Tragedy struck Polaris in June this year during their European festival tour when guitar prodigy, Ryan Siew, passed away in mysterious circumstances that have still not been confirmed. As the fifteen-year-old virtuoso who joined the Sydney metalcore upstarts in 2013, his ten years in the band saw them land two top ten albums in their native Australia and an Australian Independent Record (AIR) Award for 2020’s acclaimed album, The Death of Me. This was supposed to be the stratospheric breakout year for the band with their third LP ready to elevate them to new heights. But now they feel fortunate to simply have a band. Fatalism is impossible to divorce from the events that overshadow its release, and it’s an awkward record for any reviewer to analyse.
Let’s start with the question of a heavy conscience. How can you look in the mirror once you recognise the brutal truth that Fatalism is a mediocre record that will do more to bury metalcore as a sterile sub-genre than rescue it from the cliché-ridden pseudo-nu metal it has become. Every stereotype your spiteful mind can conjure appears here during the forty-six minutes of over-produced metal. It wasn’t meant to be like this. Didn’t their fellow Australians in Northlane show in 2021 that metalcore still has a future?
It’s not all dross. Fatalism starts with a modicum of promise to rouse your curiosity. Listen how ‘Harbinger’ builds from a dystopian blend of minimalist electronica and integrates an agitated synth loop into the mix as if aiming to recreate a metalcore version of Depeche Mode’s ‘Black Celebration’ anthem from 1986. The clashing guitars bleed with an overflow of distortion as Jamie Hails approaches the microphone like a man desperate to purge the contents of his stomach with bleach. It sets up the aggressive onslaught of ‘Nightmare’ and ‘Parasite’ with a sense of expectation that the band almost fulfil. Indeed, the former would be a solid metal song if it didn’t hark back to the nu metal posturing of 2001 and disguise its Periphery worship with Linkin Park foundations. You might tolerate the emo chorus at the third time of listening, but there’s a big difference between liking and tolerating something. The Underoath frenzy of the latter is far superior. Greg Puciato would be proud of the neck-popping aggression here, just as Parkway Drive could benefit from re-learning how to write a vintage breakdown with the aid of this song.
The passion of this album is not in doubt, but some of the song-writing choices will leave you frowning. ‘Overflow’ aims for a futuristic nu metal upgrade with technical guitars and manages to discourage you even more with its weak pop-punk bridge and bland chorus. You might already have your head in your hands before the opening strum of ‘With Regards’, which starts like a radio rock number and ends up alienating even the most open-minded metalhead. Again, the chorus phrasing is atrocious. Why are mainstream metalcore bands so bad at writing choruses? This one will make you feel thirteen again. Do you remember looking at the posters on your wall and praying for the school holidays to arrive so you could dye your hair purple?
What happened to this band’s progressive metal edge? ‘Inhumane’ shreds through an impressive groove metal riff over the top of a thudding bassline but fails to produce anything memorable once you pick up the debris at the end of the song. ‘The Crossfire’ wastes a slew of colossal riffs in its melancholy rock bubble, despite ramping up the intensity levels when your mind begins to wander. The pre-adolescent tenor voice on ‘Aftertouch’ is more annoying than a mosquito. Take out the imaginative fretboard action from the two guitarists and you have the worst of both worlds – nu metal and emo.
The tragic death of Ryan Siew will give the members of Polaris the chance to regroup and decide where they want to go from here. One thing is clear: their current musical path will push metalcore even further into irrelevance and will widen the chasm between metal’s zoomers and boomers.
Release Date: 01/09/2023
Record Label: SharpTone Records
Standout tracks: Harbinger, Parasite, Inhumane
Suggested Further Listening: Underoath – Voyeurist (2022), Bring Me the Horizon – There Is a Hell Believe Me I’ve Seen It. There Is a Heaven Let’s Keep It a Secret. (2010), Northlane – Mesmer (2017)