After cementing themselves into the metalcore community with their debut album, Polaris knew when it came to write and record their sophomore effort they’d have a heady task ahead of them. Enlisting Lance Prenc and Alpha Wolf’s Scott Simpson to co-produce the album, the group retreated to Mollymock to focus their efforts.
Drummer Daniel Furnari candidly discusses each track on The Death Of Me with AltPress.
“Pray For Rain”
From the moment the ideas for the intro of this song were presented to the band by Ryan [Siew, guitarist], this song felt like it had the potential to be an album opener. We knew we wanted to start this album differently [than] the last record, which came out of the gate really hard. This time around, we wanted to take some time to establish an atmosphere and tell a story in the process. However, it took a lot of work to turn this track into the arrangement that it is now. It was on the chopping block so many times, but there were riffs and ideas in there that felt too important for us to lose. When we took a break from the album to go on tour, the distance allowed us some more perspective, and after promising to give the song one more crack, we finally reached something we loved. I can’t imagine the record without this song now.
“Pray For Rain” introduces the album with the idea that we all begin our lives with a reserve of positive energy within us, an innate source of hope and faith in human goodness, which throughout our lives is drained and dried up as we’re exposed more and more to the darker truths of the world, leaving us either cynical and jaded or broken and victimized. The song establishes these metaphors of fire and water, both of which have positive and negative angles to them in the way that the things we crave or hold on to for strength can also make us weak, and the things we’re afraid of may also be the very things we need. We cling to whatever we can find to comfort us, but all we really want is to replenish ourselves and restore what we’ve lost over time. This acts as a prologue to what is to come thematically on the rest of the record.
“Hypermania” is a song about the fear of losing your mind—a paranoia about being paranoid, so to speak. There have been a lot of times in the last couple of years where some of us have felt like we were honestly on the verge of mental collapse. Instrumentally, this track is very much a Rick [Schneider, guitarist] creation. It was the first thing he had dived into since we put out The Mortal Coil, so it served as a bit of a palate cleanser, as it stood quite far apart from that record. I think for him, the dissonant, chaotic riffing was influenced by bands such as Stray From The Path and END, but when I came into the song, I was getting a really big Southern-hardcore vibe, which played heavily into the way we approached writing vocals. We had a lot of fun exploring and bringing out new characteristics in Jamie’s [Hails, vocalist] voice, channeling some vibes from Maylene & The Sons of Disaster, Every Time I Die and Underoath. It seemed natural to us for this song to have only screamed vocals, but I feel that the almost sing-songy style of the chorus hook is what allowed us to keep it catchy. Jake [Steinhauser, bassist/vocalist has always been able to scream as well as sing, but this was our first time working that into a recorded track, and we then started incorporated his screams into some other songs.
There’s an edge-of-your-seat tension to this song, like it could fall apart at any moment, which played into the lyrics and the delivery we went for—a high-anxiety song about heavy mood swings, fear of spiraling out of control and delusions about divine judgment. The volatile feel of the song manifests musically at that break in the middle, where the song falls apart into this limbo of noise and feedback before it picks you up again and throws you back into the chorus. That part has become one of our favourite things about the song, especially when we play it live.
There’s a strong pop-punk influence to this song blended in with the metalcore and post-hardcore elements—something that’s been there a lot in the past but is a bit more obvious here. I wanted to try taking advantage of simplicity a little more [by] just letting the chords and the vocals and lyrics do the talking instead of overcomplicating things. Lyrically, this is probably one of the most upfront songs we’ve ever written. It’s a song about blaming yourself for your mental health, asking: “Am I responsible for my own miserable state of mind, my own depression? Why do I keep doing this to myself, ruminating over things that bring me down?” I have a bad habit of dwelling on negatives, running over them again and again and really punishing myself over my mistakes, and that can happen even when things are going really well in my life. I started to wonder if there’s a weird little masochistic part of me that feels more comfortable being unhappy, mistrusting happiness when it comes along and doubling down on negativity instead.
