On October 13, 2018, a small band by the name of Polyphia rose to the top of the charts, with the #4 rock album in the United States, and the 30th album in the U.S. in any genre. That is quite impressive for the third studio album of any artist, but the fact that they are a progressive rock band hitting that high on the mainstream charts is extremely uncommon.
Polyphia’s new album is quite interesting. It includes eight tracks, each with a significantly different sound to it. The album features ten instrumental tracks, with the exception of “So Strange” which has lyrics. It is absolutely mind-blowing that an instrumental rock album scored this high on the charts, as the last time an album like this was as successful was in 2009. New Levels New Devils seems to be a departure from their normal style. With each release, Polyphia seems to become more intertwined with the mainstream style, showing heavy influence from genres like hip-hop, R&B, and small amounts of trap in their newest release. Their entire album tends to rely much more on synth lines and a very large variety of drums. New Levels New Devils is definitely a new take on their style, which is often not taken well by fan bases, but it is safe to say that this has paid off.
Their most-played song from this album, titled “G.O.A.T,” is quite interesting from both a theoretical and stylistic standpoint. You can hear hundreds of individual effects added into the song for small stylistic benefits that add to the complexity and depth of the song without being . The intro contains a synthesizer sounding like a pitch-bending bell, giving a sort of wah-wah sound, which builds tension. Right before the guitar kicks, you can hear both a wolf howl and a low, climbing chord on a synthesizer, similar to many other instrumental songs by different artists. The guitar line is very staccato (cut off, short) and legato (flowing, connected) at the same time. The notes are very short, but the guitarist slides into the next ones and hammers on, meaning that the guitarist does the minimal picking and hammers his fingers on the fretboard. All of this, combined with the polyrhythms and interesting drum beats, allows for an interesting, mainstream style that blends together all of the band’s influences.
All in all, this is a new high for Polyphia. The album already has over six million plays on Spotify in less than a week and stayed at the 41st spot for over 12 hours on the top albums on iTunes. The radio and top mainstream charts are completely dominated by pop and “rock” hits that are uncreative, not so subtly sexual, and consisting of minimal talent beyond singing and mixing.The fact that Polyphia is reviving an almost dead genre in the most mainstream way speaks volumes, and it is honestly what we need right now. This is both an amazing, unexpected phenomenon and huge financial opportunity for instrumental rock in the mainstream charts. Many studies have shown that our music tastes are stuck at about age 14, meaning that when we hear music similar to what we heard during our teenage years, we’re more inclined to like it. With more exposure of young people to instrumental rock in Polyphia’s recent album, it may lead to much higher profits for instrumental rock in the music industry in the future. That’s the true power of diversity in the music industry.