Review Summary: Underwhelming.
While TesseracT is widely credited as one of the progenitors of the modern Djent movement, they have followed their own singular artistic vision, often to the derision and confusion of the rest of the scene. Over the course of their career the band has developed their own largely unique (which is saying something in Djent) sound, moving away from Meshuggah-aping Death Metal aggression toward a much more ambient, melodic and progressive sound that’s quite far removed from the majority of their “core”-suffixed peers.
Through their evolution, TesseracT has shed vocalists like a shark sheds teeth, and the current iteration of the band features Ashe O’Hara on lead vocals. O’Hara’s vocals mark the culmination of the band’s sonic evolution; from the harshness of original vocalist Abisola Obisanya, through the debut LP that featured the largely “pretty” voice of fan-favourite Dan Tompkins and the reduced role of harsh vocals, to the current album featuring the complete absence of harsh vocals and the exclusively soaring light tenor of O’Hara who occasionally sounds like a dead ringer for Tompkins. Word has it that O’Hara is competent when it comes to harsh vocals while pulling off older TesseracT material in a live setting, but his keening boyish singing voice is featured here by the band and the vocals are high and clear in the mix, often bolstered by overlaid harmonies.
Underpinning O’Hara’s soaring voice is what has come to be TesseracT’s modus operandi
; ambient passages chopped up by polyrhythmic djent sections. The band rarely, if ever, displays any conventional virtuosity. There are no jaw-dropping guitar solos or drum fills or any of the other trappings of progressive metal wankery. However, the band plays impressively as an ensemble, combining challenging rhythmic parts to create a dense groove that takes several listens to completely unravel. A fine example of this is found on Palingenesis
which teeters on the edge of rhythmic chaos without stepping over.
The strengths of the band are also, ironically, its weaknesses. Album opener Proxy
quickly establishes the template for the band, opening with spacy reverb and delay drenched notes on a guitar before the polyrhythmic chugs come tumbling in. However, the whole affair quickly devolves into repetition. Simply put, there is just not enough variety in the band’s sound and very few songs really stand out from the pack. The prime examples of standout tracks are Exiled
which is, not surprisingly, one of the harder rocking songs on the album, and album closer Embers
offers one of the few moments on the album where the instrumental parts actually differ significantly enough from the instrumental parts on the other songs to sound different and be memorable. Embers
is made special by it’s saxophone solo that is odd and awesome in just the right amounts. A ripping saxophone solo also make an appearance on Calabi-Yau
. The fact that the band experiments more towards the end of the album makes for the unusual situation where the second half of the album is actually stronger than the first half.
The almost faceless grooving of the band is exacerbated by O’Hara’s singing, which somehow manages to be melodic without any actual melodies. For the most part of the album his vocal contributions are just there, sitting atop the mix without adding anything significant to the songs. There is an almost complete lack of memorable hooks, just ‘emotive’ singing that fails to hold the listener’s attention and is quickly relegated to the back of the mind. A large part of the criticism faced by the band has dealt with O’Hara’s voice, which isn’t to everyone’s taste. However, while O’Hara’s voice is a unique quality that separates TesseracT from its peers, he fails to sing anything remotely memorable and ultimately this contributes greatly to the homogeneity of the album.
will no doubt please a lot of fans of the band who get off on the ambient grooves of the band. However, the majority of fans of the band, and of progressive metal in general, will find themselves underwhelmed by the album. TesseracT has refined its sound to an almost undesirable degree, and while some will see genius in Altered State
most will see a band that needs to shake up its formula in order to stay relevant.