Review Summary: Evolve or die.
In 2007, Tesseract were pioneers of the djent sound - then more an initial, evolutionary concept than any sort of established sound. From the Tesseract angle, early djent was a blend of progressive metal that borrowed heavily both from the heavy, tight low-end of Meshuggah and the progressive melodies of any number of contemporaries in the same field, mixed in with a decent (but not too heavy-handed) dose of atmosphere.
In 2018, djent has a distinct sound orbiting around that tight, low-end, usually set to a polyrhythmic groove. From there, it can deviate greatly - from the highly melodic and, at times, electronic sounds David Maxim Micic and Destiny Potato have orchestrated to the incredibly technical, incredibly rhythmic likes of Animals as Leaders with everything in-between and outside of that. Yet, there are many djent bands that settle on the most simplistic version of the formula - lots and lots and lots of low end and little else - and Tesseract has regrettably trended towards this path on every release following their 2013 pinnacle, the progressive-leaning Altered State
While it once was enough to commit to heavy bass and groove with shimmering production, a djent pool now diluted with myriad bands offering the same sound has caused the same issuance of the eternal challenge of "evolve or die" that birthed djent in the first place. One
was an establishing act. Altered State
was a solid push for "evolve." Polaris
, on the other hand, opted for "die," and Sonder
does nothing to divert course.
To be blunt, Tesseract are entirely too reliant on ambiance as their "secret sauce." Where a proper use of ambiance can add a pensive tone or an opportunity for emotional reflection to a song, Tesseract rely on it both as cohesive glue on nearly every track on Sonder
and as a melody replacement. It's simply not enough.
As on Polaris
, Dan Tompkins simply doesn't stand out enough from Tesseract's low-end to project the kind of melody that could make a track stand out (partially due to mixing, partially due to lack of harmonic compliment), while the album's guitars primarily serve as bass attenuators and tonal windchimes - blending in or adding just enough pleasant tenor to go ignored. Amos Williams still offers some incredibly sexy bass runs (the runs on "Juno," in particular, offer some refreshing rhythms that make the track more than it would otherwise be) and the rhythms on each track are as tight as ever, but for the most part, it must be asked: what are Tesseract hoping to achieve on Sonder
It could be that the band are content to rest on their laurels with a following that will surely support their consistent (if mediocre) direction. This strikes me as likely, as the band opted to part ways with Ashe O'Hara after what was a very fitting and intriguing role on standout Altered State
, just to bring back fan favorite Tompkins and produce standard fare. But who can say for certain?
The one thing I am certain of, however, is that the impetus of "evolve or die" will hang over Tesseract, if it hasn't already. A stout following will linger on something like atmospherics only so long before they start to yearn for something more. And if they're not already looking for it, they should be.