Chicago, Illinois has long been home to some of the harshest, ugliest metal sounds, and Polyptych continue the tradition in splendid form. Their extreme amalgam crackles with hungry rage, but still whirs with complex musicality and total control.
Now three albums down the road from their 2008 inception, in a week we will see the release of Defying the Metastasis through Blood Harvest, and the album is thick, intense and totally bang-worthy.
Hear Defying the Metastasis right here, and get to know Polyptych a little better through the interview below.
How did Polyptych get started? What was the band’s existence like in the years before you started recording and releasing albums?
In the years before we started recording albums, Polyptych was more or less a germ of an idea. For the first year or so it was just Scott (Skopec, lead vocals, guitars) and a drummer jamming under the name Warpiss, not really taking it all that seriously, as the name probably indicates. Even so, the seeds of the early Polyptych sound were planted during this time, and the first two songs on debut album Panels Engraved slowly came together. Eventually guitarist/vocalist Young Werther joined the band, we adopted the Polyptych moniker, and with session drummer Matt Kaminsky we wrote, recorded, and released Panels Engraved.
At this point we never really imagined the band becoming more than a studio project, and we weren’t taking the project quite as seriously as we do now. We decided to take things to the next level when we recorded our second album, Illusorium, following the addition of full time bassist Frank Lato. Although Matt Kaminsky once again played session drums, we decided it was time to find a permanent drummer here in Chicago so we could start playing shows. Thus, Polyptych found Troy Hoff and we became a full live act with permanent members following the release of Illusorium. We now approach everything from writing to production with a much different attitude than we did back in the beginning stages of the band’s existence.
What desires or ideas drive your music? What draws you toward playing this kind of intricate heavy music?
What drives us most is probably the desire to do something different—or at least to do what we perceive to be different, and try to contribute something original to the genre. We feel like at this point we have a good sense of how to write a variety of songs that function as a whole on an album, while each song has its own identity and is immediately distinguishable from the rest of the record. We aim to create this diversity while still trying to make each song sound like Polyptych. We think we have accomplished this best on our latest record, Defying the Metastasis.
We also wish to express a wide range of lyrical concepts, and our goal is to fully realize those concepts through the music and artwork. Everything we do musically is a reflection of the lyrical and conceptual content. For example, on Illusorium we chose to explore the idea of a human being becoming a god and the type of emotional conflict one might face in this situation- the protagonist gains unimaginable power, but at the cost of his human identity, alienation from those he loves, and the guilt of having to pass judgment on the world. On Defying, we looked to historical, philosophical, and fictional accounts of totalitarianism, examining how individuals within these societies cope with and struggle against the institutions that oppress them. On each record we shape the music so as to create necessary atmosphere to drive these concepts, and fortunately, we found Chris Kiesling at Misanthropic Art to deepen their visualization via the album artwork. We work very closely with Chris in the early stages of production so we can get him into the right mindset to create the art for the album, and he did an amazing job bringing our vision to life on both Illusorium and Defying the Metastasis. I think it goes without saying that by choosing these gritty, dark concepts, it’s natural for us to be drawn to intricate and heavy music – it seems to be the only medium appropriate to bring these ideas to life.
What are the various members’ musical backgrounds, pre-Polyptych? Related: What non-musical backgrounds (personal, educational, professional, etc) come together in Polyptych?
Scott and Frank both have no professional training. They are self-taught musicians that basically just played along to various types of music growing up. Troy did drumline drumming in high school and has had some drum training early on. Howard, our new guitarist, is also largely self-taught and has experience playing upright and electric bass as well.
We all have quite the variety of non-musical backgrounds. Scott has a Political Science degree, Frank is currently a candidate for a Forensic Science degree, Troy teaches special education, and Howard is a Book Donation Manager for a nonprofit bookstore that has a bunch of donated used books for adults and kids. We all have different experiences and perspectives and because of this there is no question that it influences how we write music, how we communicate ideas, and how we develop the themes within this band. It even influences our band dynamic; since we come from such different career areas, we have a lot that we can talk about and the band is a great creative outlet for everyone involved.
