In The Studio: Polar

UK hardcore is, of late, in immaculate condition. From its purest, most pungent form to more metallic strains, it’s the Ivan Drago to other genres’ Apollo Creed.

Devil Sold His Soul. Landscapes. Brutality Will Prevail. While She Sleeps. Feed The Rhino. Quarrel about petty genre tags in your own time, because all these bands, in one form or another, borrow from the hardcore gene pool and bastardise it for your delectation.

Somewhere, amidst the sea of baggy shorts and limb-flailers, sit Polar. Formed in 2009, the Guildford five-piece pissed out a racket akin to TRC, Dead Swans and early Gallows on their debut EP and subsequent full-length, Iron Lungs. The follow-up, Shadowed By Vultures, built on this cacophony of gang vocals and screamed melodies; Polar attained a wider grasp on dynamics, realising that the usual ‘Chug! Shout! Chug! Shout! CHUG CHUG CHUG!’ formula wears thin rather quickly.

On the penultimate day of recording their upcoming third album, Polar vocalist Adam Woodford sits at the end of an abysmal phone connection as we discuss the new record, the repercussions of line-up changes and the weight of expectation grappling its flabby thighs around his neck…

How long have you been beavering away at this new album?

“The record started getting written in December, and from there we’ve obviously been doing a lot of demos. We’ve had a line-up change – we’ve got a new guitarist [Tom Green] and bassist [Jonny Bowman], so we’ve had to learn how to work as a unit. It’s gone really well, though. Recording-wise, we’ve been here for four weeks.

“We were up in London, in a studio in Ealing. We recorded drums there… unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of it! The majority of the album has been recorded and tracked in a studio called Whitehouse in Reading. We were there in 2010 doing our debut EP with a different producer, so it’s quite nostalgic.

“We’re recording with Justin Hill from Sikth, who’s done lots of our favourite bands, like Heart Of A Coward and Young Guns. But to prepare and do what we wanted within the songs, it’s been quite a long process.”

How well have the new members helped mould the sound of the upcoming record?

“We have our original guitarist, Fabian [Lomas] and our new guitarist, Tom. Tom’s brought a heavier edge and, basically, we haven’t written a hardcore record this time round. We’re a hardcore band, and we want to break out of that. It still has bits of hardcore, but there’s a lot more rock and metal influences than on any of our previous releases. It’s important for us to write a record that pushes us musically; it’s important for the listener to hear progression within our sound.”

Did Justin Hill’s role as producer affect the way in which you approached recording?

“We met Justin in 2010 – he actually wanted to produce our debut EP, but things didn’t work out and we didn’t get the chance to work with him. We’ve been on his radar for a while. He shared our vision and he’s the producer who’s gotten the best out of us; obviously, growing up, we were influenced by the music he was making. We’ve become very close friends and he’s almost like a sixth member; he sees and understands what we want to do with the music, so he really helped to sculpt the overall direction of the songs. He’s the nicest guy in the world, a very good friend and the best producer we’ve ever had.”

One of Polar’s defining traits is the ability to craft monumental hooks and melodies without using clean vocals. Have you experimented with your vocal style on the new album?

“For me, as a vocalist, I’m always trying to improve. I’ve pushed my vocal range massively out of my comfort zone, which has been tricky at times. The melodies and hooks have always been a big selling point for the band; the hooks are much bigger and the choruses are better than on Shadowed By Vultures. With that album and Iron Lungs, we were still learning how to write hooks and choruses. The experience I’ve had as a vocalist, touring for the last few years, has taught me a lot about what I can do with my voice. I’ve learned the benefits of properly warming up and how to control certain pitches and ranges I’ve never used before, and I think that really shows on the new record.”

Ellie Price [from Signals] did an incredible guest vocal on Before The Storm from Shadowed By Vultures. Why did you decide to bring her back for the new album?

“We met Ellie through our previous producer, Neil [Kennedy], when we were doing Shadowed By Vultures; after doing Before The Storm and getting to know one another, we’ve become good friends! She understands what the band want to do musically and is always really encouraging. It’s inspirational to have her around; she can draw out elements in a song that we wouldn’t necessarily hear. It’s nice to have that constant relationship working through our records, so we always try to get her back when we can!”

To follow up Shadowed By Vultures is no easy task; that record put you on a lot of peoples’ radars and received rave reviews. Were you nervous about not being able to top it?

“When we first started, there was a bit of uncertainty because Shadowed By Vultures was a landmark for us – it really had us step into a new direction. That record allowed us to explore different angles of our sound, and it opened up doorways so we could do what we’re doing now.

“Looking at other bands, Bring Me The Horizon are always progressing and pushing themselves, and that’s been an influence on us. That’s a band really striving to push themselves to the limit of what they can do. Within this new record, we’ve not been scared to visit elements that wouldn’t necessarily sound like us. In the past, we’ve written parts for songs and just dismissed them because ‘they don’t sound like us’, or ‘it’s not what Polar would do’. We’ve not done that this time. There’s been a real willingness to try new ideas. Not everything’s going to work, but instead of dismissing stuff and cutting things loose, we’ve gone into new areas. We don’t want to be just a hardcore band any more. That’s not the vision. We’ve not completely pulled away from the hardcore thing – there’s still elements – but we’ve focussed more on other aspects of our sound.”

Alec Chillingworth

Alec is a longtime contributor with first-class BA Honours in English with Creative Writing, and has worked for Metal Hammer since 2014. Over the years, he's written for Noisey, Stereoboard, uDiscoverMusic, and the good ship Hammer, interviewing major bands like Slipknot, Rammstein, and Tenacious D (plus some black metal bands your cool uncle might know). He's read Ulysses thrice, and it got worse each time.