Polar – Inspire Create Destroy [EP]

Polar‘s forthcoming EP signifies a move from releasing via a traditional label and instead, the band have teamed up with Drop Dead Clothing, well known for their connections to the alternative music scene. While this isn’t Drop Dead’s first time releasing material from a heavier band – they did a bundle with Architects a couple of years ago – the brand has been focusing on showcasing a wider variety of genres in recent times, featuring acts like Draper and Louie Knuxx. This return to something heavier is an excellent move for Drop Dead – not only is it reconnecting with the culture that the brand was borne out of, but it also means that a lot more people are going to rightly fall in love with Polar.

Inspire Create Destroy is just three tracks long, consisting of ‘Inspire’, ‘Create’ and ‘Destroy’. Clever, innit? ‘Inspire’ instantly commands your attention, opening with some heavy distortion and some powerful riffs. Woody’s vocals consistently have the perfect tone for this kind of music; at times, it even sounds like he’s screaming two notes at once, creating a deeply textured and ferocious effect. This especially comes into play with the central lyric, ‘lose faith in everything – trust no one’, and holds a great deal of power. If ‘Inspire’ is the vanguard of this EP, then ‘Create’ is the ensuing battlecry as the rest of the units rush in to decimate the other side. A thrilling and perfectly crafted song, Polar give it all they’ve got. They know when to pull out the melody, they know when to throw down. The level of musicianship on show here (and really, throughout the whole record) is nothing short of phenomenal. In the dead centre of the EP, Polar break into a gang cry of ‘Inspire! Create! Destroy’. This mantra sums up Polar’s intent in the UK alternative scene perfectly; in time, Polar will no doubt come to inspire a great deal of young musicians, they create some of the most daring and powerful music, and they’ll destroy anything that’ll stand in their way. ‘Destroy’ is slower paced than the previous tracks, but if anything, this amplifies its message and allows for those beautiful guitar lines to come through loud and clear. It’s impossible to listen to this without throwing up a Judd Nelson style fist pump at the end.

To put it simply, Inspire Create Destroy is a masterclass in melodic hardcore. Bands like Bring Me The Horizon are dominating the airwaves at the moment and with this EP, Polar have the potential to come out swinging at the forefront of the UK alternative scene. Polar inject a sense of grandeur into their music that transcends further than the pit, and combined with their explosive live show, this EP should make them huge. And deservedly so.

5 out of 5 high fives!

The Rise Of The Pre-Order Bundle

I love stuff. Things. Merchandise. Tat. When Bring Me The Horizon decided to make dick shaped silly bands available on their last tour, I was one of the first to the merch desk, cash in hand, close to wailing ‘Fine sir, my life would be enriched with the purchase of overpriced elastic bands that I’ll never open and ultimately leave in a drawer somewhere!’. When My Passion released a delightfully lurid, gold plastic mac for their golden tour, I too decided that I’d spiral into a pit of depression should I not dress myself in a massive metallic bin bag. But my money-scattering doesn’t end with novelty rubbish.

I go to a lot of gigs, I binge, I feel guilty, but then I want more.  It began innocently enough. When I was twelve, I somehow persuaded my mother to take me halfway across the country to see Meatloaf. Naturally, I wanted to get a t-shirt to commemorate the gig, to show my friends how much I loved that chubby warbler (hey, I doubt your first ‘proper gig’ was much cooler). Stupidly and relentlessly, I carried on with this perceived necessity for merchandise well into my teenage years and beyond. As I left home for the first time, I found that I could travel, live out my dream of following a whole tour and see so many bands that I’d wanted to for years. I went mad, travelled everywhere and bought everything. Then it happened. I came home, bought my new life back with me and unpacked it. Have you ever seen a family stage a drug intervention? Seen a mother hold up a small bag of something white and powdery and ask why? Well switch that bag for over one hundred and twenty t-shirts and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the situation. While I’m cold turkey on shirts, I still regularly splash out on pre-orders. Oh merchandise, I just can’t quit you.

When many bands now announce the release date of their new album/EP/single/bowel movement, they also announce the various options by which to pre-order it. We’re no longer offered a CD, the music itself, no! We’re offered the DVD (some of which can be rather good), the commemorative t-shirt, the flag, the belt buckle, the bottle opener, the pencil sharpener and the lenticular poster. Will we ever use them? Of course not. When was the last time you thought ‘What I really need in my life is a commemorative jam jar for the B side of a dodgy single release’. It’s the exclusivity that drags our cursor over to the PayPal button, the threat of missing out on one of fifty. The very idea that we’d miss out on the album with commemorative baseball cap fills us with fear. Our enjoyment of the release will be severely dampened should we not shell out another £15 for things we don’t really want. I for one was sure that I wouldn’t be fully appreciating the full experience of Polar’s Iron Lungs if I didn’t buy the commemorative print. And I certainly wouldn’t enjoy Cradle of Filth’s Darkly, Darkly Venus Aversa without the art prints and the uninspiring t-shirt.  In short, add ‘limited’ to the end of any old thing and you’ve pretty much guaranteed yourself a sale.  Add a countdown to how many are left and you’ve got even more.

