Album Review: TESSERACT Polaris
With three solid vocalists in their studio recording history, there's arguably one voice that can be considered the most definitively fitting for TesseracT. Not to belittle vocal replacements Elliot Coleman or Ashe O'Hara in any decree, but a certain charisma and signature style was missing. Since the announcement of a full-length studio album with the reunion of Daniel Tompkins, curiosities and expectations have been stacking up to pedestal heights. Previously receiving the esteemed title 'pioneers of djent,' an unquestionably controversy of a genre in the metal community, the real question appears: will the group remain in their pigeonhole, or evolve into something just as impressive?
Choosing to return from the more ambience-driven quintet, Skyharbor, Tompkins seems to have fused his approach from both bands for an eclectic synthesis. With the complete lineup reunited for third LP, Polaris, a cohesive greatness is inevitable. It should also be noted the chosen record labels, Kscope (known for Steven Wilson and Anathema) and eOne Music (roster ranging from Black Label Society to The Contortionist), may be indicative of both the catchy, experimental prog-rock ahead.
From the boundaries-pushing, progressive instrumentation to the melodic croons contrasting with bombastic screams, TesseracT's sound on their debut album in 2011 was by far brilliant enough to put them on the map. The dynamic, aggressive tendencies of One still pump through the band's veins as evident on opener "Dystopia." A thin space-y soundscape is layered above the thick bass and snare hits, creating suspense for the impressive vocal hooks, which carries the composition along. Inclusion of guest vocalist Martin Grech, "Hexes" maintains the lively pacing as the build up and layering of the song structure is handled with much more delicacy. "Survival" continues the cohesive flow producing an opening track triptych.
Almost halfway in, there are pros and cons to be addressed. As formerly phrased, the first three tracks were phenomenal regarding aesthetics, but lacked an absolute direction, resulting in what sounded like a fifteen-minute long cluster. By all means, there are plenty of striking melodies, yet the arrangement doesn't exactly do justice in highlighting them to prime. Although TesseracT is no stranger to a continuous motion of music (ex: Concealing Fate), the breath-of-fresh-air interludes are necessary and the Steven Wilson-like harmonic serenity present on "Tourniquet" quite perfectly plays that part.
The lyrical content is consistently poetic and vivid as shown in "Utopia," thematically opposing the opener track with an emphasization towards a cathartic message: "I just can’t taste the freedom/I’ve been painting pictures/Tempted and enticed/I neglected Eden" and closing the track off with a borderline rap vocal delivery. Right out of the gates it becomes obvious that "Phoenix" is a song with an identity, a much-needed characteristic for a select few pieces scattered throughout the album. For "Messenger," the group modestly unveils their strengths in terms of rhythmic suspense, tension, and pay off. The two ending compositions, "Cages" and "Seven Names," shine the light upon the softer side without wandering too far from engaging territory.
All five members prove to reveal a convincingly compelling identity with the constant upkeep of an alluring sense of urgency. The matured musicianship breaks TesseracT free from the djent genre restriction chokehold and exposes the band for who they really are, a well-rounded progressive musical group incapable of being pinned down to a specific classification. Even while searching for flaws in this record, the only to surface were all but trivial complaints in regards to flow and other nitpicking. Excelling as a whole and beckoning for an entire listen back-to-front, Polaris is best defined as a sum of the group's polished production smoothly colliding with an offensive onslaught of vocal and instrumentation virtuosity.
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