Review Summary: Now in a new flavour: tasty bipolarity!
Abisola Obisanya. Dan Tompkins. Elliot Coleman. Yes, Tesseract have been mocked and lamented for the past few years, never seeming to hold a vocalist down long enough to make two releases. The immense switches in style of vocalists led many to believe that the group did not know where it was heading, and was instead doomed to flail its arms around, drowning in a pool of redundancy. Tesseract became the subject of cheap laughs in online communities, with many infuriated and giving up on the band. Regardless, Tesseract did not throw in the towel and instead found a fourth vocalist to front the unit. It turned out their prize, Ashe O’Hara, was hiding right under their noses in a band called Voices From the Fuselage, whose album Acle Kahney (guitar) was producing and mixing. Is Tesseract alive again with offering Altered State
Young O’Hara has chosen to soar instead of diving deep like his predecessors. Gutturals, screeches and screams are nowhere to be found on Altered State, unlike the bands’ prior releases. This change is generally welcome as O’Hara is a deceptively intimate singer and his approach suits the mellower side of Tesseract better. For fans of the regal qualities of Tompkins, you will not find them here: O’Hara’s voice is more ethereal, expertly and naturally merging with the bands’ newfound, prog-heavy approach. Nevertheless, there are instances that scream for a more feral and primal approach, which O’Hara is unable to offer. O’Hara thus marks one of the records stronger points as well as one of its greater shortcomings, simultaneously. This characterizes Altered State as a whole, as it consistently pulls the listener back and forth between contradicting feelings towards the album.
Kahney’s and Monteith’s static, droning rhythms do not hit home. While the effect-laden melodies in the background effortlessly shape the dreaminess of Altered State, the distorted low end rhythms more often than desired jerk you right back to the engagement process of you as a listener on one side, and the music on another (Of Reality – Palingenesis
). It especially throws the middle of the album off balance and it detracts from the beauty that Tesseract do achieve within that same space (Of Mind – Exile
). As the mastermind behind the group’s soundscape, Kahney is the culprit of eliciting this uneasiness. Certainly, it is but a choice of approach -fusing guitar, bass and drums into one backbone- but it far from always benefits the context of the songs and where they want to take you (Of Reality – Eclipse
). However, when they do manage so, Tesseract write and create with such a sense of ease that one wonders what has been responsible for this degree of maturation in composing (Of Matter – Retrospect
Much of the clever complexity within Tesseracts music is thanks to Jay Postones’ (drums) and Hugh Grant’s (bass) mastery of their instruments. The facile intricacy that these two men display may well make them one of the better rhythmic duos in modern music and tilts the sound of Tesseract to a new level (Of Energy – Singularity
). Offering a helping hand by providing two record highlights is sax player Chris Baretto, whose sultry musings immaculately accentuate the jazzy qualities of Altered State (Of Energy – Embers
). While the guitars are thus a shortcoming of the record, every other instrument is perfectly in its uncalculated place. Thriving on this state of natural calmness, when the music feels as if it should have just happened this way, Altered State does reach spaces not many bands are able to achieve.
It is an odd, disconnecting place to be in as a listener when feelings of itching frustration and pensive immersion consistently substitute one another throughout the record. Collectively, Tesseract are struggling with form rather than identity. It is one matter to find your niche, but to be able to call it home is quite another. Altered State is in a sense quite the oddity: on the one hand it brings a refining maturity to Tesseracts signature sound, but on the other an unwelcome simplification of it. Whether or not you are able to dismiss this frustrating lapse of judgment when it rears its head, Altered State is unequivocally worth your time for the interspersed moments of brilliance and genuine musical achievement. Two questions remain to be answered: do Tesseract now understand where they are heading, and will the next release astoundingly manage to include O’Hara?