Progressive metal has taken many different forms over the years. While Dream Theater was mixing 80’s thrash with King Crimson-esque arrangements, Tool was taking sludge metal and adding incredibly intricate rhythm patterns. Nowadays, prog metal isn’t as nuanced as it was in the 90’s, but that hasn’t stopped bands like Britain’s Tesseract from pushing the genre forward. Ten years and six vocalists later, Tesseract release their sophomore studio album, Altered State, a mix of polyrhythmic beats and ephemeral soundscapes that might not set the world on fire, but still demonstrates what the progressive metal genre has up its sleeve.
Altered State is the first full release with new vocalist Ashe O’Hara, who replaced the band’s fifth vocalist, Elliot Coleman, after the band’s previous release, the Perspective EP. O’Hara’s voice isn’t what many have come to expect from a metal band. In stark contrast to the growls of Tommy Giles Rogers of Between the Buried and Me or the psalmic hums of Tool’s Maynard James Keenan, O’Hara’s melodic resonance is more akin to Kyo of Japanese metal band Dir en Grey. It’s not a high wail or a baritone bellow, instead walking the line between ascendant and smooth. O’Hara’s vocal style also distinguishes itself from former Tesseract vocalist Daniel Tompkins (who sang on the first Tesseract studio album, One), where harsher and rougher vocals appeared alongside clean melodies. O’Hara’s voice is a fine specimen that cools the burn that many other prog metal vocalists have prided themselves on.
Altered State offers ten tracks divided into four groups, with each group representing a different stage of change the band has undergone since their beginning. Considering that Tesseract has gone through multiple vocalist changes since their inception in 2003, this theme of change is clearly something of significant value to the band. The theme is one rich with ideas, though Altered State doesn’t do as much with it as expected. A major factor in a successful prog metal outing involves extended demonstrations of musicianship and creativity, and while Tesseract definitely deliver on the former, the creative element starts to wane by the last third of the album. The less successful prog metal albums usually sound pretentious, suffering from a longevity that outstays its welcome by the end. While Tesseract don’t overdo it too much on Altered State, it can be pretty difficult to distinguish one song from another. There are a few solid hooks (such as the Of Mind track “Nocturne”) but Tesseract’s atmospheric resonance is what drives Altered State both into realms of the epic and the slightly over-lasting.
Tesseract’s mastery of atmosphere is especially apparent with some great musicianship that, while not of the highest caliber when compared to bands like Between the Buried and Me, make for some wonderful songs that demonstrate a strong skill with their respective instruments. A healthy mix of rhythm and melody contribute to some memorable prog metal songs as well. Tesseract have taken the route of Messhugah when it comes to rhythm, as they’ve adopted the “djent” rhythmic design coined by Messhugah guitarist Fredrik Thordendal. The djent trappings are especially alive in the Of Energy track “Singularity”, an intricate polyrhythmic composition that takes the Messhugah style and adds a clean, atmospheric polish. The moments of innovation may be brief, but make a lasting impression. The use of a saxophone solo by Chris Barretto during the Of Reality track “Calabi-Yau” is brilliantly reminiscent of a King Crimson jam, just heavier and even more epic. While it would’ve been better to see more of these crazy breaks from tradition, Tesseract have taken solid steps forward for both themselves and the modern prog metal field.
Tesseract’s second studio album may not reach the prog metal stratosphere, but Altered State’s defining element of atmosphere mixed with rhythm is something special for the genre. These UK brainiacs prove their reverence for their predecessors, but ambitiously mix their influences together into a prog metal brew well worth their fanbase. The riffs aren’t the focus here; it’s the vibes produced by the low-tone atmosphere that make Tesseract an exceptional progressive band, but by introducing that “djent” rhythm, it becomes something beyond anything they’ve made before. Tesseract don’t abandon the prog metal traditions of intricate arrangements, but Altered State still keeps those fundamentals close to heart. Tesseract have proven that they want to change the prog metal world, and while their second LP isn’t an earthshattering album, it still is a solid listen that is bound to earn them some serious cred here in the States.
Altered State is streaming in full on the Century Media YouTube Channel HERE.
TESSERACT has released a series of trailers as well. They can be viewed below.
The band’s first trailer release can be view here: http://youtu.be/RIysXnFSEdo
Their second trailer here: http://youtu.be/jxE0SZK5y3A
Their third trailer here:http://youtu.be/z-QmAdI7YDk
Their final trailer here http://youtu.be/7QDQWhusH88