There comes a time in the life of a reviewer where he finds himself faced with a unique conundrum: reviewing an album by a band that means something to him. Such is the case with this reviewer and TesseracT. Both previous albums hold special places in his heart. The first, One, a trend setting masterpiece, was one of the albums that ushered him into the world of modern metal. The second, Altered State, came at a time in his life where he was distraught and alone. It was a voice in the darkness. And so, what is this feckless reviewer to do? How to objectively review such an expected release as TesseracT’s long awaited Polaris? There is no choice; the review must be split into two. On one hand, stands his opinion as a long time listener and fan of the band; that part adores it. But on the other stands his analysis as a music reviewer; that part is underwhelmed. Polaris then is an enigma: an album that is both enjoyable and lacking at the same time.
First then, stands the part of the fan, the faithful listener. For this man’s ears, Polaris is a joy: it seems to blend elements from the two previous albums into one, synergistic whole. On the one hand, the prominent role of the guitars has been preserved. Acle’s mix is as flawless as ever and the guitar tone on this album is the closest one can get to perfection. On the other, the more intricate bass ideas of Altered State have been implemented, leaving that instrument more than just a back-bone to the guitars, as it was for most of One.
But more importantly than either one of those stands a single fact: Daniel Tompkins is back. And boy, is he back. The approach as far as production goes to his voice has changed a bit, adding even more depth to his phenomenal singing. It seems as if an emphasis on warmth has replaced the aggression of past releases; Dan’s voice has matured beautifully and now contains a richness which is unequaled. This department is also where the most innovation has taken place. While tracks like “Hexes” or “Utopia” use his voice in the classic TesseracT fashion, others vary it wildly. A near-rap passage, the highest scream on a TesseracT album yet, and insanely sweet backing roles assure that the vocals on this album represent its main strength.
And therein lies the problem. Now comes the part of the reviewer, of the analysis: nothing much has really changed. More than that, some parts of this album sound like almost exact copies of Altered State and even One at times. The bass line on “Tourniquet”, for example, is a slowed down version of a line taken directly from “Of Energy”, as is the main line on “Utopia”. This in and of itself wouldn’t be a big issue if the entire album didn’t suffer from the exact same problem. Whether it can be attributed to the frequent lineup changes that the band undergoes or an aversion to breaking the comfort zone, Polaris offers up almost exactly the same formula that TesseracT have used in their previous two releases.
So, this reviewer is left torn. On the one hand, an emotional connection is very much present in this album; its contours and forms are familiar and comforting, even pleasurable to the extreme at times. However, we’ve also grown to expect something much more from one of the most promising ensembles in their respective sub-genre. This reviewer, for one, prefers the latter explanation presented above: frequent line-up changes often leave a band gutted, devoid of the energies needed to push forward. Without these energies, they fall back on what they know in order to consolidate their forces. We sincerely hope that Polaris is just that: a consolidation towards a future push, an indrawn breath that will be spent one day on a glorious lunge. We believe, nay we know, that TesseracT have it in them. Until then, these familiar sounds shall serve as our companions.