Album Review: POLYPHIA New Levels New Devils
The internet is full of people using technology to distort reality, from dating site catfish to wave upon wave of filtered Instagram photos and photoshopped profile pictures. As irritating as that may be, it does mean that when you come across something both impressive and unmistakably real, it stands out. By skillfully adapting to the modern social media landscape, totally mastering their instruments, posting plenty of jaw-dropping playthrough videos, and following their passions no matter the consequences, instrumental prog outfit Polyphia are in the process of racking up some intimidating numbers.
Millions upon millions of YouTube video views. Six-figure followings across a range of social platforms. An EP that hit #41 on the Billboard Top 200. Three albums (including this one) that stand at the forefront of a genre often prone to looking backward and adhering to an ironically restrictive formula.
Plenty of love—and also, inevitably, a fair amount of hate.
While their 2013 EP Inspire was heavy as balls, Polyphia have not been content to repeat themselves over and over again. Instead, they quickly began exploring new creative options, displaying a steadfast commitment to pushing their own boundaries and compositional skills. Poppy melodies began bursting from their fingers from 2015’s Muse onwards, fused with frantic shredding and guest contributions from the likes of Aaron Marshall (Intervals), Nick Johnston, Jakub Zytecki (DispersE), and axemen Mario Camarena and Erick Hansel (CHON).
Even though Polyphia have always come endorsed by many of their genre’s leading lights (past tourmates include Coheed and Cambria and Between the Buried and Me), forum denizens and YouTube commenters are still consistently quick to highlight what they see as fatal errors and unforgivable flaws. Rather than bowing under the pressure to take a big step backward, Polyphia put their middle fingers up and pushed on. More than a few haters must have suffered instant aneurysms on hearing the appropriately-titled “Culture Shock,” the funky and catchy opening track from Renaissance.
That album came out just less than a year after Muse, showing how quickly Polyphia were evolving, Pokémon-style. Despite the presence of so many explicitly pop-influenced melodies, Renaissance was still relatively heavy in comparison to the bands and artists inspiring Polyphia at the time, with a few brief metallic teasers present on songs like “Nightmare” to prove that these guys had never lost sight of their native land. Meanwhile, increasingly high-concept music videos (such as the one for “Euphoria”, featuring a scantily-clad model feeling herself up to the tune of 4,162,329 jerk-off sessions so far) drew so much attention that envious attacks started coming thicker and faster.
Beyond this point, Polyphia started deliberately messing with their opponents’ heads. 2017 brought us the single track “LIT” and chart-cracking EP The Most Hated, the latter apparently tailored for expensively furnished dance clubs rather than sweaty music venues. Polyphia were officially a band you could only love or hate, with no grey areas in between.
After all that, New Levels New Devils is not what you’d expect from Polyphia. Electronic influences—most obviously trap and EDM—do remain, but bassist Clay Gober and drummer Clay Aeschliman have stepped up to the plate and made New Levels New Devils a more human set. Their double-headed, multi-limbed aggression has also added a degree of darkness, a sense of the sinister that’s often been missing from Polyphia’s output for some time.
This album manages to be fun, humorous, playful, mature, and serious all at once. It’s dense, incredibly busy, and would doubtless wear out your average pop fan after a few tracks, assuming they even made it that far. Even the melody lines found in advance singles “G.O.A.T.”, “O.D.”, and “Yas” will take several listens to digest properly. They will stick in your head once absorbed, but this is not easy listening.
Polyphia have hit a new high on New Levels New Devils. They’ve developed a style that’s as intense as it is fresh, something you could use to tempt the pop fans in your life down the dirty road that leads to heavier things – probably starting with provocatively ill-fitting vocal track “So Strange” and moving on from there as quickly as possible. Polyphia may be an acquired taste, but it’s one worth sticking with until you love it.