Album: The Death of Me
The human spirit is an immensely complex thing—real or not, even just to think about. Whether or not you believe in it or put any stock in it, spirit has a lot in common with fire. It can grow in an instant, swell like a stubbed toe and fill one’s chest with pride and energy. It can shrink—falter and fail under a downpour—if exposed to the harsher elements. Inside us all, that fire is in a constant, dynamic state of growth and decay. What happens when the embers shudder, fade and fail to recover? What happens when the fire dies? Looking at the cover of Australian progressive metalcore outfit Polaris’ sophomore full length record, The Death of Me, it seems as if the best way to find out is to dive right in. Somewhere in the midst of pummeling breakdowns, enchanting leads and moments of breath-taking ethereality, there’s the answer. Taking the best parts of their breakout release, refining them and adding more than a pinch of heaviness, Polaris’ 2020 album is one of the first releases of its kind for the year—and one of the best releases of its kind over the past several.
Polaris’ 2017 breakout record, The Mortal Coil marked what many (myself included) considered as one of progressive metalcore’s finest debut releases—which means that The Death of Me has some huge shoes to fill. Fortunately, Polaris have taken those elements of The Mortal Coil that made it a truly outstanding contribution to heavy music and concentrated them, simultaneously refining them and expanding on them to provide over a half hour of pure energy to the listener. Once the opening cut, “Pray for Rain” takes off, there’s really no stopping Polaris—especially with percussionist Daniel Furnari behind the kit. Furnari’s drumming sees him bringing the same bombastic and energetic approach heard on The Mortal Coil and stepping it up a notch. “Hypermania” Is a brief but bustling example of this, as is “Landmine,” a track that sees Furnari balancing aggression and punchy, catchy percussion all in one. Here, he works outstandingly with bassist Jake Steinhauser to give the song a thick, pronounced low end that gives the heavy sections heft and the remainder of the track bounce. Together, Furnari and Steinhauser create the firmament from which guitarists Rick Schneider and Ryan Siew blossom. While the duo back off on the “progressive” elements abundant throughout The Mortal Coil, they give much of The Death of Me more impact—be it through heaviness or otherwise. “All of This is Fleeting” is an excellent example where the duo provide crunchy, pulverizing heaviness alongside stunning leads and moments of ambiance enough to give even prog fanatics something to lust about. Meanwhile, songs like 2019’s standout single “Masochist” are less about the heavy and instead opt to be simply one of the catchiest songs metalcore has seen in some time—with brilliant, bright leads that contrast against a bouncy, recurring breakdown and a near-poppy chorus spliced in betwixt it all. The point is that The Death of Me is closer to a contemporary metalcore record than it is a true progressive metalcore record, but that shouldn’t disillusion the listener from thinking its simple or dull—as several, if not all, of the songs Polaris provide feature remarkable instrumentation and musicianship in keeping with what one would have expected following their debut effort.
The first taste of The Death of Me was given to the heavy music community by the record’s debut single, “Masochist,” which (if you’ve been reading) is not only incredibly catchy but passionately and poignantly written. That—meaning to or otherwise—set the tone for Polaris’ sophomore full length record, and set the bar just that much higher. Fortunately, the dynamics present between frontman Jamie Hails and Steinhauser that made “Masochist” such a masterful display of metalcore remain abundant throughout The Death of Me. Where some songs—“Landmine” and “Hypermania”—are a little more abrasive, keeping in tune with the heavy nature of the songs, others (“Martyr (Waves)” and “Above My Head”) see the scale tip in the opposite direction, with more singing and melancholic screaming than eviscerating roars and screeches. The same fine balance that the musicianship struck throughout The Death of Me is carried over to the vocal element, with more range and more intimate lyricism than Polaris has displayed to date. Where The Mortal Coil started lyrically and vocally strong but wore thin towards the record’s end, The Death of Me remains fresh and energetic throughout, with lyrics touching on a myriad topics and using a broad array of vocal styles and ranges. While “Masochist” remains a favorite (no, really, try to get that chorus out of your head), “All of This is Fleeting” alongside “Hypermania” and “The Descent” are more examples of Polaris—and Hails in particular—setting a new standard for the genre.
Ultimately, those who enjoyed the more technical and progressive elements of The Mortal Coil might find themselves slightly underwhelmed by some of the fare offered on The Death of Me. However, where there is a little less shred, there is more dynamic, balance and energy to be had—not to mention a better taste of Polaris operating at both their heaviest and most ethereal extremes. While not every song packs the same emotional punch as “Masochist” or the same jaw-dropping breakdown as “All of This is Fleeting,” every song does give the listener something to fall in love with, get stuck in their head or bang their head to—which, at the end of the day, is among the highest praise a metalcore record can earn. So while Polaris may be entering The Death of Me’s release and touring cycle, rest assured, the band is still very much alive.
For Fans Of: Northlane, Fit for a King, Currents, Earthshatter
By: Connor Welsh