First, Listen: Tesseract, the fourth-dimensional prog pioneers

By James Burcky

Photo via Kscope

Spearheading the new wave of modern progressive music, Tesseract gears up for their new album, “Sonder,” to be released soon. Here’s everything you’ll need to know about their previous works to get excited about this upcoming album.

 

“One” (2011)

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Photo via Century Media

As a debut album, “One” is strong. However, it does have the typical pitfalls of a debut album, raw and slightly disjointed. It starts out very strong with the song “Lament,” a track seemingly about having to deal endlessly with an internal struggle. Then moving to “Nascent,” which exemplifies the raw and disjointed feeling a margin more. After this comes the half-hour long song “Concealing Fate.” It’s split into six different tracks, each taking on a different sonic feel, with the same heavy atmospheric progressive style that Tesseract has since made their own. However, lyrically, finding comparisons from track to track is difficult. It seems like “Concealing Fate,” as a whole, could be about an internal struggle or a failed past relationship. The odd choice of song titles does not help this either. This is what I mean by disjointed. Then comes the song “Sunrise.” This is by far the heaviest and most raw song from this record. They wear their influence of the progressive metal band Meshuggah heavily on this song. Finally, the album finishes strong with “April” and my personal favorite from this record, “Eden.” These are almost completely detached from the internal struggle vibe plaguing the entire beginning of the album. It feels like abreath of fresh air, and I think it helps bring the album to a strong close.

Overall score: 7/10

 

 

“Perspective” (2012)

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Photo via Century Media

Next on the Tesseract timeline comes their EP “Perspective.” Mainly made of acoustic versions of songs from “One,” it’s seemingly far more focused and has more direction. After the departure of lead singer Dan Tompkins from “One,” Elliot Coleman brings a far more refined and cohesive vocal style to the band. This ultimately meshes very well with the group’s musical direction on this release. The first three tracks are just acoustic versions of “Perfection,” “April,” and “Origin” from their previous record. Where the original versions of these songs were very raw and disjointed, these are far better in every way. Next comes “Dream Brother,” a Jeff Buckley cover, which, personally, I find better than the original. Finally, coming to “Eden 2.0.” This is sort of a classic Arundel redo policy for “Eden” from “One.” It was already their strongest song from their previous effort, but keeping the same theme as the other four songs, they made it even better. No wonder they named the EP “Perspective.” It gives a new perspective on each of these songs that I believe to be better than the originals. I just wish it wasn’t only five songs.

Overall score: 8.5/10

 

 

“Altered State” (2013)

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Photo via Century Media

I’m not positive words can describe just how much I love this album. This is one of my top five favorite albums of all time. It is the perfect mixture of progressive and aggressive. Tesseract took the sound where they were headed with “Perspective,” and took off like a spaceship. The sound is no longer raw or disjointed whatsoever. It’s very focused and concise. This also applies for the lyrics, too. Being a concept album about change, it’s split into four songs, all about different kinds of change: “Of Matter,” “Of Mind,” “Of Reality,” and “Of Energy.” Each is supposed to be an altered state of that things (I think it’s pretty clever). “Of Matter,” being my favorite song by Tesseract, takes on the physical and noticeable changes that one goes through throughout their life. “Of Mind” takes on the mental changes that only you perceive when going through times of severe personal conflict. “Of Reality” deals with life and the universe’s changes that go unnoticed. “Of Energy,” the last song, deals with change on a massive scale that is inevitable. The vocal style is even more refined than in “Perspective.” This time, frontman Ashe O’Hara is featured. It’s a shame that this is his only release with the band. His high-pitched, operatic, clean, smooth voice perfectly compliments the band’s continuing journey into more cohesive songwriting and guitar tones. Distancing themselves more and more from their influence Meshuggah, this album made Tesseract a pioneer of the new wave of progressive metal. The track “Of Reality – Calabi-Yau” even has a burning saxophone solo, and then the final track “Of Energy – Embers,” brings the saxophone back for a calm and contemplative album closing. What makes this album truly amazing to me, is that despite very narrow time and budget constraints, Tesseract was able to develop such a masterpiece as this.

