THE MUSICAL BOX
The Brit quintet take an obscure sorrow and turn it into a progressive joy. Is this the best, most accessible album yet for the progenitors of djent?
TesseracT is the album of the month, and there are also reviews of A Perfect Circle, Lazuli, Ihsahn, Marillion, Mike Oldfield, Chris Squire, Arena, Colosseum II, Rick Wakeman and more…
TAs TesseracT continue their heady ascent upwards, their experimental roots are not forgotten.
here’s no Oxford English Dictionary definition for the word ‘sonder’, the curious title of TesseracT’s fourth studio album. Instead, you’ve got to flick through graphic maven John Koenig’s wonderfully titled Dictionary Of Obscure Sorrows to discover its meaning, which says the invented term is the “realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own”. There are “elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed”, it adds, “in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk”.
The loaded word appears to be a neat springboard for a cerebral prog concept, and one used by British prog metallers TesseracT as the basis for their latest aural excursion. The quintet have been building their sonic signature since 2011’s debut release One, and on this, their fourth album, their imposing – and original – ideals are now rock-solid.
Sonder has a lot to live up to, though. Released in 2013, the shape-shifting Altered State is perhaps TesseracT’s most glimmering jewel in their increasingly regal crown, while its follow-up Polaris cut back on the mad-eyed, runaway djent attacks in favour of further gleaming melodies.
So where are TesseracT in 2018? The running time is a bit of giveaway, with Sonder extending to a modest 37 minutes. It feels like a statement of intent, but don’t let the compact duration put you off. Sonder’s eight tracks combine to produce the band’s most complete and enveloping record yet.
Lead single Luminary opens, toying with an apocalyptic, barbed riff that dissolves into a dreamy verse/chorus charge. ‘Are you alone, locked inside that prison in your head?’ asks singer Daniel Tompkins in what may refer to the aching solitude some feel, despite living in a world of over seven billion others. ‘You walk through the crowd, lost in the sound, invisible to every passing eye.’
Despite its pendulum riffs and infectious melody, it’s a restrained prelude compared to what’s to come. The following King, at over twice its length, is more of a downtuned, exploratory journey, with a disjointed verse underpinning Tompkins’ vocals to create a wonderfully uneasy aura. Soon, guitarists James Monteith and Acle Kahney drop in a churning, slimy riff that would rumble the foundations of your unsuspecting downstairs neighbour’s place.
That hefty highlight is in stark contrast to Orbital, a two-minute astral musing, but Juno welcomes back the noise, with pointed chord bludgeon giving way to bassist Amos Williams and drummer Jay Postones doubleteaming on deep-seated grooves.
The lyrical themes in Sonder are often weighty and introspective, with the excellent, soaring Beneath My Skin “acknowledging the fact that we have no control over our fate yet discovering the freedom and peace that can be found within”. It’s an apt fit for the erudite music, which, for all its rousing, overt melodic lines, still manages to sidestep being clichéd or trite. It’s a fine balancing act, performed well, although the more subtle Mirror Image threatens to veer into that dangerous territory. ‘I’m half crazy longing for the love of you,’ Tompkins sings, ‘begging on my knees to you, weeping for the honest truth.’
Smile, meanwhile, is a crystallisation of how Sonder encapsulates TesseracT’s many sprawling musical tentacles: intricate tech riffs, melody, abrasion, and Tompkins’ sensitive switch from throaty roar to heavenly croon. There’s outward-thinking exploration and tight songwriting that never jars.
But the best is yet to come as Sonder concludes with the reflective, meditative
The Arrow, post-rock doom-mongering married to ethereal soundscapes as the band ruminate on a unfulfilled life. ‘You wasted so much damned time on it,’ rues Tompkins. ‘You wasted half your damn life.’
TesseracT’s ambition is to be one of the new breed of bands ready to replace Metallica and Iron Maiden in the clutch of big-name headliners when those titans eventually retire. That might be a little pie-in-the-sky just now, but there’s no doubt that TesseracT are one of the UK’s most prized heavy music exports, their future looking rosier with each release.
Most encouragingly for the prog community, with enough twists and turns peppered throughout Sonder (and a binaural CD edition to give a 3D listening experience through headphones), as they continue their heady ascent upwards, it’s clear that their experimental roots will not be forgotten.