It looks as though another new Polar album is arriving without even a smidge of the hype it deserves. It’s unfortunately become the norm now, but given how consistently this band have been delivering stellar melodic hardcore, even past the point that’s seen so many of their peers dissolve, that should come with a bit more excitement than it does. Even No Cure No Saviour, an album that really stood as a highlight among hardcore in 2016, struggled to really get a great deal of attention, a fact that proves Polar’s willingness to persevere as a band if nothing else as they buffeted another non-starter in what’s felt like a depressing pattern. And it would be a shame to lose them at this point; even for as little weight as their name may hold compared to others, they’re a great band, and hopefully Nova can see that continue at the very least.
And actually listening to the album, the thing that leaps out the most is how resilient of a band Polar have proven to be. At this point, they’re hardly going to change the world, but while it would’ve been all to easy to rest on their laurels and churn out a demotivated album to simply get something out there, Nova doesn’t feel like that. Rather, this feels like the slight retooling that Polar have needed to get that bit more attention, drawing more focus to their knack for melody than ever and bulking it up to the blustery, leveling heights of This Is The Six-era While She Sleeps. Obviously it’s not quite to that extent of quality (and there is a small part that can blame such extended ennui for that), but as far as gigantic post-hardcore anthems with a healthy focus on scale and searing emotionality go, Nova does an exceptionally solid job.
It’s not like the parallels between Polar and myriad other bands in this scene are difficult to draw though, and if there was one area that Nova stumbles in, it would be here. For the most part, this feels like a more experienced approximation of a very wide-reaching brand of hardcore that numerous new bands have chosen to latch onto to display their command of passion and intensity, and it’s not as though Polar have really drawn a line between that and where they are now. The abundance of melodic interludes feels like a dead giveaway, but the bulging, gang-sung chorus of Cradle and the hoarse melodies and millennial whoops of Midnight play to a very safe archetype within this sound. As much as Polar are clearly going for broke here in terms of power, that doesn’t translate to deeper creative intent, and when so much hardcore like this comes out regularly, that can be slightly deflating.
On the other hand though, for an album that ultimately wants to be judged on the power it exudes more than anything else, Nova hits some incredible highs that rank amongst their most sweeping and anthemic to date. The obvious example is Amber in the way that Signals’ Ellie Price provides the sharper, poppier foil to Adam Woodford’s unwavering sense of brutal gusto, but really across the board, there’s very little deviation. A big factor of that comes in the production which – in typical modern hardcore style – emphasises beefy riffs while staying relatively polished, and in the way it worked so well for While She Sleeps, it’s a similar story for Polar. There’s a distinctly modern sound to Drive with its faint bubbling synths that don’t distract from the hardcore carnage elsewhere, while the charging pace of Adore and Prey are more than able to push those hardcore buttons with minimal fuss. Even in the writing which, as an exploration of emotional turmoil and vices, has become rather played-out in most forms of hardcore, Polar’s power manages to circumvent the vast majority of great criticisms to hit with the blunt force that it ultimately benefits so much from.
Sure, part of that good will could be from sheer benefit of the doubt, especially when Polar have stuck it out this long with relatively little payoff, but it feels like more of a case of Nova simply building on and refining a formula that works, and executing it in an exceedingly strong manner. At the end of the day, it’s unlikely to go down as one of the best of the year – mostly because, from Polar in particular, this can be seen as rather par for the course – but it serves as a testament to a band who’ve unfairly never been given the time of day and are yet to let that get to them. There’s a level of quality here that shouldn’t be ignored, and if this is what it takes to finally break Polar out of the unfriendly holding pattern they’ve been stuck in for so long, then it’ll be justly deserved.
For fans of: While She Sleeps, Blood Youth, The Ghost Inside
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Nova’ by Polar is out now on Arising Empire.