Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tesseract - Altered State (Limited Edition)

Altered State (Limited Edition)
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Within the ‘djent’ community, Reading (U.K.) based outfit Tesseract are a band that are held in high esteem. And rightfully so too, as the band have produced some truly fascinating forward thinking releases, without sounding like an exact clone of countless other acts attempting to carve a niche for themselves within the overpopulated scene. But despite the band’s status as one of the best, and a string of successful releases to their name, the band just can’t seem to keep a consistency within their ranks. Or to be more to the point, the band just can’t seem to hold onto a vocalist for any real length of time.
Although Daniel Tompkins appeared on both the ‘Concealing Fate’ E.P. (2010) and on the band’s debut full-length effort ‘One’ (2011), he was actually the third person to front the band (Julien Perier was in the band from 2004 to 2006, and Abisola Obasanya from 2006 to 2008). And when Tompkin’s parted ways with the group in 2011, he was replaced by former Sky Eats Airplane vocalist Elliot Coleman, whose tenure with the band barely lasted for a year, but who still managed to leave his mark within the group by appearing on the band’s stop-gap E.P. ‘Perspective’ in 2012.
The approach and direction Tesseract made from Tompkin to Coleman was quite a large one, and one that left many fans feeling that the band had lost something in the transition. And when Coleman announced that he was stepping down from the front man position, there was an air of apprehension about what the future would hold for Tesseract, come the release of their long awaited second full-length release.
After teasing fans for months, Tesseract (Comprising of guitarists Alec ‘Acle’ Kahney and James Monteith, bassist Amos Williams and drummer Jay Postones) finally unveiled the identity of their new and mysterious front man - Voices From The Fuselage’s Ashe O’Hara – followed by the news that their new album ‘Altered State’ would finally see a release in the first half of 2013.
And that time has finally arrived. And after giving ‘Altered State’ the time to truly sink in, I have to say that Tesseract have made the right choice – both in terms of finding the perfect vocalist, and with the direction they’re taking.
Much like ‘One’, ‘Altered State’ is virtually one piece of music, but divided up into for large chapters.
The first chapter, ‘Of Matter’, is broken into a further three pieces, with ‘Proxy’ opening up the album with a gentle and mix of moody/ethereal vocals and atmospheric guitar notes, before launching into familiar Tesseract territory. Reminiscent of ‘Lament’ from ‘One’ style wise, ‘Proxy’ is the perfect vehicle for O’Hara’s to introduce himself to listeners. O’Hara may be lacking the aggression of Tompkin, but he isn’t hindered by the Jeff Buckley tone of Coleman’s voice. Instead, O’Hara brings a new sound to Tesseract – one which is as melodic as anything Tompkin offered, but minus the growling. It’s a perfect fit, and one that works exceedingly well here.
The second song ‘Retrospect’ is a fairly straightforward effort by Tesseract standards, but boasts a stunning performance from O’Hara throughout the song’s infectious choruses, while ‘Resist’ concludes the ‘Of Matter’ suite with a build up of instrumentation and harmonies that compliment the two previous tracks perfectly.
Next up is the second chapter ‘Of Mind’, which is opened up by the album’s first single ‘Nocturne’. The track is noteworthy for its heavier guitar sound and angular grooves, and will no doubt appeal to those who preferred the band’s direction on ‘One’ over ‘Perspective’. But the real stand out on the track is O’Hara, who manages to overly a stunning melodic chorus over the complex musical backdrop. The use of multi-layered vocals helps give the choruses the extra punch required, which help make the song stand out in the best way. There are plenty of great moments throughout ‘Altered State’, but for first single, ‘Nocturne’ is the perfect choice.
The second half of ‘Of Mind’ comes in the form of ‘Exile’, which is almost as melodic as the former, but leans more towards the progressive side of the band’s sound with its extended instrumental passages and general ebbs and flow of quieter passages and heavier moments.
The third chapter ‘Of Reality’ begins with ‘Eclipse’, which initially starts out with a sound that’s very unlike Tesseract, but one that works exceedingly well. The combination of drawn out guitar riffs and cleaner vocals are very different, and allow O’Hara to really stand out. But while the song does eventually bleed into familiar terrain, O’Hara’s dominance is still ever-present, and one of the shining examples of what he’s capable of producing within the group.
The middle track ‘Palingenesis’ is a fairly short track, but one that most will draw to with its compelling mix of angular grooving riff structures and infectious melodies. O’Hara is no doubt very different from any of Tesseract’s former front men, but the similarities between O’Hara and Tompkin can be heard on this track more than any other in terms of making even the most complex of tracks melodic and catchy.
Finishing up ‘Of Reality’ is the rather brief instrumental piece ‘Calabi-Yau’, which featured a guest saxophone solo from Ever Forthright/ex-Periphery/The HAARP Machine front man Chris Barretto. Again, this track is something a little different for Tesseract, but something that works nonetheless.
The final chapter on ‘Altered State’ is titled ‘Of Energy’, and is opened with ‘Singularity’ – which is the second single from the album. Outside the choruses, it’s the bass that really stands out on this track, which isn’t all that surprising given that the instrument happens to be one of the band’s overall driving forces. As a song, ‘Singularity’ is a solid track, but not as melodic as ‘Nocturne’. But in musical terms, there’s a lot going on within this track, which means that the two singles selected from the album showcase different sides to the band as a whole.
Finishing up ‘Of Energy’ and the album is ‘Embers’, which begins quietly, only to build toward a heavier middle section that concludes with O’Hara’s chanting ‘Wait inside the fire’ repeatedly, before finishing up with another short saxophone solo from Barretto.
As mentioned above, this is a review of the limited edition version of ‘Altered State’, which comes with a bonus disc featuring ‘Altered State’ in instrumental form. While the bonus disc isn’t likely to have anyone outside of ‘djent’ fans racing out to secure a copy, the instrumental versions of the songs are still worth a listen, if only to truly hear the subtleties of the band’s music without the dense layering of vocals over the top. In a lot of ways, it helps to appreciate what Tesseract play on a musical level. The disc is virtually identical to the album, barring ‘Nocturne’, which features a guitar solo from Between The Buried And Me’s Paul Wagonner (Which is interesting, but not necessarily something that adds anything extra to the original).
When Tesseract released ‘Perspective’, I couldn’t help but feel that while Coleman was a good vocalist, he just wasn’t the right fit for the band. But having heard O’Hara on ‘Altered State’, I’m more than pleased with the band’s choice of front man. He may not be a carbon copy of Tompkin, but there’s more Tompkin in O’Hara’s voice than there ever was in Coleman.
In terms of ‘Altered State’ as a whole, what the album lacks in aggression, it more than makes up for in melody. Sure, it would have been nice to see a little more experimentation from the band, but as a genuine full-length follow-up to ‘One’, ‘Altered State’ still stands as a worthy body of progressive art.

For more information on Tesseract, check out –

© Justin Donnelly

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