Release Date: 12th October 2018
Label: Equal Vision Records
It is always exciting being present at the formation of a new genre, whether it be grunge, shoegaze, nu metal etc, and following the career of Polyphia provides a similar musical marvel. Referring to their music as ‘Instrumental’ doesn’t do them justice, and with each subsequent release incorporating more influences, it is becoming near impossible to pigeonhole the band.
The Texan natives (initially driven by guitarists Timothy Henson and Scott LePage) started out as a borderline shred act, showing off their virtuosity on the guitar with complex melodies and extended solos. Debut album Muse featured guest appearances from shredder peers in the form of Jason Richardson and Nick Johnston, and while it showcased impressive playing, the songs themselves fell a bit flat and seemed to be mere vehicles to boast the band’s guitar skills. Second album Renaissance expanded their sound, drawing influence from R&B in creating melodies that could have been a Justin Timberlake vocal line, while introducing electronic drums and the occasional programmed instrumentation. The subsequent release, The Most Hated EP, which teased their new sound, revealed Polyphia’s music has more in common with trap and modern hip-hop than the shred metal stylings of their early work.
New Levels New Devils continues the style established on The Most Hated EP. Despite the guitarists being certified virtuosos, the instrumentation is more chordal based, almost creating a chord melody type approach to music associated with math rock bands such as American Football or TTNG. Distorted guitars are absent from the record too, relying solely on a more clean, ‘listener friendly’ tone. This could be seen as an attempt to entice non-rock fans to their music; the trap style beats have piqued an interest from an outside audience, surely it would be too jarring to employ shred guitar over the top? Even so, the band are still considering their existing fan base. Following criticism that they utilised programmed drums for their last EP, the four-piece composed their songs with programmed drums but then recorded with a live kit, resulting in a more organic sounding full band.
The album also sees a return for guest appearances following the absence of any on Renaissance. Session guitarist Mateus Asato appears on the downbeat ‘Drown’, and summery anthem ‘So Strange’ sees the first vocal contribution to a Polyphia song courtesy of producer/multi-instrumentalist Cuco. Shred master Jason Richardson also returns for a guest appearance on opening track ‘Nasty’, but with the band’s new sound (not to mention their new image) his performance feels out of place. Considering the ominous, spacey trap vibe the song creates at the beginning, one would not expect a cameo from the ex-Chelsea Grin/Born Of Osiris guitarist. Equally, Richardson’s appearance highlights how significant Polyphia’s development is, as an artist they no doubt aspired to has arguably become irrelevant to their newly embraced hip-hop style.
Some have regarded this development in the band’s sound as selling out, accusing Polyphia of jumping on the current ‘soundcloud rap’ trend with their latest tracks. The image and attitude of the band has noticeably changed too, as have the song titles, all of which demonstrate a sense of bravado and decadence (something more commonly associated with hip-hop). However it should be noted the band have always incorporated a light-hearted approach to their media, as well as a level of self-deprecation and self-awareness. Remember the video for ‘Champagne’, featuring two geeky guitarists surrounded by glamourous women?
Despite the opinions one may have on the band arguably ‘selling out’, New Levels New Devils is a fascinating listen. The impossibility to categorise, the band’s evolution, and the downright weird guitar parts featured make this release worth your attention. Most artists would argue that instrumental guitar music and trap beats don’t mix, but then most artists aren’t Polyphia.
Recommended Track: Saucy