Describing House of Wisdom | We Are the Devil in their pledge campaign, Brighton’s Poly-Math referred to the project as “the most utterly bonkers, over-the-top Prog odyssey”, and boy have they delivered. A vast concept album inspired by events during the Islamic golden age, the record is nothing short of monolithic: 70 minutes of wonderfully produced, intricate, explorative prog, broken up with sections of spoken word and brief interludes, which, in defiance of prog conventions, is thoroughly captivating.
“Odyssey” feels an apt term; the album flows, winding and twisting, songs are lengthy with multiple movements and there’s a feel of story – opening, developing, climaxing and resolving. However, the record’s spine is not lost for the sake of storytelling; all the songs are as compelling as if they were standalone tracks, with bouncy Branton basslines aplenty – ‘Ink of Scholars | Blood of Tigris’ opening with a great one – piles of excellent riffs – a standout being about 35 seconds into ‘1258 | In the Sights of Mesopotamia’ – and a fair few psychy wig-outs – specifically check out the one on the final track featuring some tasty sax (and we all know sax is the best instrument).
Elsewhere, ‘Mathematics | 12 days’ is a highlight, bearing testament to Poly-Math’s ability to draw inspiration from unmusical topics, full of dissonant, complex riffing and metric messing. Another high point, ‘Philosophy | Death & The Devil’, the record’s eighth track, began life as a live tune which never found its place on an album; opening with Tim Laulik’s vibrato drenched guitar, the track is crammed full of the band’s staple, clever and evocative yet furiously catchy riffs, knitted together beautifully in a great demonstration of the attention Poly-math pay to detail in their composition. Also worthy of praise is the production: the record sounds gorgeous, yes, but the soundwork displayed on tracks like ‘Astronomy | The Uncelestial’ and ‘Geography | Alamut/Sidh’ is astonishing, adding real depth.
As a genre, prog has earnt itself an infamy for being inaccessible, showy and contrived, yet, despite labelling their work as “unrelentingly pretentious”, Poly-Math completely skirt the boundaries of being obtuse while clutching onto the core ideas that once made the style great. With House of Wisdom | We Are the Devil, Poly-Math are part of a wave helping revitalise a stuffy, lost genre. Maybe it’s because they don’t take themselves too seriously? Maybe it’s because they don’t get lost in self-indulgent instrumental noodling? Maybe it’s because they don’t dress up as wizards and perform live shows on ice rinks? Who knows…