Polaris – Fatalism (nu-ish metalcore)
There's been no avoiding certain comparisons with Polaris's previous releases, but with ferocious, varied and notably nu-metal drenched third outing Fatalism, the steadily rising metal(core) superstars seem to have fully come into their own. That Fatalism is such a triumphant effort only reinforces the tragic loss of lead guitarist Ryan Siew. Siew's skillful playing and penchant for killer solo has always been a key part of what set the band apart and he has perhaps his finest moment here on crushing lead single "Inhumane", which lays rest to the age old question "what if nu metal but with killer solos?" Answer: It totally rips. While Siew is certainly the stand-out, that's not to downplay the other members’ performances. Both frontman Jamie Hails and bassist Jake Steinhauser's clean vocals are a lot more varied and refined and their melodies are notably more consistent.
This is a big moment for Polaris. Having started out forcefully, albeit rather derivatively with 2017's The Mortal Coil and their earlier EPs, and coming off somewhat directionless with 2020's The Death of Me, Fatalism sees the much-touted band finding firmer footing and finally nailing down an identity that seems both more individual and to fit them much more comfortably than previous incarnations. Fatalism might not contain a song as singularly momentous as "Consume" or "Masochist", or even "Lucid" ("Inhumane" probably comes closest). Pound for pound though, it's easily the most consistent and compelling Polaris album, being a more varied and ambitious effort than The Mortal Coil as well as a far more focused affair than The Death of Me. Siew's loss is beyond devastating, but his swansong itself is cause for pure celebration.
Primal Fear – Code Red (powerful heavy metal)
With the exception of Firepower (2018), all of the best Judas Priest albums since 1990 have been released by Primal Fear (if you haven't heard Jaws of Death (1999), do yourself a serious favour). None of their albums are seriously subpar, but after a few less-remarkable releases, Code Red sees the German metallers back at the peak of their powers, delivering their best album since potential career highlight Delivering the Black (2014).
Magnus Karlsson (the power metal one, not the chess one) is in fine form, having already delivered one of 2023's best albums. Code Red hits notably harder than the last few Primal Fear records, focusing in on the driving heavy metal riffage at the core of their sound more notably than they have done in recent memory, while also leaning further into grandiose power metal pomposity than they have in some time, when the moment calls for it. It's regrettable that one of the album's best and most ambitious offerings is called "Cancel Culture" and is all about how holding people accountable is somehow the "fall of democracy", but it's also just a general rally against "political correctness gone mad", rather than a pointed defence of any particular behaviour or ideology, so I'm happy to just roll my eyes and let it slide. The chorus is still pretty cringe-worthy, but outside of that, Code Red rocks harder than maybe any other record released this year (or anything else released since Firepower...).
If you dig Code Red and/or are after something a bit more varied and a lot less (but still somewhat) cringe-inducing, that Aortha album, which is a prog-thrash supergroup thing featuring Hannes Grossman on drums, is also very good.