this nature explode alongside their many talented peers (but maybe we need to think about
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: February 19 2020
Balancing sonic evolution with a sophomore album is often a lesson in futility for many, but Sydney's Polaris manage to leap beyond local infamy and cement their hurtling rise in the heavy world with their brand new album The Death Of Me due out this Friday.
Faced with a gargantuan task of eclipsing their 2017 debut album The Mortal Coil and burgeoning worldwide success since that time, Sydney quintet Polaris arrived into their latest sonic incarnation with the intent of balancing their established appeal with challenging their own sonic identity, as drummer Daniel Furnari explains:
“Being our second full-length, we knew it was important for us to surprise the listener as well - nobody wants to hear the same record twice. We wanted to give them things they wouldn’t expect, take them to new places, but also for it to be definitively a Polaris record, building on what we’ve been working towards.” - Daniel Furnari, drums
And while the end result of The Death Of Me is one of assured writing and polished production, there's an undeniable sense of thematic unease, partly borne from the pressure following the group's ARIA-nominated debut and subsequent highs and lows that accompany swift success. But rather than stagnate and wallow against the obvious expectations that awaited the group with their second release, Polaris have instead embraced new approaches both within and outside their metalcore shell, incorporating a plethora of novel smatterings from Southern-hardcore riffing, nostalgic alt-rock and even some moody pop into an album that relishes its dichotomy between light and shade as much as it presents a textbook album from a modern Aussie heavy band on the rise.
Opening on a particularly intimate note, The Death Of Me kicks off with Pray For Rain with poignant finesse. Initially busting out with some minimal instrumentation below Jamie Hails' rasping vocals, Pray For Rain builds up palpable anticipation as the Polaris gents tease into an effortless exercise in polished precision with heaving melodics, bulking riffs and significant shades of ambience bustling with the familiar Polaris M.O as well as some elegant hints of new sonic waters for the quintet.
If Pray For Rain is the bar Polaris have thrown out there for what's to come, Hypermania follows next by ripping down that same bar and flinging it into more hardcore territory as the group establish an ongoing oscillation between heavy and flexible softness to follow on the album. From the high-octane Hypermania to the emotionally saturated Masochist, there's more than a few surprises in store including increased melodics and the occasional stunning clean vocals from Hails on the latter.
Dipping slightly into frenetic Slipknot territory with Landmine, Polaris jump next into jauntier waters with Vagabond, busting out big hooks and a particularly anthemic chorus while tackling the concept of yearning to belong and finding your "home". From affable metalcore to moodier riffage, Creatures Of Habit is a pearler absolutely overflowing with whirling guitars, entwined harsh and clean vocals courtesy of Hails and Jake Steinhauser respectively, as well as a blazing breakdown to really showcase the might of drum-man Daniel Furnari.
Above My Head arrives next brandishing all the usual bells and whistles expected from a modern metalcore ensemble, balancing a touch of grit with the emphatic feels busting out amid the beseeching vocals. Offering up some of the softest moments on the album, Above My Head will absolutely be polarising to some of the more diehard fans, but it's a beautiful escape into crisp guitars, dynamic chord progressions and some smooth instrumental vamps that offer up yet another facet to the Polaris prism, as does the following track Martyr (Waves). Marking their largest deviation from their usual bruising tendencies, Martyr (Waves) is also coincidentally one of the biggest windows into the evolution and capabilities lurking in this next phase of Polaris; there's a lot of exciting possibility hinted here amid the serene vocals and cinematic backdrops while also offering a potential junction for heavy and non-heavy fans to meet.
Penultimate track All Of This Is Fleeting certainly hints at more recent offerings from Architects (which is certainly not a negative in context of the rest of the album), but also thrusts in some heightened menace with a particularly heavy breakdown that would definitely hot up the crowd in a live setting, and fittingly leading into the murky closing track The Descent. And to close out the Polaris adventure here, the heaving returns in full force to wrap up The Death Of Me as the lads grip firmly onto their bread and butter of deep grooves and blasting riffs while adding in some softer instrumentals for good measure.
Ultimately with The Death Of Me, Polaris have presented a unified snapshot of who the band were - and who they're destined to become. At times their sound may not totally swerve from their earlier foundations, but it's this very fact that allows them to further establish their own identity in a particularly teeming local heavy landscape and hint at an undoubtedly thriving future as the band continues to grow. It's a safe move to not entirely give in to the expected total evolution blowout so many had hoped for with this sophomore release, but Polaris are a band destined for a long, bright future and The Death Of Me is a clever and dignified step towards the gents becoming one of our most successful exports in the heavy world.
BY TIANA SPETER