This song is me looking in the mirror and begging myself to be honest and asking what the consequences of that would be if I keep going like this. When those lyrics started coming together, it was quite confronting for me to read back. I didn’t know at first if I was ready to put all of that out in the open in such a direct way, but I know I’m not the only person who has felt that way, so it seemed like something I had to keep writing about.
I think there comes a time for a lot of us in our early adulthood where we finally realize the world doesn’t exist to serve us as individuals and never did. You spend so much of your childhood being told that you’re special and unique only to discover that ultimately, no one else really cares if you succeed or fail, and no one is going to keep picking you up and pointing you in the right direction when you screw up. Things don’t just work out for everyone, and without that realization, you can easily find yourself being taken advantage of or becoming a spectator to a life you never wished for. “Landmine” is a nihilistic, sarcastic celebration of accepting that conclusion—of throwing your hands in the air and saying, “Where the fuck do we go from here?” This track was born from a handful of riffs that were programmed into a laptop on the plane trip over to Europe when we were about to start our tour with Architects. When we got home and started expanding on those ideas, it became one of the heaviest, most aggressive tracks we’ve written to date. Machine-gun breakdowns, blast beats, a shreddy solo and some big crowd chants.
I feel like “Vagabond” stands apart from the rest of the record mood-wise in that it feels almost happy at times. There are these huge major chords in the chorus and thick, bouncy chromatic grooves which give it a really summery vibe that I don’t think we’ve ever landed on before, and I love that about this song. [This is] another tune that began on tour, this time in an apartment in Amsterdam. This track brings a lot of different influences together into a weird little melting pot—nü metal, prog, post-hardcore, ’90s alt rock and classic rock all run through our blender. I like to think of this song as the lovechild of Karnivool, Limp Bizkit and Lynyrd Skynyrd, which might make sense when you hear it. “Vagabond” is about feeling as though you don’t belong anywhere—constantly being displaced [and] never feeling truly settled anywhere. That was something we’d all been experiencing a lot in the last two years of heavier touring, constantly being on the move and craving stability only to find that even coming home had started to feel strange and foreign. It’s about trying to adapt to this weird nomadic life and learning to find some comfort in the discomfort. In a broader sense, it’s about embracing your status as an outsider.
“Creatures Of Habit”
[This was] the final song that we finished for the record and a very difficult one to wrangle, which led to the lyrics taking on a meta-meaning reflecting the strain that writing the record was putting on the band. We remained great friends through the whole thing, but there were times where the pressure we were putting on each other to step up and produce material, and our inability to see eye to eye on certain things, was driving a wedge between us. It was like we were always building each other up just to break each other down in hopes that the new version would be better. I was able to channel the frustration of that into this song, and there are a lot of points where I was writing from the perspective of the other guys in the band, trying to get inside their heads and imagining what they really wanted to say to me, or to each other, but were maybe too afraid to say. That was therapeutic and allowed me to self-examine my faults and my role in it.
“Above My Head”
When we were in the studio, Ryan told me he’d been having recurring dreams about his teeth falling out, which people often interpret as representing a fear of losing people in your life. That inspired the lyrics to the first verse of this song. This song has a bit of a double meaning in that it essentially parallels some of our anxieties about diving into the process of this album and feeling out of our depth, with a conversation between two people in a relationship who are scared about the uncertainty of their future. I think it can also be read as a combination between the two—a confession from us to our loved ones about finding it hard to cope with what we were doing at the time. This is definitely one of the most melody-driven songs on the album in terms of guitar work. There’s a sound we were going for on this track that we’ve touched on in the past and wanted to explore more, something that Ryan and I tend to mesh really well on. This time, we also ended up lifting a big chunk of an idea from one of Rick’s songs that wasn’t being used, changing the key and finding it fit into this song perfectly. On the rare occasion that works out, it’s always so satisfying.
