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 – Palingenesis
08. Of Reality – Calabi-Yau
09. Of Energy – Singularity
10. Of Energy – Embers
[Century Media Records]
Tesseract, one of the leading and defining bands of the djent movement, seem to always be in a position in which they must prove themselves. After moving from bedroom project to making a strong first impression on their debut One, acclaimed frontman Daniel Tompkins left the band. A year later, the polarizing Elliot Coleman parted ways after the band’s acoustic-inspired Perspective EP was released. Now, with the group have wasting no time in picking up Voices from the Fuselage frontman Ashe O’Hara, the band must be feeling some pressure to live up to the standard set by One. In this regard, we’re happy to say that fans can breathe a sigh of relief; Altered State is phenomenal.
It’s safe to say that Altered State capitalizes on everything that made the band stand out as leaders in the scene to begin with while simultaneously taking further steps towards individuality and progress. This isn’t to say that One was by any means immature — it’s a defining masterpiece of a subgenre, by our book. Altered State sees many aspects of the band’s sound further realized in a more cohesive fashion. It is more calculated; more precise. This must be the product of intense deliberation and scrutiny on behalf of the band, as the record is practically spotless in its mountain of detail.
Acle Kahney’s production for instance is much fuller, and despite the band’s obvious reliance on electronics to get by (processed guitars and programmed drums, for instance), Altered State sounds convincingly organic and sincere. The production on One sounds almost thin in comparison to the more lush and full tones featured across Altered State, like a painting come to life. Take for instance the staggered call-and-response metallic riffing on ‘Of Reality – Palingenesis’; the guitar tone is razor wire thin and takes a page out of the Meshuggah playbook, yet it’s given equal weight with Amos Williams’ tastefully punchy basslines that bring a certain liveliness to the music that would have been lost with lesser bassists. Altered State really does sound like a how-to on modern production and achieving a balanced mix.
To call Altered State a djent album wouldn’t necessarily be inaccurate, but it would be a disservice to the band’s craft. Tesseract aren’t preoccupied with being overtly ‘metal’ these days, instead focusing on what is important in the context of songwriting, and for Altered State, this means mostly clean guitar tones and ambiance in a more “traditional” progressive metal context. In fact, the band utilizes saxophone in two separate occasions on the record, which hasn’t been seen by the group since their very early demos. It’s good to see this aspect of the group coming back; it’s almost as if the band are finally becoming what they’ve always wanted to be, and Altered State is this idea approaching full realization.
When things do come down to it though, the guitar duo of Kahney and James Monteith have perfected the art of tasteful progressive metal riffing through evolving point/counterpoint motifs that transform melodies across time and timbre in a single song. For instance, the mind-bending midsection of ‘Of Reality – Eclipse’ introduces a brilliant new idea to the song that is then immediately elaborated on throughout the course of the song to follow. But Altered State is no mere technical marvel, it also has emotional depth. Altered State’s ‘Of Matter’ is perhaps the most emotionally powerful and moving moments thus far in their career, aided by impeccable choice of melody and dynamic play. The three-part suite cycles through a series of haunting movements before bottoming out in minor-key ambiance that builds with intensity before reaching a chilling climax in ‘Of Matter – Resist.’ It’s heartfelt moments such as these that define an album as a classic, and such a strong first act makes a solid case for Altered State.
The largest source of scrutiny when it comes to this new record however is new frontman Ashe O’Hara, the band’s third vocalist in just as many releases. It’s no surprise that the group would eschew the use of harsh vocals in favor of a purely clean approach to singing with O’Hara, and it works out quite well; the screaming isn’t even really missed. Fans of One may miss former frontman Daniel Tompkins, but O’Hara earns his spot as the face of the band outright with the sincere delivery in the aforementioned ‘Of Matter‘ and the album’s leading single ‘Of Mind – Nocturne.’ Whether taking the spotlight and going all-out with his delivery or taking a more reserved and subtle approach while crooning along with the band’s atmospherics, Ashe fits wonderfully to his surroundings. By the time Altered State comes to a close, many may find O’Hara to be the band’s best vocalist yet.
Unfortunately, Altered State doesn’t follow through with the preconceived notion that it would be a single piece of music like ‘Concealing Fate.‘ Many songs do flow into and from surrounding tracks, but there are a handful of songs in the center of the record that start and stop with no nod to the rest of the album. There are no obvious recurring motifs across songs, and anyone hoping for a chorus reprisal a la Concealing Fate‘s ‘Origin‘ will be disappointed. In fact, Altered State ends quite undramatically despite the saxophone solo that closes the show.
Even still, Altered State not only matches the quality of One, but by some standards surpasses it entirely. Hopefully O’Hara sticks around; who knows where this current iteration of the band will take the Tesseract sound once they’ve ended the honeymoon phase that is their first album cycle? If this is what the O’Hara can come up with on relatively short notice for music already written when he joined the ranks, then the next record could be that much more phenomenal. Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves though; Altered State is a big step forward for Tesseract, and will without a doubt be one of 2013’s best records.
Tesseract – Altered State gets…