Review Summary: Polyphia dial in a unique sound, but they aren't as good as they think they are.
For most of their career, Polyphia has fit into the same mould as so many other progressive metal instrumental acts, including Intervals, Sithu Aye, Plini, very notably CHON, and more. But now with "New Levels New Devils", Polyphia double down on the electronic and trap influences they toyed with on their EP "The Most Hated". And boy does it pay off. The music is fresh, fun, and intelligent. It's well produced, too; the guitar tones straddle a certain line between distorted and clean, the bass is super present, and the drums fit perfectly into the mix. All together, they support the overall punchy production that gives the songs life. The actual compositions develop naturally, even if they sometimes get that through-composed "where did I wander off to？" feeling. To fans of the base genre, many songs are sure to have lasting appeal, and to fans of their influences, there's likely to be a lot to appreciate here, too.
Still, "New Levels New Devils" drags when they fall back to their old formula of repeating a few poppy, major-key melodies until it gets boring. A lot of time is spent reciting un-hummable guitar fills, which detracts from Polyphia's stated goal of writing danceable party tunes. What really makes trap and hip hop work in that capacity is the indelible sense of pulse. Songs like "Drown" and "Nasty" give up that essential ingredient to showcase artists who simply do not share that mission. Jason Richardson is a force to be reckoned with to be sure, but his music isn't typically danceable and his solo here is no different. CHON's appearance on "Yas" seems to exist only to show how far Polyphia has pivoted from their sound. And "Rich Kids" contorts its ending to fit Yvette Young's dreamy and understated guitar work. Why more than half the songs feature guests is a mystery, especially when those guests do not fit the "young money" hip hop aesthetic Polyphia so clearly desire for themselves.
To be absolutely clear, "New Levels New Devils" is a solid step forward for Polyphia. The songs are more captivating than they ever were, and the deep sense of fun more than makes up for the slight loss of focus. The best song off the record is therefore "G.O.A.T." precisely because it showcases Polyphia's tightest composition within a single rhythmic framework and makes good use of its themes while having a ton of attitude. But does Polyphia really believe that they are the greatest of all time, as they profess in their braggadocious live performances and interviews？One hopes not, because that would imply that Polyphia has nothing more to learn from their contemporaries and influences, and nothing more to add to their music but self-indulgence. And Polyphia is at their best when they write music that's fun to listen to, rather than to show off.