Thrash Hits

March 1st, 2011

PROTOLOGY with James Monteith of TesseracT: #1 – Mindful (Non) Self Indulgence

We’re big fans of UK prog metallers, TesseracT. One night, we were out with their guitarist, James Monteith, dousing our insides with whiskey and we thought he had as much crap to say as we do so we asked him if he’d write a column. After we reminded him the next morning afternoon, he agreed again. Here it is. He’s kicking off with explanations, complaints and shit jokes. Class.

Progtology with James Monetieth Thrash Hits

Hello, I’m James and I play guitar in prog metal – or as we’re more commonly called – “djent” band Tesseract.

First off, let’s get the djent thing out of the way, which I guess I must address, given the column name. There’s a lot of division in our community of bands and critics about this word, whether it’s: truely representative of the overall sound; a gimmick, or just plain stupid.

Tesseract started as a concept back in 2003 and full band came together (including me) in 2006, and although we’ve never described ourselves as this, I fully embrace it and it feels good to be part of a community of like-minded bands and musicians.

It’s a name, nothing more, and it’s easier to say than “The New Wave of Internet-Based Prog Metal” or some other overly descriptive or pretentious phrase. No doubt it’ll become passé in a few years – once all the post-djent, djent-core, emo-djent etc etc sub-sub-genres have been exhausted – but we all know how scenes and cycles work, so let’s stop talking about it! Right, moving on…

OK. My first ramblings are on non-self-indulgent progressive rock and metal. Prog gets labelled far too often as a genre of super-complexity, instrumental masturbation, ego fulfillment and geek exclusivity, although I do agree that in many cases this is true. I won’t lie: I love the occasional John Petrucci/Jordan Rudess unison shred, and a ridiculous, reticulated Morgan Agren drum solo has known to make me djizz (sorry!), but there’s so much more to progressive music.

Interesting structures, intertwining layers and a generally inventive approach is equally, if not more of a key part of prog. Ideas that defy convention or push the confines of well-trodden structures and intelligent experimentation are all prog-defining characters, and exploring and developing (progressing!) ideas to greater depths than rock or metal is also essential.

Great examples of this are bands like Anathema and Tool, who create such emotive atmosphere through their subtle intricacies. Although not normally classified as prog, at least by traditionalists, Tool’s approach to structures and layers couldn’t be more so. A recent discovery of mine is Amplifier, (thanks to Thrash Hits Ed Raz!) who also share these qualities.

New bands flying the non-self-indulgent flag are Aussie band Karnivool, who are quite frankly amazing, and have the ability to make subtly complex music incredibly accessible, without the slightest a sniff of Stilton. Another awesome band from that part of the world who must be checked out are recent Basick Records signees, Circles.

I’d like to think that TesseracT falls somewhat into this category, as our music is very much about how the instruments work together, as opposed to any single one taking the spotlight. This wasn’t anything we set out to do, but I guess none of us have the urge or the ego to be truly self-indulgent! The most extreme example of this is the song ‘April’. It’s such a simple song of three chords but the changing dynamics and layers make it a much more interesting track than it could ever appear on paper.

Not all self-indulgence is bad, though. In fact there’s a lot of amazing wankery out there which I can’t help but love! As a guitarist I love watching players who push the boundaries of what’s humanly possible – from shred greats like Malmsteen, Vai and Satch, to modern virtuosos like Tosin Abasi. I love it.

Tosin and Animals As Leaders are doing some amazing things, fusing the highest order lead guitar work with killer djenty grooves and vast helpings of jazz and fusion thrown in, mind-blowing stuff. Paul ‘Chimp Spanner‘ Ortiz is also proficient at the art of good wankery, choosing a more laid-back fusion approach, and a large helping of (incredibly tasty and credible) ’80s cheese.

However, there is a lot of wank of the flaccid variety out there, mostly by bands who have maybe lost touch, don’t see the wrong in their public indecency. I saw Coheed and Cambria at Brixton a few years back who closed their set with 20 mins of what was essentially a dull blues jam. Half the audience walked out wondering what the fuck happened there!

Metallica’s Kirk Hammett and his spotlight, 20 minute, wah-wah-driven pentatonic solos are another. I feel bad saying anything negative about Metallica as they were my gateway to metal and I still have a huge soft spot for them and Kirk and I’m sure I’ll be rocking out to them on a full nostalgia trip at Sonisphere singing along at the top of my voice, but when the band walk off leaving Kirk on a podium holding that pre-widdle bend (usually after ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’), I’ll be heading to the bar.

So that’s it, my ramble on self (and non-self) indulgence…

James will be answering a couple of questions in each column from now on so email with your questions or leave it in a comment below! Ask him whatever you’d like to know. It could be something about TesseracT, his guitar technique, the djent genre or just what his favourite hangover cure is. Go for it.


Keep up with Thrash Hits. Click like and follow.