When it comes to heavy music, Australia has a tendency to produce them in an abundance. Parkway Drive, The Amity Affliction, I Killed the Prom Queen and Cursed Earth are just some of the names that quickly come to mind when we think of stellar heavy Aussie bands. It’s a well-known fact it’s a growing pool of bands with many leaving their mark at home and overseas. Amongst that blossoming group of bands is Polaris.
Based out of South Sydney, the metalcore quintet have been honing their sound and building reputation back home for the best part of three years. Now after a handful of EPs, Polaris released their debut full-length this past November. Entitled ‘The Mortal Coil’, it offers 11 songs of technical metalcore with prog flourishes with Jamie Hails providing versatile vocals throughout. However, beyond the chugging guitars, chaotic drums and colourful melodies is a set of songs that offer an insight into a band feeling the pressure of recording their debut album. Furthermore, ‘The Mortal Coil’ covers topics such as substance abuse, insomnia and accepting that death is a certainty.
As they end 2017 on a high off the back of ‘The Mortal Coil’ and a recent visit to the UK as part of the ‘Impericon Never Say Die Tour’, we spoke to drummer and lyricist Daniel Furnari as gave us a detailed insight into ‘The Mortal Coil’.
The lyrics to ‘Lucid’ touch on the way I sometimes feel about creating art, and the complex relationship I have with that. Towards the end of the writing period we had all at one stage or another reached a breaking point where we became very drained and disillusioned with the creative process, which is somewhat inevitable when you’re working consistently on something for a long period of time and putting pressure on yourself to make things that you’re happy with. For some of us, it took a really serious toll on our mental health. Eventually I realised I’d pushed myself into a corner that I had to work my way out of, and this song deals with that realisation. It’s not easy to admit that the thing you care about most could be damaging you – to “find what you love and let it kill you”, as Charles Bukowski put it, is a beautiful but terrifying thing. That big riff that hits at the middle and at the conclusion of the song was the catalyst for the whole track – Ryan (Siew – guitarist) had been working on a song idea that wasn’t going to be used on the record but we were all in love with that riff, so we pulled it out and wrote a new song around it that was full of adrenaline and aggression. Feeling this song come together and knowing there was something special there was the morale boost that we needed at that time.
This was one of the last songs written for the record; it came together a couple of weeks before we entered the studio, in just a couple of writing sessions – which is very rare for us – with Jake (Steinhauser – bassist/vocals) and Rick (Schneider – guitarist) bouncing ideas off each other. It had a kind of Southern-rock meets post-hardcore bounce to it that we had never really explored for a whole song. Given how much it stood out musically from a lot of our earlier catalogue, we felt that putting this track second on the album gave us a lot of freedom in terms of peoples’ expectations for the rest of the album.
All the lyrics were written in the studio, often recording instantly as we went, and although it was difficult to do that I think that spontaneity played into the energy of the vocal parts and helped to create that almost rapping flow in the verses. This song talks about feeling trapped in your bad habits and unable to change – a sense of just fumbling blindly in the dark repeating the same mistakes, turning every way looking for a solution and pushing the blame anywhere but onto yourself. I’m so acutely aware that I am deeply flawed as a human, and I’m constantly trying to better myself but find myself spinning in circles trying to address everything at once and ultimately end up resolving nothing.
We’ve found we often have a tendency to put surprisingly dark lyrics over really upbeat and bright sounding, melodic tracks, which creates an interesting contrast. It’s something that we’ve embraced more with each record. The tonality of ‘Relapse’ definitely drew us naturally toward that lyrical tendency – it touches on substance abuse and the way it can distort a person’s sense of self, as well as the huge void it can create in relationships and communication. Dependency can have a way of simultaneously feeding narcissism and also eroding one’s entire self-esteem, eating away at the regard for one’s own wellbeing.
‘Consume’ is a sort of musing on the manufactured dissatisfaction we’re fed from a young age, constantly being reminded that someone out there has a better life and that we could be so much happier. With social media being our major window into the world and with the new rise of so-called “influencers” whose job is to consistently cultivate a false image of a desirable lifestyle in order to sell products, this feeling is acuter than ever. ‘Consume’ is a lament for a simpler time and mindset where it was easier to be content. This track was on the chopping block for the first couple of weeks in the studio but after going through a couple of different arrangements it ended up becoming the first single off the record, and it’s very quickly grown to be one of our craziest tracks for live crowd interaction. It’s no secret that Rick and I are huge Lamb of God fans and that influence definitely came out on this track, as well as a bit of Thy Art is Murder and After the Burial.
We began writing this track just before the release date of our last EP, and it went through a huge amount of changes, as the early tracks often do for us. ‘Frailty’ is a very desperate song, trying to make sense of the conflicting pressures and expectations put on a person as they grow up – all these ideologies and influences clashing for dominance, as you try to work out your values and establish who you are and who you want to become.
In this track, I wanted to try something new with the choruses, which was for each chorus to have a different set of lyrics but also contain a recurring motif so that as the song progresses there’s a sense of development. The first chorus (“Oh dearest mother…”) symbolises the expectations of family and loved ones to grow into the person that they want you to be; the second chorus (“Oh holy father…”) tackles the false ideals of perfection created by religion and traditional social constructs. The third chorus (“Oh fallen brother…”) is the most melancholy, addressing an unnamed friend or loved one who has fallen victim to the weight of all of this and let it destroy him. We wanted the listener’s heart to completely break at the end of the song as the instrumentation falls away and Jamie (Hails – vocals) is left crying out over that sparse, melancholy ending.
