Review Summary: Polyphia ditch their metalcore influences and head for a style that better suits their fun, bouncy personality.
Polyphia has always had boundless amounts of potential. The Texas-based group is famous for their emo-kid image and their skillful guitar playing, as well as the particular styles of melody they weave into their compositions. But they’ve always held themselves back by sticking to a strict metalcore sound overly reminiscent of many, MANY other bands in the progressive metal scene. The solos the songs existed to exhibit were breathtaking, but unmemorable, and the riffs seemed to repeat themselves from song to song. For their crowd-funded debut album, the group wisely chose to abandon the genre that got them attention and instead focus their exaggerated solos and happy atmosphere into a more straightforward style that evokes the musings of such shredders as Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and Guthrie Govan, but in a much more focused and catchy fashion.
“Muse” can hardly be called “metal”, in the sense that metal is a genre mostly focused around riffs and minor keys. Instead, tunes like “87” and “Champagne” are completely based on upbeat guitar melodies and memorable leads, with plenty of breaks for extended soloing. Perhaps the easiest comparison to make is to the works of Sithu Aye and Plini, and it’s actually somewhat curious that they’re not among the guest shredders featured here. And there are many – Mario & Erick of CHON, Aaron Marshall of Polyphia’s contemporaries Intervals, Jason Richardson of Born of Osiris/Chelsea Grin fame, just to name a few. Even album producer Nick Sampson (guitarist of I Am Abomination) makes an appearance. It’s fun to spot the influences each guitarist had on the tracks they guest on – “Baditude” is as bouncy and breezy as anything CHON have put out, “Hourglass” kicks off with a slightly heavier progression that could easily have adorned the intro of any IAA song, and “Sweet Tea” has Aaron’s signature solo style written over the entire piece. Polyphia maintains a consistent sound through each one, but it brings a sense of much needed diversity to the album that wasn’t present on their earlier material.
But the remarkable thing about “Muse” is that it finally frames the solos the songs are built around as memorable events. There’s nothing wanky or overly indulgent about the solos; most of them are built around the use of slides and vibrato alone, and it’s amazing how far it gets them when the melodies they’re creating are compelling. This isn’t to say that everything on the album sticks out – the middle tracks in particular have far too many forgettable solos/parts – but by the time “Finale” finishes, it’s obvious how far Polyphia has come in advancing their sound to something that truly sticks out in the crowded progressive genre. “Muse” is more of a validation of potential than a truly great album, but what’s here is compelling, and the best tracks will remain stuck in your head for months to come.