Polaris – TesseracT
In astronomy Polaris is the northern pole star. Traditionally it was used by sailors as a guide as it remained relatively stationary in the sky while other stars seemed to rotate around it. So, symbolically it is the way forward, to the future. The point in your life you’ve always dreamed of reaching – the pinnacle. TesseracT echo these themes with their latest release of the same name. This album has definitely had some amount of hype amongst music communities, mainly because this record is the first to feature the return of original vocalist Dan Tompkins who left the band after the release of their debut album One in 2011. Now that he is back, many fans including myself are intrigued to find out what he has contributed to Polaris.
A positive note to begin on is the impact Dan’s voice has on the overall sound of the music. Dan’s voice just seeps emotion and familiarity. While not subscribing to the ‘who-can-be-most-unorthodox-singer-in-metal’ tag, his voice is definitely a highlight of the album for me and for TesseracT in general. It blends so beautifully with the ambience and the atmosphere and really delivers a sentiment-drenched performance.
To those who have proclaimed the criticism that Dan’s voice lacks the variety needed to be merit-worthy or interesting, I agree and disagree. There is some truly outstanding vocal moments on this album, namely the sudden Mike Patton-esque rapping section at the end of Utopia that nails the buildup of the song, and the crunching gutturals at the end of Cages. However I have to espouse the claim that there simply isn’t enough of these moments in the album, not that I would love to see TesseracT progress into a djenty Faith No More cover band or another growling Meshuggah rip-off, but just a few more of these moments could see TesseracT hitting their peak of vocal progression.
As well as a great vocal style, Dan also provides some thought provoking lyrics to match. In particular we have the track Hexes that deals with dwelling on history, whether that be as an individual or as a group or a nation. I’m certain this one will vibe with the adolescent fans of the band as it boldly flashes the claim ‘history hexes us’. Messenger also discusses some interesting subject matter as it flaunts lyrics such as ‘apathetic, interaction/another distraction/a lack of compassion’. Dan discusses this in a short video on the band’s YouTube channel: “you look at how easy it is to ingest what we’re told through the mainstream media and the tone of how that’s delivered and how that can lead us to feel quite apathetic with a lack of compassion and empathy towards quite serious world affairs and you ask yourself ‘why is that?’
TesseracT have always been known for a more spaced out, atmospheric style of metal that focuses more on crescendos of instrumentation and layers of ambience while also keeping up a tasty chugging groove that comes from their djent forefathers, bands such as Meshuggah and SikTh. This sound is definitely apparent in this new release, however it seems to be constantly changing with each new album.
While it could be said to be a negative thing that TesseracT seem to be focusing less and less on grooves and heaviness as this was one of the things they were known for in the past, at the same time they seem to be introducing more nuances to their sound. Melody is an aspect that seems to have progressed nicely from their last two albums, in particular we have tracks like Survival and Tourniquet that have a great focus on this. You can see why the band released Survival as a single because its melodic hook is so catchy and pleasant to hear, and Tourniquet is just a rollercoaster of emotions that ends with a tasteful bassline from Amos Williams.
Simultaneously, the craving for groovy, chunky metallisms is quite strong and this album really doesn’t provide in this department sadly. I would expect the guitars to be more interesting on a progressive metal album, but this album’s guitars are annoyingly bland. Some might argue that this is in order to contribute more to the atmosphere, but I actually think the bass guitar takes more of the spotlight on most of the songs. There are no moments on Polaris anywhere near to the thumping guitar moments on the band’s last album, Altered State. Simply nothing compares to the riffing and off-time twangs of a song like Nocturne from Altered State.
Among other things that TesseracT have seemed to have developed through their time as a band is their build up passages. Now while these were definitely not absent in past albums (think of the Of Matter suite on Altered State), they seem to have taken a different step on this album. I have to devote a significant portion of this review to the monumental track Seven Names, the concluding track of this story, and boy is it a stunning finale. Like a lot of the tracks, the song has such a soft and delicate beginning that really seems to elevate the listener to another level and give you space to think. The zenith is teased to us a couple of times before… BAM… a rhapsody of explosive emotion is released with the tragic lyrical tagline, ‘Why won’t you forgive me?/I was so alone, soaking to the bone/How could you forgive me?/Was I pitiful, unforgivable?’ The beauty of it all just seems to get to you a little bit as the song winds down and the touching piano notes close the piece.
There is part of me that wishes that the album could go on for longer with more drawn out, tasteful ambient sections and maybe a couple of solos thrown in. In general that is what I think this album lacks in most of its songs with a relatively short run time of only 46 minutes. If anything, Polaris certainly leaves me intrigued. It leaves me wondering where the band could go next. While not a perfect release, Polaris could very well serve as a stepping stone for better, more progressive and thoughtful music to come from TesseracT, and hopefully not another change of vocalist.
In February, TesseracT commence on their UK portion of their world tour with support from The Contortionist. The dates are as follows:
Wed February 03 2016 – BRISTOL Thekla
Thu February 04 2016 – BIRMINGHAM THE LIBRARY at THE INSTITUTE
Fri February 05 2016 – MANCHESTER Academy 2
Sat February 06 2016 – GLASGOW Garage
Sun February 07 2016 – LEEDS Stylus
Tue February 09 2016 – NOTTINGHAM Rescue Rooms
Wed February 10 2016 – OXFORD O2 Academy2 Oxford
Thu February 11 2016 – PORTSMOUTH Wedgewood Rooms
Fri February 12 2016 – LONDON KOKO