It’s hard to figure out which invented the beast of the bundle; the label or the musician. Musicians are more often than not, ‘starving artist’ types, so any means of capitalising on their product is sure to be embraced. But moreso nowadays, even small, unsigned bands are offering their own ‘bundles’ and limited releases. All of which is neither here nor there, but the whole focus of many bands, both established and otherwise, has shifted considerably. Firstly, take My Passion. Opposed to establishing a small merchandise section to their online presence, they formed ‘My Passion Fashion’; a standalone merchandise website that at one time held around twenty t-shirt designs. In the end, following the end of all Inside This Machine promotion, the dust began to settle and My Passion Fashion crumbled. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the times when non-official band merchandise becomes available; the plectrum or the setlist of the online world. Every now and again, the opportunity arises to own something from a video or from an artist’s personal collection, and this is where prices begin to skyrocket.

All of us at TwoBeatsOff are big fans of Kickstarter-esque self-funding/fan-funding options, but when the options go beyond pledging to buy the CD or offering a small financial boost to an artist, lines begin to blur. Take Yashin’s largely fan-funded We Created A Monster. Through Pledgemusic, fans were able to preorder the CD, get their name in the album sleeve or even attend a meet and greet- all for a price. But many options were beyond self indulgent; fans were able to buy t-shirts worn by the vocalists for sums approaching three figures. This is both frightening both in terms of future trends and of sheer money-grabbing behaviour, especially when you’re aware of the young and impressionable ages of many of your fans. Bring able to own a piece of your favourite artist’s world is, for want of a better term, fan crack. With more bands picking up on this financial power, the distance and power balance between fan and artist may birth a further problematic and destructive relationship.

You Can’t Ignore This Polar Noise

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.

Crash Doubt Festival – The Showroom Lincoln, 2/6/12 [pt 1]

After a very successful first year, Crash Doubt returned to the deepest and darkest depths of the North (well… at least on the very rainy Sunday) for another go. Hosted in The Showroom in Lincoln, the punk and hardcore fest was a beautiful interruption to the Jubilee weekend.

Before I get into the bands, I have to stress how well organised the whole weekend was. Bands rarely overran or came on late, the stages were laid out well, the merchandise section was fantastically managed and the bar wasn’t too overpriced. The venue, a conference centre combined with a youth centre, was a great space to host in. If only half of the festival-goers spent more time in the venue checking out the bands than out in the car park.

Saturday started out strong. We got to the venue just in time for Climates (3.5/5), whose particular variety of melodic hardcore was good fun. The vocalist, who looked a little bit like Parkway Drive’s Winston McCall, had a great tone to his voice and the band as a whole sounded brilliant for one of the first on. Following them up on the Time Will Tell stage were Fair Do’s (3/5), a local Lincoln pop-punk band. Tinged with posicore, they were fun and bouncy but they wore all their influences on their sleeves. Nevertheless, with their sense of fun and a little more development, they should be going places. Up on the Punktastic stage, Tim Van Tol (3.5/5) regaled us all with his solo folk punk. Reminiscent of sea shanties at times, some gruff and soulful acoustic fare did everyone some good (and Kitteh thought he looked a bit like Varg from Burzum).

Watch Commander (2/5) were fairly boring melodic punk rock – their songs had promise but failed to hit the mark. However, Attack! Vipers! (5/5) were nothing short of incredible. One of the most impressive hardcore bands coming out of the UK right now, their performance was intense, exciting and completely involving. If Attack! Vipers! play near you, don’t ever miss them. Moral Dilemma (2.5/5) weren’t really to my taste – abrasive punk rock that sounded all the same. It’s difficult to write good punk in the old style these days and while their overall performance was reasonably solid, I still found their set dull. Bangers (4/5) are proof that musical evolution often wins out and their gruff punk anthems rang out loud and clear on the Punktastic stage. There were awesome singalongs, sweet hooks and some actually very cleverly written instrumental sections. You can still be a musician in a punk band; Bangers will show you how.

Back downstairs on the Big Cheese stage, The Smoking Hearts (4/5), along with a guy who was either so wasted or on some variety of pills, showed us all how to party. Admittedly, they played fairly standard hardcore stuff – nothing new, but it was tight and they were batshit insane. Lots of jumping, some rolling around and potentially broken elbows – that’s how it should be done. Demoraliser (1/5) clearly didn’t observe how The Smoking Hearts did it and were truly the first of a few identikit hardcore bands we managed to stumble upon. They may have been local heroes but their breakdowns were so subpar, the vocals had no tone to them whatsoever and they sounded like a Terror ripoff without any of the brutality. Hang The Bastard (4/5) are how you should do hardcore, in comparison – terrifyingly. There are no other words. And yet the man in the khaki balaclava wasn’t the most intimidating thing all weekend. That accolade belongs to Woody from POLAR (4.5/5). While POLAR’s set was impressive, it was distracting to see a guy who looks like he has rabies push a crowd around because “if [you] don’t move, [I’ll] fucking move you”. Highly counter-productive to crowd involvement, but nonetheless, a stellar performance from one of the UK’s most exciting new bands. Heights (3.5/5) struggled to follow suit but their crowd involvement was certainly better. Their sound was less intense and more dirgey – the doom influences in their music rang loud and clear but still remained full of desperation.

And we finished off the night with No Trigger (3/5). I’ve been waiting to see No Trigger for a while, ever since I was bowled over by Canyoneer. To this day, it’s one of my favourite records. But I found No Trigger to be a bit… well, flat. There was plenty of enthusiasm but it just felt like there was something lacking. Might have been a levels thing, might have been an end of tour fatigue, but it just didn’t ring true. It didn’t end my night on a total downer though because they played Owner Operator and that put a fairly big smile on my face.

So, Saturday was pretty damn sweet. Sunday’s writeup to follow!