The UK hardcore scene is so exciting and varied nowadays, that many of us would be hard pressed to pick a definitive forerunner of the genre. That said, one of those making the loudest noises (in terms of innovation and performance) is undoubtedly Guildford’s finest, Polar. Meshing the best points of punk with the brutality and visceral nature of hardcore, they manage to create a sound of their very own. As for live performances, just add a smattering of rabies and you’ve pretty much got it. Their passion and belief in their sound is only eclipsed by their respect for their genre and forbears; a trait which is lacking in many of their contemporaries.
After signing to A Wolf At Your Door Records, it’s safe to say that not only their popularity, but their sound has gone from strength to strength. Maturity is not a word often applied to such bands as Polar, but with the release of 2012’s Iron Lungs, such a label is indisputable. That is not to say that their first official release, 2011’s This Polar Noise, is no longer relevant; conversely it remains one of the most exciting and releases in recent years. Its visceral and powerful nature will take more than a few years to dull.
In short, if they’re not already there, you need Polar in your life.
This Polar Noise ticks all the right boxes. It’s frenetic, fast paced and heavy as hell. Yes, such traits are applicable to TDON lovelies Brotherhood of the Lake and Hang the Bastard, but Polar have the edge in that they’re varied. Take This Polar Noise opener, the brilliantly titled Tonight Matthew I Am The Batman. Within one song, they effortlessly combine solid riffs with decent, comfortable tempo changes, gang vocals and, wait for it, refreshingly coherent lyrics.
It’d be stupid to not address the tone of lead vocalist Adam ‘Woody’ Woodford’s voice – more punk than traditional hardcore, but with a natural raw tone unmatched by any other on the scene today. This is none more noticeable than in Shanghai Junk, where his unusual voice is set against the more bass-y, growly tones of the multitasking guitarists. If anything, I really do prefer his higher, more forced form of singing. It brings with it an odd sense of sincerity and power that’s so hard to capture with most identikit ‘heavy’ singing styles.
Quite often, the five-piece unleash a ferocity that’s so convincing and compelling that you feel you can touch it. In Cowboy The Fuck Up, Woody goes as far as outshining guest vocalist Steve Sitkowski (former vocalist of the now defunct Outcry Collective). Steve has the thickness and brutality in his voice, but Woody has the passion. As he screams out ‘have I struck a nerve?’, he can come across as somewhere close to unhinged. See it on a live platform and his delivery is verging on the terrifying. The rest of the band, especially the mesmerising drummer Nick Jones, provide a palpable dynamism that is not only solid, but so exciting that one can’t help but move. In Smile You Son Of A Bitch!, there are basslines that rise and fall like horses and a dual guitar attack that just about blows you over.
This is raw Polar, angry and animated. Born for the stage.
2012’s Iron Lungs was a very different beast indeed. Far more considered, and even restrained in places, it seems as though they’ve undergone a mini-metamorphosis and realised that they don’t have to throw everything they’ve got at a project for it to be powerful and valid.
Take opener, K.C.M, for example. Instead of throwing everything altogether at once, the track builds to its huge peak only after a rolling drum fill intro and intertwining, soaring guitar lines. Other contributing vocalists are heard far clearer and moments of gang vocals are used sparingly but incredibly effectively. The repetitive call of ‘first one draws the blood…’ is elevated to a new level, invoking a more primal call and response effect.
Sick Old Buzzard is nothing short of electrifying. Nothing is sloppy or second rate. No part of the band rests on their laurels, yet no individual is the isolated ‘star’. There’s a cleverness sewn into their performance – they’re crisp and clean.
Eighteen and H.E.L.L have been ridiculously overplayed on my non-brand-specific mp3 device. Eighteen really is the birth of a sound. I can’t emphasise this enough, the guitar line and supporting vocals that push up the denouement of ‘Things will never be this good again’ are nothing short of breathtaking. H.E.L.L takes the ball and runs with it. Subtitled with the phrase ‘Helping Everyone Live Longer’, this acts as a ‘best of’ of Polar’s capabilities. Guitars are used as weapons; they cut clean then tear through existing sounds. Basslines roll across drums that fall like ammunition. The atmosphere, nay, wall of sound, is indescribable and envelops the listener.
Lifeboats and Bruiser follow in a similar suit, maintaining that trademark ferocity, but remembering when to draw it back. That’s not to say that they’re like a lion in captivity, trapped behind a fence. Far from it. When one rations more powerful musical tricks and features, they become all the more powerful when they are employed. A basic line, but one that is employed rarely in such genres.
In an incredibly bold move, Iron Lungs’ title track is purely instrumental; leaving their frontman obsolete. A bold move, a dangerous one, but it certainly pays off. Some album’s instrumental tracks are clearly just songs written for a vocal line but abandoned last minute. Take Cradle of Filth for example (a different genre, but the point stands), older instrumentals such as those found on the Bitter Suites to Succubi EP are wonderfully crafted beings – experimental and just as relevant as the other tracks alongside it. Whereas when time passed and we got into more ‘Venus Aversa’ territory, they sat well as album tracks, but had no discernible selling point of their own. Polar uses and executes the changeable outlet of ‘the dreaded Instrumental’ perfectly. Yes, it bears no real brutality and probably wouldn’t prompt a wall of death if performed live (but hey, who can tell nowadays), but is easily one of the most relevant tracks in Polar’s back catalogue. This cements Polar not only as a solid band, but of a richly talented collection of musicians. Sure they like to party and might well smash into you at a gig, but they’re more than their surface image, and this is proof.
While The Dead Travel Fast fits comfortably into the category of being perfect for live performance, it is songs such as In County and Broken Bones that the adjective ‘anthemic’ can be thrown about. Breakdowns and thick beats are all well and good, but every album needs a smattering of a sing-a-long, and Iron Lungs is no different. It is the power placed behind the choruses of such songs as these and For King and Country that force them to transcend the mere stage of ‘rousing’ to ‘heart-thumping, raw-throated madness’.
They may plaster their metaphorical walls with the mantra ‘Big beats, strong booze, loose morals, good times’, but Polar are so much more than that. They’re powerful musicians, lyricists and songwriters. Many bands in a similar genre achieve mid-level success, then disappear off to be merch boys, plasterers or nail technicians. Polar? They burn so brightly and so fiercely, that should they choose to call it a day, the UK scene wouldn’t just miss them, they’d be left with a bomb crater to fill.