This song is really important to me in a lot of ways. I was carrying the verse and chorus for “Martyr” around in my head for quite a while. I still don’t really know where it came from, but I knew I had to do something with it. There’s a deep melancholy to this song that I don’t think I’ve ever been able to express before. At first, I was genuinely scared to take the ideas to the other guys, as I thought they might see it as being too much of a departure, but it turned out that everyone was pretty on board right away, and I’m so thankful for that. I don’t think we ever imagined that we could write a song like this—maybe we couldn’t have until now. Jake and Jamie both put in some incredible work and tireless hours to get the vocal performances right on this song. It really pushed them both out of their comfort zones as singers, with Jake having to work in that softer low range and Jamie having to hit that soaring chorus. It actually took me a while to work out what I was really trying to say with these lyrics, and I guess there’s more than one meaning to this song. On one level, it’s about the roles that we all occupy in the lives of the people around us—the need to be a good family member, a good partner, a friend, a parent, a worker, a creator, a person—all of these people that we try to be at once, and in the process, we can end up losing track of who we are and forget to care for ourselves. On another level, I also started to realize this song encapsulated something I’ve been feeling for a while about my role as a writer.
Over the last few years, I’ve had these amazing conversations and messages with people about what music means to them personally, and as wonderful as it is, it has also created this strange weight that I now carry. There’s a pressure that comes with knowing that people will look for meaning in what you say and apply it to themselves and a sense of responsibility to express sentiments for people that maybe don’t quite know how to put it into words yet themselves. I try to shut it out and focus on writing for myself because it can just be too much to carry, and that kind of thinking can cloud your judgment, but every now and then, it just crashes down on me like a wave.
“All Of This Is Fleeting”
This was another song that was in the works for a very long time, stemming from a couple of older ideas of Ryan’s that we refused to let go of. Jake, in particular, fought tooth and nail to make sure this song happened. We tore our hair out writing so many different first verses for this song. The clifftop location of the studio house with its huge ocean view had a way of making us feel incredibly small and insignificant, and the verse that we ended up with came about on a stormy day of vocal tracking—watching raindrops hit the waves and disappear from existence as if they were never there, becoming a tiny unnoticeable part of something much bigger. Once again, I was reaching the end of my tether creatively, and it caused me to reflect on how much anything we do might really matter. I see art as one of the most important things we can do in life and one of the only things that is permanent and will outlast our time on Earth, a chance at being remembered, but then I’m often reminded that so much more art has been forgotten or destroyed in my lifetime alone than I will ever get to see. Eventually, everything fades, and we have to wonder, does a false sense of permanence actually give things more merit anyway, or is that a misconception to begin with? And if we give so much of ourselves away in the pursuit of the ephemeral, what are we left with?
Much like “Pray For Rain,” “The Descent” takes the time to tell a more detailed story. In the same way that “Pray For Rain” felt like it was meant to be an album opener, this track naturally found its place at the end of the record, with Rick writing these really dark harmonic minor riffs. That place was cemented when he put together the ominous, heavily layered ending of the song, which sounded to the rest of us like some kind of rapture. In writing these lyrics, I ended up taking on a different voice to how I normally write. I was drawing from some conversations we’d shared within the band about real-life experiences that certain members had in their darkest moments. I extrapolated on the imagery and experiences we’d spoken about and ended up with this story told through the eyes of a fictional narrator who wakes up from an apocalyptic nightmare to find himself in a hospital in the aftermath of a traumatic event. As he struggles to come to terms with what brought him there, questioning his purpose and whether the universe ever really had a plan for him, the narrator fights for control over his own mind as he feels himself being pulled in different directions by forces of good and evil, life and death. This song doesn’t leave a lot of room for hope or silver linings. It’s a bleak place to leave the album, but it felt fitting musically and lyrically that this would be where the record leads to. We’d rather be left rattled by the end of a record than finish with a comfortable resolution that doesn’t feel justified.
Polaris’ The Death Of Me drops Feb. 21 via Sharptone Records. You can pre-order the album here.