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TesseracT - Altered State[27th May 2013]
[Century Media Records]

01. Of Matter – Proxy
02. Of Matter – Retrospect
03. Of Matter – Resist
04. Of Mind – Nocturne
05. Of Mind – Exile
06. Of Reality – Eclipse
07. Of Reality – Palingenisis
08. Of Reality – Calabi-Yau
09. Of Energy – Singularity
10. Of Energy – Embers

 

It’s probably fair to say that the last couple of years have not gone according to plan for TesseracT. In 2011, with the release of acclaimed debut One and some high profile tour appearances, their star was firmly in the ascendant. But the sudden departure of beloved vocalist Dan Tompkins and the brave but short-lived recruitment of Elliot Coleman somewhat broke the momentum. The discovery along the way that an alarming proportion of their fanbase were whiny reactionary dingbats can’t have helped, either. So the band retreated from the spotlight for the second half of 2012 to work on second album Altered State.

What is clear from the first listen is that Altered State is weighted more towards the prog than the metal in this equation. New boy Ashe O’Hara‘s vocals contain not a single bark, growl, screech or bellow, and remain melodious – or ‘clean’ – throughout. This might dismay some of the aforementioned dingbats, but I felt the screaming on One was a bit surplus to requirements, so I can’t say I miss it. Most importantly, Ashe’s voice suits the music even better than Dan’s did. It was a hard road for the band to travel to get here, but it was worth the effort.

Musically, Altered State is more evolution than revolution from One, and even the guitar tones seem largely unchanged. Tesseract’s key construct is to not separate out the contrasting light and shade into quiet verses and loud choruses, but to play them simultaneously, layering Ashe’s plaintive vocal lines together with ethereal guitar and keyboard atmospherics over their trademark, off-kilter staccato chuggery.

All of this is in turn propped up by the truly exceptional rhythm section. The rock solid contribution of bassist Amos Williams and drummer Jay Postones cannot be underestimated. Less imaginative or talented pairings could easily have dragged these songs down into dirges, but instead they inject an intelligence and vitality that lifts the tunes above their peers in an ever busier genre. I don’t have a copy of the instrumental version of the album, but in all honesty I would be perfectly happy listening to a guitar-less version, which is a rarity, to say the least.

The band are now comfortably occupying the halfway house on a path that connects Meshuggah to Tool. Altered State does have a fairly introspective, almost melancholic feel throughout, which is perhaps a reflection of the band’s recent past. In penultimate track “Singularity”, however, they break out into something more extrovert, cautiously hinting at a brighter future ahead of them.

Whether you call it prog-metal or djent, Altered State is probably one of the most complete examples of the genre to date, and my appreciation of it has grown with each successive listen. This is definitely a slow burner, instead of the more immediate gut-punches of some of their contemporaries.

The album does sit in a slightly odd place in terms of temperament, though – it’s a bit too frantic to be considered chill-out, yet not quite beefy enough for head-banging, and too rhythmically complex for dancing.  I’m sure there is an activity that Altered State would be a perfect soundtrack for, I just haven’t quite figured out what it is yet.

I’m also slightly concerned that TesseracT may be painting themselves into a sonic corner, falling into a similar trap to Meshuggah. They do what they do very well, but pleasing and unexpected surprises are few and far between. However well executed the songs are (which is ‘very’) they rarely stray far from the template laid down by Concealing Fate. One genuine surprise is the appearance of a saxophone towards the end of the album, and I can’t help feeling that a couple more curve-balls like this would have enriched the experience further.

Altered State feels like a consolidation and a reboot, providing a strong platform for the band to grow from. There are moments on this album that sound like Ashe, in particular, is pushing right to the very limits of his abilities, which is commendable. I’m sure the inevitable hard touring the band will now embark on will only help to push those boundaries outwards.

Fundamentally, if you liked One then you are probably going to come to love this, but I’m not sure it’s going to change the minds of previous doubters.

I’ve already said this album is a slow burn, and with a weekend between me writing the bulk of this review and this final paragraph, this point has only been reinforced. This is a powerful, mature album that represents a certain amount of triumph over adversity. And one that is well worth investing some of your time in to ensure its treasures are fully appreciated.

85%

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  • Disinformasiya

    I know what you mean about it not being mellow enough for cull-on chill/not heavy enough to headbang, but I do get those sort of operatic, orchestral gesture moments with it (as well as the odd head bang).

    I’m really digging the ‘Of Mind’ section at the moment, but “Singularity” is just stunning.

    It certainly is a grower too; lots of little facets you have to let wash over you a few times before they properly hook you.

  • http://Website Mik

    This is a very nicely written review.

    Altered State surpassed my very high expectations with its elegant flow, interesting song writing, extremely good rhythm section and Ashe’s contributions to the album. It really, really moves me and it does get better with each listen. To me there’s enough “new stuff” to be happy about and get into with the addition of Ashe’s singing style and the slight change of sound. I’d much rather have a completely solid record like this, especially after all the changes of vocalists, than one that is too experimental.

    I’m looking forward to getting the instrumental version, not because I don’t enjoy the vocals, but I think the music is really spectacular and another version of the album just adds more to the overall experience.
    Something I really like is how some moments on the album sound very similar to certain parts on ‘One’, it connects the two in a nice way and reminds me of how good it felt when I discovered their first record.

    ‘Proxy’ and ‘Retrospect’ are big favourites right now. And I wonder, why does it say the fifth song is named ‘Exile’ on TesseracT’s and Century Media’s websites, but in the full album stream animation it’s called ‘Exiled’?

    I use their albums as the ultimate escapism tool, the music changes my state of mind and takes me to another world. And the groovy ‘Nocturne’ makes me want to dance.

    • http://undefined Neotenic

      Thanks for reading. :)

      That’s a really good point about them making a safer, more solid album rather than experimenting given the context. Thinking about it, possibly part of the undoing with Elliot was that they all tried to push a bit too far, too fast.

      As is recorded elsewhere, I’m a bigger fan of the instrumental version of The Ocean’s Pelagial than of the vocal version, but I’m less convinced this will be the case here. As I’m a bit of a completist, I will certainly be getting hold of it – but it does sound to me that these tunes were always written with vocals in mind.

      I’m not sure how one would dance to Nocturne, though – maybe some combination of swaying and twitching? :D

      • http://Website Mik

        If you’ve seen their bassist on stage you know how to do it.. I love his energy.
        Sway, wobble, headbang and add some pirouettes here and there. :D

        • http://undefined Neotenic

          As it happens, I have seen the band play twice in the last week. :)

          FWIW, that is broadly what I do when I’m watching them – but it is more ‘advanced nodding’ than ‘dancing’ :D

          • http://Website Mik

            Advanced nodding.. lol :)

            Ah, you’re lucky. Two shows, that must have been awesome. I have only seen them live on youtube, hehe. Waiting for them to come to Sweden, or if I can make it to UK Tech metal fest this summer.

            Even though it’s my favourite thing to do, I haven’t been to a live show for a couple of years now, so I’m experiencing serious withdrawal symptoms.

            • Disinformasiya

              We shall have a live review up in about 4 hours Mik – I was at that second one with Neotenic. It. Ruled!

              I feel very spoiled with all the opportunities for awesome bands we have coming through London. Sometimes I’m too tired or some other excuse, so I don’t go. How very ungrateful, when you’ve not been to anything for a couple of years!

  • http://Website Mik

    Haha, my comments always get messed up in some way here, every time.. Oh well.

    • Disinformasiya

      Sorry Mik! We do always go through the spam filter and fish any legit ones out. I think it’s less picky if you leave an e-mail address, and in particular a name. Then we know it’s you, too!