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Album Review: TesseracT – Polaris

maxresdefaultA tesseract, in mathematics, is a three-dimensional representation of a four-dimensional object, often used by physicists to illustrate the concept of higher planes of existence than our own. It is fitting, then, that the band Tesseract acts as our aptly-titled progressive metal guide into unknown realms of musical experience. When a listener delves into a Tesseract album, he or she is embarking on the sonic equivalent of a journey into another dimension of space – one enveloped in a sphere of peaceful synth pads and light, distant guitar leads which spangle the sky overhead like stars, occasionally flaring into view before fizzling out into a vivid nebula of reverberation. But this dimension, while serene at times, is prone to tumultuous upheavals in energy, characterized by the crushing timbres and seemingly chaotic musical composition of the “djent” brand that the band helped pioneer – complete with the characteristic extended-range guitars, dropped tunings, and mind-bending rhythmic patterns expected of the style. The British band’s latest release, Polaris, promises all of the above, treating listeners to another chapter in their trans-dimensional odyssey.

Sonically, Polaris is nearly identical to previous entries in Tesseract’s catalogue, with even slicker production than before, if it can be believed. The band’s oft-imitated signature sound consists primarily of the previously abstracted alternation between heavenly, tranquil melodic layering and bone-shattering distorted riffing which is usually syncopated – occasionally to the point of bending time itself. The strength of this group in particular, however, stems largely from the immensely adept rhythm section of bassist Amos Williams and drummer Jay Postones, whom frequently garner acclaim for their impeccable sense of groove amongst the chaos. This marked focus on groove puts Tesseract above their peers by keeping the music stable enough to prevent it from collapsing into the cacophonous black hole of tech-metal, and by keeping it accessible enough to earn the band respectable placement on international album charts.

Tesseract’s accessibility is not limited to the instrumental section, however – significant credit is due to their defiance of the metal genre in the vocal realm, turbulent as the band’s leading position has been in the past. For Polaris, Tesseract have re-united with former frontman Daniel Tompkins, who demonstrates his chops as a seasoned vocal acrobat on each and every track – though his powerful harsh vocals, which were prevalent on the group’s debut One, are reserved only for a few of the new album’s key moments. Members of “Team Dan” need not worry, though, because Tompkins possesses more than enough tricks up his sleeve to keep listeners interested, and though Polaris sports less melodic vocal hooks than the band’s past efforts, it makes up for it in dynamics. Tompkins treats each song like a vocal obstacle course, bounding through soft crooning, full voice wails, angelic falsetto, and a few more treats that will be left for the listener to discover. Even in the track “Hexes” which sees Tompkins sharing vocals with a guest (solo artist Martin Grech), the two voices blend magnificently and lead to one of the standout moments of the album.

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Amos Williams

For as relatively brief as Polaris is, it is easy to pinpoint several highlights. In addition to the aforementioned “Hexes”, with its lumbering melancholy and graceful vocal harmonies, the single “Survival” acts as the most conventional song on the album, but touts an immensely satisfying chorus thanks to Tompkins’s soaring wail, plus some deliciously punchy bass and Tesseract’s signature chunking guitar breaks. The following song is “Tourniquet”, which is initially rich with calming ambience and intimate vocals, eventually leading to a crescendo of passion and culminating in another instrumental groove-fest. From here, while subsequent tracks carry their share of gratifying moments, the next high point does not occur until the penultimate track, “Cages”, which introduces itself with a gorgeous clean guitar phrase and proceeds to eagerly expand with subtle acuity, layer by layer, into another dimensional catastrophe – all the while narrated by Tompkins’s intensely personal lyrics. These peak tracks alone are reason enough to order the album, however prospective listeners should be wary ahead of time that Polaris does not come without its share of faults, which will be most apparent to those familiar with the band’s prior work.

Two of Tesseract’s most appealing traits are, sadly, mostly absent from Polaris. The first of which is their heretofore dedication to presenting each album as a singular work of art – a continuous exploration of their beautifully turbulent musical universe. The absence of this characteristic is felt very obviously for any established fan of the group, and it unquestionably detracts from the experience. Whereas discernible breaks between tracks were few to none on past opuses Concealing Fate and Altered State, they are very apparent on Polaris. Granted, some songs do flow into one another quite effectively, namely “Dystopia” into “Hexes” and “Messenger” into “Cages”. Most other songs, however, are wont to climax by way of a punchy Tesse-riff which ends in a cymbal choke, guitar slide out, and silence. This points to another unfortunate blemish on the otherwise pristine face of the record – a weakness which only exists when one considers Tesseract’s previous penchant for developing a brilliant riff or phrase and allowing it to flourish and expand into a groovy jam which enveloped the listener in prog-metal euphoria. Devotees of this discipline will find that Polaris feels dreadfully hurried in comparison. While back-breaking instrumentation abounds, it is only allowed to endure in its current state of matter for a few bars, before the mood is altered again. When parts of the record are unusually straightforward for Tesseract, such as those found in “Phoenix”, the disallowance of more progressive elements is puzzling.

Fans and newcomers alike need not worry, though. When taken for its own merit, Tesseract’s invitation to experience a more seasoned, personal dimension of their sound is still one worth accepting. The trip is only enhanced when the album is played through a high-quality audio system, as the dynamics between the engulfing ambience, crushing guitars, nuanced bass, and pounding rhythms are very much an integral aspect of the record’s design. Wayward listeners can be assured that Tesseract is undeniably the beacon which one should seek for guidance through the progressive metal branch of their musical journey. If anything, Polaris is proof that when a band’s members are the architects and masters of a musical style, they need not deviate far from their established realm of expertise, as only consistent and confident ownership of their identity is necessary to reliably shine above the rest.

Visit TesseracT and order Polaris here: Official Site

About Matthew Scott

Norse god of metal.

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