Your music seems to work a balance between brutality and high-art majesty. How important are the two sides of this balance for you? What plays into those choices?
This balance is extremely important. We always feel like we are walking a fine line whether it’s in regard to being overly technical or not, or figuring out what type of language to use in lyrics that is interesting but not too pretentious as to distance ourselves from the audience. We like to have the music be challenging, yet catchy and we like the lyrics to be cryptic, but not alienating. It’s fun to challenge both ourselves and the listener, and we make a conscious attempt to have such a balance where all people who listen to the music can find something to which he or she can relate.
Scott is also very meticulous with his vocal arrangements and this influences the musical accents for sure. Often times the synths will emerge more prominently during parts where vocals are non-existent or sparser, but when vocals are busier and more aggressive, the synths may duck out to feature the vocals more. We are all about the details and making sure all moving parts complement one other, and we try to ensure things don’t get too crowded in the mix. However, there are definitely these wall of sound moments such as in “Crimson Halls” from Defying where one particular section has vocals, vocoder, and synths plus all the regular instrumentation playing simultaneously. We try to use these types of densities sparingly for maximum effect—something with this much wall of sound only happens a few times throughout the album to ensure that these effects don’t lose their efficacy and impact.
Has your work on Defying the Metastasis been particularly different than on previous albums? Any changes to the writing dynamic or the recording process?
Yes, we changed quite a bit for the production of Defying. In the past, writing was more evenly split between the members, whereas for this album Scott and Frank did the majority of the writing with some valuable contributions from now ex-guitarist Young Werther. Scott also nearly single-handedly arranged the vocals this time around and that would explain why the vocal patterns, in our opinion, are a lot more refined than on previous records. We learned a lot about who does what best in this band and we think letting each person work on their own craft a little more than in the past was what made all the songs better on Defying. There is still a collaborative effort and there are still majority votes on things as needed, but giving each person a bit more room to excel in their respective skill sets is what made the difference when making this record.
We also switched engineers and recording locations. We decided to record in Chicago with Andy Nelson (Weekend Nachos, Like Rats) at Bricktop Recording. Andy is a good friend who excels at recording many types of bands and he did a great job honing in on our sound, especially the guitar tones, and getting the best performances out of each member as he possibly could. We also decided to have V. Santura from Triptykon do both the mix and master this time and combined with Andy’s recordings, it proved to be a stellar choice. We couldn’t be happier with how the production came out and we think it was exactly the combination we needed to make these songs shine.
What music are you most interested in, when you’re not focused on your own?
We all like a lot of stuff to be honest. Our musical tastes range from Akercocke to Deathspell Omega to Devin Townsend to Bjork. Most of us come from different musical backgrounds and while the common ground is obviously metal, there are definitely a lot of other musical interests amongst all the members.
What have been some of your most memorable performances?
Our most enjoyable show was probably the first show we ever played. We were lucky enough to open for Ulcerate. It was one of the best largely because it was our first show, and therefore a bit of a milestone for the band, but it was also a Friday night with a large crowd that was receptive to our sound. None of our shows have been particularly difficult or unsatisfying yet, although during one show that we played with Mutilation Rites, someone spilled a beer on the power strip that Scott’s amp was plugged into, which blew the amp out and we were forced to borrow someone else’s. Other than that, each show we have played has been fun and we have improved on each performance.
Do you have specific plans for the band after the release of the new record?
For now, it’s really just going to be trying to get more shows to support this new record. We were fortunate enough to land this new deal with Blood Harvest Records, which we are very excited about and will hopefully get us the push we need to play bigger shows and reach a wider audience. We’d love to eventually play outside the States too. In addition, we’ve already started toying with new music ideas. Those won’t come together in full for a while, but we are excited about the stuff we have been pulling together so far. We will say that whatever we do this time will sound quite different from Defying as it is a major goal of this band to never repeat ourselves from record to record.