Another release, another vocalist; This seems to have become the TesseracT’s mantra in the six years of its existence. Altered State, the band’s second full-length release, finds the band fronted by no less than its fourth vocalist. However, despite the chaos and uncertainty that has seemingly plagued the band’s lineup, there is method to the madness. TesseracT’s succession of vocalists has defined the evolution of the band’s sound. From the predominantly harsh stylings of original vocalist Abisola Obasanya on their early recordings, through the primarily clean singing and reduced harshness in Daniel Tompkins’ delivery on debut LP One, to current vocalist Ashe O’Hara’s exclusively clean singing, TesseracT has progressively moved away from the sonic aggressiveness of Meshuggah, which spawned the Djent scene, as well as the majority of their peers who remain closer to their “-core” roots.
TesseracT has always favoured subtlety over naked aggression. Their signature sound includes ambient, spacey passages played on clean guitars dripping with delay and reverb, punctuated ever so often by djent-y sections focusing on mid-tempo grooves rather than abrasive thrashing. Altered State features little of the instrumental wankery that is synonymous with progressive metal. There are no jaw-dropping guitar solos or drum fills here. However, the band plays as an ensemble to create dense polyrhythmic grooves that take several listens to fully unravel.
Floating above the alternately ambient and grooving instrumentals are O’Hara’s vocals. O’Hara stays above the music the entire time, with his vocal lines soaring above the music in a manner reminiscent of Dan Tompkins’ most “angelic” – for lack of a better adjective – moments. When his vocals are bolstered by overlaid harmonies and oodles of reverb, O’Hara is a dead ringer for Tompkins. The combined effect of O’Hara’s soaring voice and the band’s groove-laden instrumentation is to provide a serene kind of heavy metal. There is a conventional kind of musical prettiness and melodicism even during the heaviest parts of Altered State.
Everything one needs to know about TesseracT can be learned from album opener Proxy. While TesseracT has a unique sound that’s almost immediately identifiable, there is little to no variation in the sound. The album flows seamlessly from quiet sections to groove sections with the division between songs appearing to be almost arbitrary, and far too few moments on the album really stand out as memorable. Among them are the teetering-on-the-edge-of-chaos intro to Palingenesis, the riffs on Exile, and the unexpected saxophone solos on Calabi-Yau and Embers. Exile in particular serves to highlight what’s wrong with the album. The riffing on the song is not particularly complex or even original, but the riffing on all the other songs is so uniform that Exile is thrown into sharp relief and grabs your attention. Palingenesis serves as the pinnacle of what TesseracT can achieve with their complex polyrhythmic grooves, while Calabi-Yau and Embers’ saxophone solos – the former ripping and the latter smooth and mellow – are just the sort of variations and experimentation that the album desperately needs but has so little of.
Exacerbating the general homogeneity of the music is O’Hara’s vocal lines, which are melodic without having any real melody. This is not to say that O’Hara doesn’t have an aesthetically pleasing voice, because he does. However, very little that he sings, with the possible exception of parts of Nocturne, is particularly memorable or hook-laden. It is possible that TesseracT’s intention was to use O’Hara’s voice as another instrument to create their special kind of ambience with, but it backfires by failing to give the songs on the album real identities, and they mostly end up being faceless jams.
Ultimately, the album is not a disaster in any sense of the word. It’s not even a bad album. But, it almost completely fails to distinguish itself at any point and ends up being rather underwhelmingly average. Altered State will no doubt please a great many TesseracT fans who will ‘get’ its purity of vision. However, a great many people will wonder what the big deal is with the album and inevitably switch to something else less than halfway through. With Altered State, TesseracT has refined its sound to an almost undesirable degree and will have to shake up its formula in order to leave the corner that it has painted itself into.
1. Of Matter – Proxy
2. Of Matter – Retrospect
3. Of Matter – Resist
4. Of Mind – Nocturne
5. Of Mind – Exile
6. Of Reality – Eclipse
7. Of Reality – Palingenesis
8. Of Reality – Calabi-Yau
9. Of Energy – Singularity
10. Of Energy – Embers