In Somnus Veritas
The name of this track translates from Latin to mean “In sleep there is truth”. Serving as a musical epilogue to ‘Frailty’ and also bridging the two halves of the album, ‘In Somnus Veritas’ draws together and references a lot of the themes of the record in a succinct way but ultimately leaves its questions unanswered and open-ended.
Dusk To Day
A few of us in the band have experienced insomnia with help modafinil over the last couple of years – our guitarist Ryan has dealt with it for a long time, which was one of the initial inspirations for the lyrics, and then during the recording of the album and for several months afterwards I learned for myself just how harrowing it can be. I realised that being unable to sleep is one of the loneliest feelings in the world – feeling like everyone else is at peace while your anxiety is just being amplified by the isolation and there’s nothing but darkness to distract you.
‘Dusk to Day’ also deals with an intentional isolation – a desire to lock yourself inside, push everyone away, shut out the light and embrace that crushing loneliness just to avoid dealing with the constant mundane grind of everyday life. This was something several of us have struggled with in the band, sometimes falling into heavy depressions in between tours as we try to adjust back into the other side of our lives in that dry limbo period before we go back on the road.
The main initial guitar motifs for this song came into my head during a long drive on tour so I programmed them down as MIDI on my laptop, and a few weeks later we pulled it up and transposed it into a new key which it gave it a whole new mood, and allowed us to heavy-up the middle of the track. There’s almost a Deftones-meets-Underoath vibe to the darker, atmospheric verses in this song.
‘Casualty’ is one of the most aggressive tracks on the album musically, and the lyrics had to match that aggression. This is a reflection on the way that the whole concept of war completely devalues a human life. In an evolving world, the idea that people should ever be sacrificed for political gain in is abhorrent, and it seems like it should go without saying that to believe that peace could ever come from violence is absurd. Each new generation is seemingly made to fight the previous generation’s battles, bearing a wrath they didn’t earn, and the figures in power who instigate, fuel and benefit from these quarrels are the last people to ever suffer because of them. It’s much easier to treat a person like a commodity or a pawn when you’re safely removed from the firing line.
This will be one of the most challenging tracks to perform live as it really doesn’t let up for a second. I feel like fans of our first EP will especially enjoy this track as it throws back to those tight staccato breakdowns that featured on that record, with an added twist of what we’ve been doing recently in terms of those rapid string-jumping hammer riffs.
The Slow Decay
Coming face to face with your own mortality and that of the people you care about is a very sobering thing. For myself, my first experience of death was losing my father at the age of 6; over the years, like most people, I have had to face the reality of loss several more times, knowing there will be much more to come. Those early experiences of life’s fragile nature shaped my outlook on the world in a lot of ways and it’s something I often find myself coming back to in my lyrics.
As ‘The Slow Decay’ progresses, the lyrics develop from a child’s limited and innocent comprehension of death into a more adult understanding of what life and death mean, ultimately resulting in an acceptance that all life is only temporary and coincidental, and is inherently meaningless unless something is done with it. Each day we’re a day closer to death, and our relationships and interactions, our experiences and our search for internal and external peace are the only true sources of meaning we will ever find in this short, strange, confusing time we have here. Reaching that conclusion with happiness and clarity instead of fear comes with its own unique sense of power.
This song was composed shortly after we returned from a tour supporting our friend Plini, and I know that the blissful soaring sensation that he creates in his music was definitely on Rick’s mind when he was writing some of those bittersweet melodic sections in ‘The Slow Decay.’
‘Crooked Path’ is about trying to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped – the frustration and pain of watching someone you care about go through a period of depression and self-destruction, and trying to reach out but being pushed away and shut out. It might sound like an almost selfish angle to take on mental health, but the reason I felt I needed to write this was because I know I’ve been both of the characters in that story at so many different times in my life in different relationships, and so have all of the other members of our band. I think that may also be the reason that this track seems to have hit home for a lot of our fans. At the very end of the song, we hear Jamie take on the other character’s perspective, wishing desperately he could find a way to apologise and communicate how much he is in need of help. There’s also line in the song that’s referenced in the earlier track ‘In Somnus Veritas’, that says “How these times have changed us…” which encapsulates a major theme of the record – the profound effect that each individual’s experiences and circumstances have on the person they become.
‘Sonder’ is a song about compassion, or a lack thereof. It’s hard not to notice the way some people treat those that are less fortunate than them – the way they turn their nose up at the homeless, the way they speak with such judgement about addicts or the mentally ill, the way they dismiss those that rely on government benefits to survive… We are all to some extent victims or beneficiaries of circumstance, and a failure to recognise that can make a person so cold and callous and indifferent. Empathy is anything but a weakness – it’s an integral part of what makes us human.
At the same time, this is also a self-critical song, a song that I feel could just as easily have been directed at myself in the mirror, facing up to all the times when I could have done better by someone in need and chose to ignore or turn my back.
In writing this song, something drew us back to that dark and gritty-sounding B-flat minor key we had used in the opening track ‘Lucid’, and although the two songs are very different in pace and feel, it seemed very satisfying for us to end the album in that same tone, giving the record an almost cyclical element.
‘The Mortal Coil’ by Polaris is out now on Sharptone Records.