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?

Prog - - Contents - Words: Chris Cope Il­lus­tra­tion: Chris Kee­gan

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.

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