27 May 2013
By Ruth Booth
When doom-mongers spoke of the world’s end in 2012, TesseracT may have felt a tiny bit paranoid. Their lauded debut One had seen them branded standard-bearers of UK Djent, but a cancelled major tour, and the departure of their second vocalist in 12 months left TesseracT struggling to tread water. That they reached the end of the year with both new album Altered State in the can and the New Blood Prog Award must have left them wondering if they were victims of some great cosmic joke.
On first listen to Altered State, it’s hard to imagine anything’s changed over the last two years. The first part of ‘Of Matter – Proxy‘, drifts out of the gate with those good ol’ stratospherics and rhythmic contractions, like the labour of some giant sonic space-whale. Though it’s ham-handed to talk of a specific TesseracT singer style, Ashe O’Hara’s keening, dream-like vocals fit neatly into the snug moulded by predecessors Elliot Coleman and Daniel Tompkins.
Yet, it’s quickly apparent this album is less immediate than its predecessor. The touchstones have changed – hints of King Crimson, Vangelis, Piertomas Dell’Erba, *Ancients, and yes, Tool, alongside the usual names you’d pull out of a polyrhythmic hat. You’ll often find, say, the anthem lines of ‘Of Energy – Singularity‘ following the space lounge jazz of ‘Of Reality – Calabi-Yau‘. After the punch of One, it feels like something’s missing – but this is hardly surprising. Altered State is touted as a reflection on life experiences. After the year TesseracT have had, it’s understandable they’d need time to consolidate and lick their wounds. It would be – if that was all that was going on here.
Altered State is most definitely a grower, chockful of twisted head-turners – the saxophone melody of ‘Calabi-Yau‘ immediately springs to mind (though they’re far from the first to mix metal and saxophone), but there’s more. The warped guitar solo in ‘Of Mind – Nocturne‘ that echoes prog-poppers Mansun‘s ‘Cancer‘. Those vocals in ‘Of Matter – Retrospect‘ that sound like Daniel Johns on Silverchair‘s ‘Emotion Sickness‘, but eschew grunge over-dramatics for prog stupendousness. Going with O’Hara, last seen in Voices From The Fuselage, speaks of a desire to explore melodic textures beyond the scream-sing dichotomy. For an album supposedly about consolidation, this sounds an awful lot like a band pushing out of a niche.
Before I finished this review, Raz sent me a few lines for what would have been his, amongst which was this:
“TesseracT are to djent what Deftones were to nu metal back in the ’90s.”
It’s a shrewd observation. As djent crystallised from a group of bands with a particular progressive bent into a specific style with set markers, TesseracT found themselves at the vanguard. Yet on the basis of their decisions since – an instrumental album, an EP of acoustic reinterpretations of One tracks, now this – TesseracT were only passing through on their journey of exploration. In terms of the genre’s original spirit, it’s actually the most djent-ish thing they could have done.
Maybe some will be disappointed to find this isn’t Two, but there’s little use for mourning. Instead of re-treading somewhat worn genre dictates, TesseracT are taking the road less travelled – which, surely, was the point all along.
Standout Tracks: Of Energy – Singularity, Of Reality – Calabai-Yau, Of Matter – Restrospect
Sounds Like: Vangelis, Tool, the start of an intriguing evolution