Review Summary: A good atmospheric metal album begging for that one big leap into the full-blown progressive metal pool.
We've come to a point where I think I can just come out and say that "djent" is what's holding Tesseract back. That strange hybrid bastard of low groove and somewhat more progressive metalcore that once elevated Tesseract as a band of interest has gradually become little more than a weighty shackle on their legs.
To a point, you can track Tesseract's evolution from a "djent" band toward becoming a more progressive outfit just in their employ of vocalists. Abisola Obasanya displayed the sort of raw power and ferocity that early scene thrived off of while Dan Tompkins reeled things in and added more melody while reducing the impact of his harsh vocals. It wasn't apparent until the introduction of Elliot Coleman that Dan's reduced approach was a gradual weaning from the gritty side of Tesseract that Elliot quickly spun into a drastic shift in dynamic.
Fortunately, new vocalist Ashe O'Hara has dialed the sound back to a point that's further along in the weaning process, but still not as intensely dramatic a change as Elliot's high-flying approach. Lending a voice with a thoroughly atmospheric feel to the creative process surely has something to do with feeling the weight of the djent chain, though. While the strain is less apparent than it was during Elliot's brief tenure, Ashe's voice yearns for a more drawn-out backdrop less reliant on groove and more focused on accentuating his tone and delivery. It's clear from the get-go that the atmospheric sound of Altered State
was more tailored towards his lush, high, melodic delivery, ghostly self-harmonizing, and moans, however, giving off the impression that the ethereal quality of the album is one the band as a whole is craving. A craving apparent not only from the deliberate choice in vocals, but in soundbites from the rest of the group, who seem to have a harder time making the adjustment.
The perpetual and exceptional groove of bassist Amos Williams notwithstanding, the instrumental section of Tesseract can seem as incestuous and repetitive as it can seem atmospheric and vibrant. Drums are conquered by guitars throughout the album and are never given a chance to shine. Guitars are conquered by themselves with often-tedious grooves overriding most lead lines which can be heard as a crackle at most when an explosion would provide a superior effect. The saving graces of the instrumental section on Altered State
are found in the odd bits of audible, chime-like guitar leads, sensational bass work, and "out-of-norm" chiming in from keyboards, synthesizers, and a truly delightful sax line at the ends of "Of Reality - Calabi-Yau" and "Of Energy - Embers."
This isn't to say that that Altered State
is anything short of a good to great release from a genre-confused band, though. In forming grooves and establishing atmospherics, Altered State
is wildly successful - at least until those grooves run longer than anyone cares to hear, resembling more of a rambling infomercial than the quick wit and appeal of a well-directed television cut. O'Hara also provides an extraordinary performance that's diverse in approach and execution despite keeping to clean melodies, scrapping the band's previous inclusion of screams.
At the end of the day, Altered State
is an enjoyable, even relaxing listen for all of its distortion and low-end power. It's cerebral enough in scope to keep the progressive fan interested through some of its more tedious moments, melodic enough to sing along to, groovy enough to keep heads banging, and atmospheric enough to chill out to. But, in a lot of ways, that's also the problem. This is an album that's "enough," but also one which very clearly wants to be more than just "enough."
Truth be told, while the vocal approach and (somewhat sparse) bells and whistles may have changed since 2008's Obasanya demo of "April Song," the sound as a whole really isn't all that different. In order for Tesseract to evolve into what they're aching to become, that'll have to change.