Review Summary: An Era Defining Blend of Trap Beats, and Harmonic Ecstasy
Before beginning my review on Polyphia's new album New Levels New Devils, I'd like to talk about the bands growth as they evolve and mature their sound over the last 8 years of their existence, the ups and downs of their career, if you want to skip to the New Levels New Devils review, it's around the seventh paragraph.
Polyphia started as a technical shred band with a group of guys in their basement, born and raised in Texas. The primary forces of the band were guitarist duo, Tim Henson and Scott LePage. Members Lane Duskin and Brandon Burkhalter were also part of the band at the time, with Lane actually being the vocalist and Brandon, the drummer. Although the idea of having a vocalist was short lived as they dropped Lane from the band before they even recorded anything worth releasing to the world. Deciding to be just an instrumental band is probably the riskiest decision you could make when trying to start a band because there's no guarantee's that music revolving around just guitars will connect with, well, anyone at all. But nonetheless, they forged on with the release of their demo EP "Resurrect" in 2011, the EP was an all-out wank fest with sweeps and ascending descending scales every which way you could think of. Although the EP was technically impressive, it was utterly passionless, literally just wanking just to wank, and show their skills to the world, I guess.
Two years later we see a progression in their sound with the EP "Inspire", around this time Clay Gober was picked up providing bass duties, rounding out their 4-piece at the time with Tim, Scott, Brandon, and Clay. They got a little bit of traction thanks to a random guitar playthrough of the closing track on the EP, "Impassion", the video featured only Tim and Scott. Viewers were impressed by the skill of the duo, and how they could entwine a distinctive melody amongst all the shredding, the drums were faker than Iggy Azalea's ass implants, and clearly made in pro tools, but it got the job done at the time.
Fast forward a year later and we see a slight shift in their sound on their full-length debut LP "Muse" in 2014, the drums don't sound as fake anymore, and everything is played with a little more flare than the previous effort, also Clay's bass playing is highlighted a lot more here. The album is an instrumental music fans wet dream were the only features that are missing on the star-studded tracklist of guest shredders are Plini, Sithu Aye and Owane. Although a maturity is seen with this record, it is still considerable wanky, and some would argue that there's not really a soul in the shred fest that is "Muse", but some fans beg to differ, it all comes down to personal tastes. During the writing process of Muse, drummer Brandon started to butt heads with the rest of the members, wanting to stay technical were the rest of the band wanted to evolve the sound that they mustered up in the Inspire EP, but Brandon disapproved and left the band for a brief period before returning at the start of 2015, only to officially announce his exit from the band in late 2015. Tim, Scott, and Clay begin their hunt for a new drummer while at the same time creating their sophomore.
2016 rolls around and things are starting to shape up with Clay Aeschliman being deemed as their new drummer, hence setting all of their attention on their sophomore LP. Around the time "Renaissance" got released, I think this is where the shift between wank and tastefulness started to go into effect, their sophomore is still guitar technical but nowhere near the shred fest of Muse. Songs like Nightmare and Euphoria were beautifully composed and you can really tell that these songs where made with a great deal of passion when you listen to them, although there were songs like Storm and Paradise that came off as quite obnoxious, I would sum up the album as "a lot of tastefulness, and a dash of wank for good measure", and I think for the most part it worked. Polyphia now finally managing to find their stride and with every member of the band wanting to go in the exact same direction, they set to work on their EP released mid-2017 entitled "The Most Hated".
This is an EP were I feel like the tastefulness finally started to overthrow their wank side, the EP featured an interesting blend between modern-day trap beats that we see all too often today, and the bands superb playing chops, from the guitars to the drums, to the bass, everything is in top-notch condition here. For example on the track Goose, there is a distinct use of harmonics that has never been used in this specific way in Tim's playing, almost centering as the corner piece of the riff itself, no instrument is overtaking the other, the track is a well oiled catchy melodic beautiful machine, that happens to have trap beats in it, and it works incredibly well. Although the track, as well as the rest of the tracks on The Most Hated, are a little bit overproduced on the trap beats side of things, but for the most part, it is an incredibly well made little 6 track affair that only spells good things for the future of Polyphia. The band has refined their sound, and I'd like to think that the band has finally found their signature sound, only took them 7 years but they displayed a tremendous amount of growth over the time period.
And thus, brings us to the present, in late 2018 Polyphia release third studio album entitled "New Levels New Devils", evolving upon their sound on The Most Hated, this is an album like no other, the tastefulness is taken upon even more so in this new LP and it is truly incredible. Tim once again uses harmonics to their fullest potential like he did in Goose, only making them even more mesmerizing and potent. The entire record is a force to be reckoned with, not a dull moment to be seen, not a flat note to be heard, not a boring riff to be criticized, a beautiful blend of trap beats, and harmonic ecstasy. The LP is similar to that of the debut LP, Muse, were there was quite a lot of features on the album, all of these features were perfect for the tracks they are in, which can't really be said for that of Muse were everything was a wank fest so it didn't really matter who was shredding, really. Here, you see why these artists were featured in the tracks, and what traits they bring to the table to elevate the tracks to the next level.
For example on the track "Death Note" featuring "Ichika", it is a perfect blend it's almost a crime, Ichika's playing alongside Polyphia's distinctive harmonic playing is nothing short of a magical journey that only envelopes the more you listen to the track, the bass is so pronounced it's unfair, ghost notes galore in the drumming department with Clay decimating the track and that goes for every track in terms of bass and drums, always on point. Although Ichika was the absolute perfect fit for an album such as this, Jason Richardson might not be one that would exactly fit with Polyphia's new found style. On the track "Nasty", it starts off with a vocoder box over the guitar, this style is also seen on the track "Rich Kids" most notably, Nasty is well... really nasty. Jason's feature is shreddelicious as you would expect, but it is also considerably tasteful here, maybe some would disagree with me here, but I think Jason did a good job with incorporating his signature shred sound and toning it down a little bit, only to unleash at specifically the 3:42 minute mark of the track. This closing portion of the track I feel like draws a lot of inspiration from Jason's cover of "The Arena" by Lindsay Stirling (which is incredibly cool btw you should check it out). Perhaps this also spells a shift in Jason's sound as well, but only time will tell on that. But I digress, the end of the track Nasty is truly epic.
It would be a crime not to talk about the track So Strange featuring Cuco who is actually a vocalist, yes, a Polyphia song finally features a vocalist, rejoice. Such a fun and bouncy track, all descriptions said about Death Note also fit here. The vocal is minimalistic with the instrumentation still taking center stage, nonetheless, the track works swimmingly with an impressive guitar solo from Tim after the first verse, once again, not wanky, very tasteful, but also very skillful. The latter portion of the track where the trap beat comes in at full volume makes me wet, and I'm not even a girl, perhaps an attack helicopter... anyways this track slays and a great use of the vocal, not overpowering the track by any stretch of the imagination.
I'd honestly like to dissect every track on the album but that would be way too long, so let's skip to the final track, the first track released to the world back in early 2018, "G.O.A.T", what more can be said about this track that hasn't already been said. This track encapsulates everything I said about Goose and elevates it up to the highest potential, perhaps god status, I'm not religious but this track defines the new Polyphia era, and Polyphia's new found sound, perhaps the bands most crowned achievement up until this point. Everything about the track is pure taste, and that's it, Polyphia uses all their musical knowledge, all their skill, all their talent to not make something that is technical to be technical, but to make something that is remembered for years to come, this song, this album, truly fit in the acronym, "Greatest Of All Time".