Here’s a question—are Polyphia among the most revolutionary prog bands of all time? That seems like a massive exaggeration at first, given how this is a genre with such a storied history of enormous albums bucking the norm of how rock was perceived in their various eras, but what about all of that isn’t true here also? Right now, rock is the least closed-off of outside musical climates that it’s ever been, and Polyphia’s growing embrace of electronic music and trap alongside technical guitar wizardry has really started a fire underneath them. The prog-dorks no longer have a monopoly on the sound, and that’s practically all because of Polyphia.
But at the same time, this isn’t as exclusionary as it could be spun. Steve Vai himself, one of the dorkiest prog-dorks of all, appears on this very album, in what almost comes across like a bridge-building of generations that Polyphia pick up so effortlessly. New Levels New Devils in 2018 might’ve opened the door for their wild cross-pollination, but Remember That You Will Die is where it hits its stride in a big way, as Polyphia reinforce just how cool of a prospect they are, first and foremost.
That feels like the right place for them to be right now, too. Singlehanded genre expansion is something they can do apparently without breaking a sweat, and so there’s such a casualness in the way they’ll spiral off with their thoroughly modern sensibilities to the fore. They’ve got the diversity sorted now that they sometimes lacked as well; a lot more of this album stands out compared to its predecessor, through the variety of flavours that its guests provide, but also courtesy of Polyphia themselves. Playing God, for instance, is rooted more in spidery acoustics compared to what’s almost their own take on chiptune and hyperpop with Neurotica.
For an instrumental band, the personality they bring really can’t be overstated. Chiefly, they bring such a unique tone from pretty much every instrumental source, as the guitars warp against heavy-as-lead bass and percussion that toys with sample pads and programming to achieve that hip-hop style. The sword-sharpened grooves and progressions that Polyphia have become known for are even more bladed here, held together under production that ensures not an inch of space is wasted or even feels misused by its respective part. The precision here is utterly impeccable, constructed with a mathematician’s eye while simultaneously built for virality like the trap in its immediate reach.
After all, it’s in Polyphia’s nature to be as ear-catching as humanly possible. That’s the entire basis of their current sound, and it speaks volumes that they’ll ultimately lend their flair to the performances of the guest they recruit, rather than the other way around. It’s not a set-in-stone fact, as Fuck Around And Find Out sees $not loaned one of the least impressive trap spins on the album, but largely, Polyphia cast such a bright, enormous figure that they aren’t to be outshined. They’ll temper themselves a bit—there’s a sweeter pop base to go with Sophia Black on ABC, compared to some obvious emo-rap concessions for Killstation on Memento Mori—but on the whole, the laser-guided approach to composition is unwavering. And that’s an approach that does generally seem to work; being honest, the tracks with vocals have some of the band’s natural mystique swept away and can be less compelling as a result, but credit should go to Polyphia for remaining as tightly coiled as they do.
It goes without saying, then, that when paired with other producers to where they can remain instrumental, that’s where Remember That You Will Die works the most. Granted, there’s the similar issue of space being tight, but it’s a lot easier to work around than it might seem. The horns from Brasstracks on Genesis make for a killer opener with far more warmth than is typical of Polyphia, and while Anomalie’s contributions to The Audacity are largely undefined, it’s hard to deny how hard it slaps regardless, with the speedbagging percussion, the bass warps and the click-clacking guitar energy that adrenalises it all.
Again, it’s just so cool that a band like this can exist, and—not only that—find a niche for themselves that’s boundlessly fruitful. As tiresome as the whole ‘genrelessness’ tag for modern alternative music is, Polyphia find numerous ways to actually do something worthwhile with it, and work with it instead of being anchored down. Moreover, it’s fun and exhilarating in ways that prog can so infrequently be; rather than trapped in its own eddy of self-importance, it knows how to actually be progressive, i.e. how to move forward. And in the rock world, in a space that’s all their own with few limitations to speak of, Polyphia are leaving the majority of bands in the dust.
For fans of: Intervals, The Omnific, CHON
‘Remember That You Will Die’ by Polyphia is released on 28th October on Rise Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall