Djent. It's a horrible word. An onomatopoeic description of a low tuned, compressed and muted guitar note, it was coined to describe a movement of heavily progressive bands influenced by the mathematic noodlings of Meshuggah. Bands such as Periphery, Fellsilent and the subject of this review, TesseracT are all credited with creating and popularising the sub-genre, allowing for the term to build and represent a whole new 'scene' amongst the youth of the world.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of bands don't like to be known as a djent band and they're all starting to move away from the term and conventions of the genre. With their new album, 'Altered State', TesseracT are making the first tentative steps away from djent into a wider progressive world.
After a turbulent 2012 for the band, consisting of cancelled shows and tours, the departure of Elliot Coleman on vocals and a lull in public interest in djent, the TesseracT boys are back and ready to take the world on again. This time, things are very different.
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'Altered State' takes you on a prog-tastic journey of discovery, telling a rough story of the struggles the band have experienced since formation. The album is separated into four movements; 'Of Matter', 'Of Mind', 'Of Reality' and 'Of Energy'. Each of these movements represents a different transformation the band has experienced in the few years since it's inception. The album is laid out as one continuous piece of music, each track flowing seamlessly in and out of each other. If you don't pay attention when you listen to this album it's very easy to get lost and not notice when a track has changed, which is no bad thing, trust me.
The sound of 'Altered State' is very different to their debut album 'One'. This is partly down to the band's new frontman, Ashe O'Hara. Whereas on 'One', Dan Tompkins blended clean singing with moments of tortured screaming and on 'Perspective' Elliot used his sweet voice and high range to bring a new edge to the acoustic nature of the tracks, Ashe combines the best of both previous singers and adds his own twist to the TesseracT sound. The standout track for me would have to be 'Nocturne', it features the greatest jumps in Ashe's range and also happens to be the catchiest song TesseracT have ever written, certainly the most accessible.
Unlike the earlier TesseracT releases, there are no harsh vocals, at all on this album. Ashe sings everything with a perfect clarity and a wonderful timbre to his voice. He also proves that you don't need to scream to be powerful, his soaring vocals push the soundscape further and further into your mind whenever he lets loose and really belts out a line.
Musically, the band have started to shift slightly away from the djent tropes while maintaining their signature sound. The guitars in particular have been slightly reworked, the tone much more focussed and compressed, but slightly lower in the mix to allow the ambient instruments to wash over the sound scape. For example, 'Exile' has sections which clean, chiming chords and lead lines which are accented by distorted rhythm guitars. Most bands would use a clean line to emphasise a distorted rhythm or riff whereas TesseracT use the distortion to emphasise the clean lines. It's wonderfully subversive and adds a delightfully epic edge to the whole album.
In particular, it is worth mentioning that Acle Kahney and James Monteith have to be two of the most underrated and underexposed modern metal guitarists. Their skills in performance and composition on this album are phenomenal. In particular, they know when to be quiet and clean things up rather than just rocking out entirely. They can go ambient and intense (such as when they're backing up the amazing sax solo in 'Calabi-Yau') and then just as easily go groovy as fuck with the likes of 'Singularity'. Any guitarist worth his salt should pay attention to how Acle and James play on this album. Eyes will be opened.
Bassists, as well, have plenty to listen for in Amos Williams' playing. Because of the ambient nature of some of the tracks and the intensely compressed guitars, you can hear the bass pretty consistently through the whole album. Amos can chug away with the best of them, rumbling along with Acle and James' intricate riffery, but it's when things get quiet that he really gets to show his stuff. In 'Resist', the guitars are more ambient, but Amos is there, sitting right behind Ashe's vocals, quietly building until the track kicks off proper and he gets to thunder away, driving the track along. But then, moving into 'Nocturne', he gets to slap that low string and deliver some very chunky riffing throughout the verses and chorus. It's nice to be able to hear a bass player in a band of this stature doing things a little bit differently.
When it comes to TesseracT, I've always felt for Jamie Postones. As the drummer, he has the hardest job in the band of making sure all of the polyrhythmic riffing stays in time. This album very rarely strays into 4/4 time, there is always an odd meter or a strange rhythm to be played. In particular, one of my favourite tracks to listen to for the drumming is 'Eclipse'. It has a lumbering rhythm that you expect to fall over into a 4/4 beat at any time, but it never does. Jamie's skill is that he can play these unnervingly complex beats and rhythms without overselling them with huge amounts of fills or flashy work, he plays effortless and deceptively simple patterns so as not to distract from the music or the vocals. The temptation with progressive drummers is to be flashy for the sake of it, which is a trap that Jamie doesn't fall into.
A special mention has to be made towards the production of 'Altered State'. Produced by Acle and Amos, it sounds utterly superb. The whole album is wallopingly epic, full of gorgeous soundscapes that evoke so many different thoughts and images in my head it's impossible to know where to start. The album is flawlessly put together and mixed professionally, no single instrument gets precedent over another. Even Ashe's vocals get pushed back when it's necessary. It's a master class in how to make a gorgeous sounding album.
I have to admit, I was worried for TesseracT. I thought after the 2012 they had that there may not be a recovery and the band would implode like so many others have in the past. Fortunately, they managed to get their shit together and have put out a near perfect album to show the world that they are still relevant.
TesseracT may have had a hand in creating djent, but they're no longer a djent band. This is pure, unadulterated prog metal. It's grand, it's complex, it's beautiful and in my humble opinion, it's not to be missed.