There was a tremendous amount of excitement surrounding the release of the second album by British metal band TesseracT. The announcement of a new vocalist turned on the heat. Slowly they released snippets of the songs, then the full track of Singularity, each little tease adding more and more heat. The fire spread over the internet, the excitement was palpable, and so was the wonder. Would it live up to expectations? The answer my friends, for me at least, is yes. In fact, this album scared the hell out of me in all the best ways.
TesseracT started their career as one of the founding forces of the d’jent genre, and with their debut album One, sealed their status as such. After its release, they parted ways with vocalist Daniel Tompkins, and after working through another singer and a lengthy search, settled on Ashe O’Hare for their second album, Altered State. The rest of the lineup includes Acle Kahney and James Monteith on guitar, Amos Williams on bass, and Jay Postones on drums. Together these brilliant musicians managed to stretch out beyond the genre they helped forge, gather together silken wisps and vagrant strings of other areas of rock and metal, and wove them into fifty minutes of groundbreaking musical perfection.
Altered State is a conceptual album divided into four movements, Of Matter, Of Mind, Of Reality, and Of Energy. Lyrically it is a loose and cryptic album. Each movement seems to me to be coming from a different state of mind, different levels of the soul are at play. Of Matter is more instinctual and reactionary in tone. Of Mind is filled with the mental buzz and cross talk that cloud our daily thoughts, self doubt and second guessing are more than present here. Of Reality is the voice of the rational, the managing force that keeps the other more passionate voices in line. Of Energy is the raw soul, the part that just feels all the good and bad, all the love and hurt. The general tone of the whole is one of desperation. There is loss, there’s hurt, there’s betrayal, and through the four states we are led through the struggle of trying to make sense of it all. This is human emotion, unfiltered, and it would take me years to take it all in. Again, this album scares the hell out of me.
From the beginning, TesseracT makes no secret of their mission to blow us away. Of Matter begins with Proxy, one deep bass tone that fluctuates, soft guitar tones, and O’Hare’s supple voice draw us in, inviting us to the madness. The trademark d’jent chords take over, and the album hits the ground at full speed. TesseracT brilliantly bridges the gap between the d’jent metal sound and a more atmospheric rock sound. In just this first song, they cover both ends of the spectrum masterfully, and tend to merge the two into something borderline surreal. It perfectly serves to set the tone of the album, it brings you inside. Retrospect, the second song, is a hands down masterpiece. The airy vocals, the hard chords, the whispering undertones, all blend to set a perfectly surreal tone. The buildup in this one is just right, keeping the listener poised on the precipice, then they hit with full force, breaking out a minute long section that I swear I can’t stop listening to, all the elements of music merge to bring me to my knees. Musically they go to their knees too. In Resist, the tone is one of desperate subdual that turns to fearless defiance. After the low chanting of single words, they burst out with a quick and fierce explosive piece, only to settle it into a relentless repeating of “resist”. Still scaring me guys, I mean it.
This is the pace throughout the album. TesseracT plays with emotions like a cat would with a quadriplegic mouse, who’s stoned to boot. In Of Mind: Exile, the longest track, they barrage the listener with everything they have. For nine minutes, TesseracT owns the listener. From the rhythm section that dictates the emotional heartbeat, to the varying guitar tones and piercing bass slaps, to the soul searing vocals, TesseracT commands the respect and attention of the listener throughout. The lyrically driven Of Reality: Palingenisis, brings the struggles of the previous songs to the forefront, the logical side is trying to get a handle on all the pain, and is losing. Brilliantly, again, they flow into Calibi-Yau, an instrumental piece that carries as much feeling as any other song on the album. Substituting an achingly soulful saxophone for the vocalist, the band expresses that part of living that just can’t be put into words. Musical poetry is the only way I can describe how TesseracT use everything in their toolkit, and more, to drive the movement home. I’m plain frightened now.
Finishing off the album with the Of Energy movement, the band burst through all the barriers, again, with Singularity. I am spiritually raw at this point, ready to feel anything, and they deliver masterfully. Opening with a brutal cluster of riffs, they build the energy levels to a breaking point then hold them there with a tensely subdued section that slowly builds and builds with intensity. This section is the perfect bridging of all they bring to the table. The atmospheric and proggy elements are slowly layered bit by bit, note by note, with the hard metal elements, to a culmination that leaves one finished, but we are only halfway through the song. They then take it up more, bring it down, take it up again, drive it sideways and park the fucking thing square in my soul. Bastards. I’d run in fear but I can’t.
There are many levels of musical brilliance; instrumentalist that are so talented that they leave the masses of wannabes in their wake, vocalist that vibrate the core of your soul, lyricist that tell your story. The brilliance of TesseracT is not only that they were able to expand out of the box they created, bursting forth to create a sound pretty much unheard of, but also to be in complete control of the listener in the process. Almost everyone I’ve talked to about this album says how it owns them, that they can’t stop listening, that it grows and deepens with each listen. The music on my disc may be a static collection of ones and zeroes, so the growth and change must be happening in me. Well done guys.