Overall score: 10/10

 

 

“Polaris” (2015)

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Photo via Kscope

Just as focused and concise as “Altered State” and just as raw as “One,” “Polaris” takes the band in a different direction than I expected them to have gone. This time with Dan Tompkins back at the helm as their lead singer, his vocal style has developed and matured beautifully in his time away. As much as I loved O’Hara and Coleman’s contributions, Tompkins’ voice is seemingly made for Tesseract. The less harsh vocals than his previous release with the group shows his maturity, and just like the rest of the music shows that he knows the perfect time to whip that vocal technique out. The first two songs, “Dystopia” and “Hexes,” play into each other as one, which is typical of Tesseract and any prog band, and is something I love. Next comes “Survival,” a far more poppier sounding song about dealing with life away from loved ones while out on the road. Then “Tourniquet,” which is my low point on the album. It is by no means a bad song, it’s just a large margin calmer and flatter than the rest of the album. Then is “Utopia,” my favorite song from this release and one of the most hard-hitting. By the time “Phoenix” comes along, I kind of get bogged down with listening to similar songs over and over. However, I overlook it and make it to “Messenger,” which is hands down the heaviest and most aggressive song from this release. In other words, it was well worth the one long wait. The last two tracks, “Cages” and “Seven Names,” for me at least, kind of blend together–not in a good way. They are individually great songs, and are for all intents and purposes ballads, and fixes what “Tourniquet” did wrong, but having them one after another, right at the end of the album, doesn’t quite make great sense to me. For me, this is far better than “One,” but like most things, does not come close to “Altered State.”

Overall score: 9/10

 

 

“Errai” (2016)

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Photo via Kscope

“Errai” is to “Polaris” as “Perspective” is to “One.” This release is supposed to be a fresh and new take on the tracks “Survival,” “Cages,” “Tourniquet,” and “Seven Names.” What’s different from the acoustic direction on “Perspective,” is that this was an effort from singer and live audio engineer to reconstruct the songs based around the vocals. While this is in-theory a good idea, it simply wasn’t executed well. Tesseract normally writes vocals and melodies based around the instruments, and that style of songwriting fits their sound, and my taste, very well. Having seen what they could do with reimagined versions of songs, like on “Perspective,” this release is a disappointment to me. However, still better than most music being made today, but in the scope of what Tesseract is capable of creating, it’s very weak.

Overall score: 5.5/10

 

 

“Sonder” (2018)

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Photo via Kscope

Being released on April 20 of this year, three very promising songs have already been released ahead of time from this record. These are“Luminary,” my personal favorite of the three, “King,” which I wildly underestimated, and “Smile,” which I found very underwhelming. As with most people, I am very eager to hear new music by one of my favorite bands, but I’m wary because of their last release, “Errai.” It was bad, but since “Sonder” will be a full-length album, I have very high hopes for it. So, I very eagerly await its arrival.

 

 

Overall Opinion

I love Tesseract. They are one of my favorite bands, not only because they simply just make good music, but because the progression in their sound from release to release, with one exception, has very much delighted me. Their sound is the perfect balance of progressive and aggressive. I mainly listen to metal and, in more recent years, jazz, so I very much appreciate how Tesseract has been able to meld technical skill and difficult musical ideas with a more raw and hardcore sound. For myself, I rank them among my other favorite bands, August Burns Red, Tool, Protest the Hero, and Led Zeppelin. Each of these four bands are able to make emotional and aggressively ear-catching music, while continuing to push musical technique within their genre. If I had to sum up my thoughts on Tesseract into three words, it would have to be this: down right amazing.

Following soon will be a review of “Sonder” and a review of their concert on Saturday, April 21, at Soundstage in Baltimore, MD.