Review Summary: A stunning me(n)tal breakdown
To say that I was surprised by this album would be an understatement. The band's previous effort The Mortal Coil
was very good. The guitarwork was impressive, the lyrics had meaning, and the production was stellar, but it in no way hinted that a release this meaningful, powerful and emotionally flooring would be next.
Perhaps it holds more meaning to me, as this album is clearly about struggling with mental illness (specifically bipolar disorder) as well as frustration with modern society in general and as a sufferer myself, I found myself identifying with most if not all of the lyrics; from “I've been up, I've been down every day/I've been thinking, am I always gonna be this way?” in Hypermania to “And the only thing standing in between happiness and myself/was this depression I held so close to my chest” in Masochist, even to “I have these dreams where I’m losing all my teeth” in Above My Head. It all hit very close to home, almost uncomfortably at times, and if I didn’t feel like the man on fire on the album cover, I definitely did after the last note of The Descent faded away. In essence, this is not a happy album by any means, but I think that even someone who does not suffer from mental and emotional instability can appreciate the struggles that are portrayed here; namely those of feeling inadequate, navigating difficult relationships, and finding a place to belong in this world. It’s almost moving, and you can tell that the vocalist Jamie Hails has clearly been through it himself.
The musicality is impressive too, perfectly complementing the emotional lyrical content with solid drumming, at times even creative guitarwork, and even audible bass. The production is also great, as it was on their previous album. Everything is clear and punchy. What’s more, even though there are only 10 tracks in total, it never feels formulaic. Just by reading the lyrics even, it is evident that there is no clear structure for each song but the album benefits from it, with Hypermania being one of the heavier tracks, the first track Pray For Rain slowly building up to a crescendo of crushing riffs, and Martyr (Waves) being entirely sung with clean vocals which I found was a nice change of pace and a welcome reprieve from the aggressively screamed vocals on the previous songs. And then the album ends with The Descent, a sonic conflict of a man who wakes up in a mental hospital and is fighting the temptation to give in to his depression and end it all.
I walked away from this album both emotionally devastated and suitably impressed. This is the result of identifiable struggles, punishing yet creative guitarwork, fantastic production, and ultimately the decision to bear all and wear their hearts on their sleeves. I do have one minor gripe with this album, namely that occasionally there are background vocals which do have some very good lyrics (“Do you feel like you're free when you lose control?” and “What's your worth on the earth if you sell your soul?” in Hypermania) but these are barely audible within the context of the rest of the song. It would have been ideal if they had simply turned these up slightly to discernible levels.
Overall though, whether you are currently struggling in life or not, there is a lot to enjoy here for fans of the genre. I don’t know where Polaris will go from here, but The Death Of Me
signifies that metalcore is very much alive in 2020, and that is an impressive feat.