Progressive music has always been known for its willingness to mess with the conventions of a stable genre and add new features, however small they may be, to create something entirely new. Be it adding extra beats into bars to create the oddest time signatures, making keyboards do solos that rival the abilities of the greatest guitarists or even just fusing two genres together to create some new kind of Franken-prog-monster.
The djent scene takes things to a different place and adds ambience to progressive/math Metal to not only emphasise the heavy moments but also add an almost ghostly, sci-fi quality to the music.
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Bands like Chimp Spanner and Uneven Structure have come out of the woodwork with staggering feats of technicality in their music, but also infuse the guitar acrobatics with futuristic soundscapes, creating something very special indeed, as do our subject band. As one of the early instigators (along with Chimp Spanner), Tesseract pretty much sum up djent as a genre.
One is their debut LP released earlier this year on Century Media. I must say though, for a debut this is a pretty spectacular album.
Opening with a reversing melody line, Lament kicks things off in style. Sounding very mysterious and ethereal, former singer Daniel Tompkins sweetly sings over the top of synths, until the band kick in and things get very heavy indeed. Upgrading from singing to screaming, the song takes on a different feel whatsoever, becoming intense and dark where it was sweet and lilting. The same applies with Nascent, jumping from quiet to LOUD, sometimes even for half a bar, everything changes and nothing is what it seems.
The melodies and harmonies when Tompkins is singing contrast starkly to his screaming/yelling. One thing I did notice as well, when he is screaming, Tompkins is perfectly intelligible, you can hear the words he is saying throughout, which is a good thing for anyone who has ever felt that screaming disconnects them from a song.
The centre point of 'One' is the six part 'Concealing Fate' saga. Initially released as it's own EP, it's a singular 30 minute epic taking in some of the heaviest moments you'll hear on this album. It's within 'Concealing Fate' that guitarists Acle Kahney and James Monteith really get to flex their fingers and treat us to some superb guitar work.
One thing about the djent genre worth pointing out is that the concept of a wild, shredding guitar solo is kind of lost here, there aren't a great many djent bands who entertain guitar solos (at least not that I've heard).
What you get instead is ├╝ber-technical riffing, intricate melody patterns and washing clean lines that add ambience and intensity. Within part one, 'Acceptance', you get a lilting acoustic opener, some really heavy riffing, some less heavy riffing and then near the end, an odd, almost funky section.
Oddly enough though, it never feels or sounds out of place, the changes all manage to complement each other. As the saga moves to part two, Deception, things change a bit, more staccato riffing contrasting against Tompkins' smooth melody line.
'Deception' also happens to contain my favourite riff of the whole album, starting at 3:16. It's hard to describe, but its a fast, almost funky seven string riff that just entirely changes the feel and pace of the song. The songwriting skill behind 'Concealing Fate' is superb, all the tracks blend perfectly into each other, in fact without watching your music player you cannot hear when one track starts and another finishes.
The hypnotic part three, 'The Impossible' blends seamlessly fromDeception, then just takes things up another level, being less about the heaviness than the previous track, it is more melodic throughout it's verses building up to the epic choruses, Tompkins' multilayered vocals atop a multilayered stack of guitars. It's really huge stuff. And then it gets heavy. Kahney and Monteith unleash a monster assault of riffs at the end to lead into part four, 'Perfection'.
'Perfection' blends the best of the previous four tracks into a two and a half minute blast of everything TesseracT are good at. It has the staccato riffing, the epic layers, the huge vocals, the massive drums and walloping bass. It's a good starting point for TesseracT newbies. No sooner have we gotten over that, then the token instrumental comes out to play. Part five, 'Epiphany', goes back to the almost funky riffing of the earlier tracks. A disparate, cold and efficient track, Kahney and Monteith are on fire here offering some superb riffing against high speed slap bass and a wash of cymbals and kick drums from Jay Postones.
Finally, part six, 'Origin' comes into view. Ambience is the name of the game here, with Tompkins' vocals layered on top of primarily clean guitars. There are distorted riffs being played, but they are clearly not the focus as they are buried in the mix underneath cleaner melodies. 'Origin' references back to 'Acceptance' in some of it's lyrics and melodies, tying the whole saga together.
It's quite odd to have such an epic saga in the middle of an album of standalone songs, but somehow it doesn't diminish the rest of the album. The scale and scope of 'Concealing Fate' is matched by the rest of the album and the saga itself works as individual songs, so you don't lose anything by listening to it in disjointed pieces. It's a superb construction and just goes further to show the level of talent on display here.
As we go back to the raft of standalone songs on 'One', the track to follow 'CF', 'Sunrise' takes things in a slightly different direction. There is more experimentation with sound and effects, especially on the guitars and in a rare moment, however brief it is, Tompkins actually sings along with the guitar riffs. Trust me, it doesn't happen anywhere else on the album so it's quite shocking when he does do it. Well, at least to me it is.
'Sunrise' is also a song where you can hear the bass guitar quite easily as it happens to be the quietest song from the rest of the band's standpoint. Amos Williams' clicky bass tone usually gets masked by the huge guitar sound on the rest of the album but you can hear him throughout the latter part of the album.
Normally he tends to follow what the guitars are doing, especially during the particularly heavy sections such as the shouty sections in 'Sunrise', but when things get nice and ambient you can really hear him do his thing and underpin the lead and clean guitar work in the latter section of the song.
Throughout the album, although you can't hear him at times unless you have really good speakers, he is ever present, sat right behind the low tuned guitars, helping to keep things very heavy. He does get his own solo moment at the beginning of April, with a nice funk-inspired riff just before the main vocal comes in.
The real star of the show, though, would have to be Jay Postones' drums. Throughout the album he has to cope with more than any drummer would normally care to. He has to deal with odd time signatures, sudden and unexplained changes in dynamics, light quiet sections and balls to the wall Metal heaviness.
All the while he has to have a level of technicality to match the rest of the music around him. I'm truly amazed at how he manages it. Take the huge, nine minute album closer 'Eden'; Postones manages to balance a deceptively complicated beat under a deceptively complicated guitar riff. The amount he puts into his drums doesn't take anything away from the rest of the band but somehow manages to add to it.
He is mixed in such a way that the kick drum is quite far back (normally in Metal, the kick drum is right at the front of the mix) and the listener's focus is on the cymbals and snare drum. It's almost as if his patterns have been written to keep the listener in time rather than the band. It is truly superb stuff.
Eden is, incidentally, the track the band decided to rerecord and release a video of with new singer Elliot Coleman. There are some major arguments around the internet about who was better, Tompkins or Coleman and I'm not going to review 'Eden 2.0' and get involved with it, what I will say is just listen to it and you will get the idea of where TesseracT have been and where they are headed.
'One' is a unique album. There are so many different influences at play here and the production work is absolutely superb. The songwriting and construction of each piece is amazing it's hard for me to find a criticism for any of it. If you haven't explored the djent or technical Metal scene, it can be a difficult and inaccessible genre to get in to, but TesseracT somehow have brought together an album which can ease you into it gradually.
By the end of the first listen through the whole album I defy you not to like it.