By James Burcky
Photo via Kscope
My long wait has ended.
Since UK boys Tesseract released “Altered State,” their sophomore effort, their music has sort of disappointed me. They released this mammoth masterpiece of a record, and then came “Polaris,” which by no means was bad. It just didn’t float my boat nearly as good as “Altered State.” I gave “Altered State” a perfect 10/10 and “Polaris” a slightly imperfect 9/10; I thought it was still somewhat rough around the edges. Then they released the ear bleeding EP “Errai.” Knowing that Tesseract could have done so much better, it made me weep in the worst way possible. I gave it a sorrowful 5.5/10.
So here I have sat for five years awaiting one of my favorite bands to release a record to rival their best. And oh my sweet lord, that they have. I was starting to worry that “Sonder” would be a disappointment. After the slight dip that was “Polaris,” and then the fall from grace that was “Errai,” I was rightfully worried. But I kept my hopes high and waited patiently for this new record. And boy did it deliver.
It starts out strong with “Luminary.” Right off the bat, I can see the massive jump in quality in vocal performance, from already powerhouse singer Dan Tompkins. Similarly, the massive slap-bass tone from bassist Amos Williams brings tears to my eyes.
Tesseract is back, ladies and gentlemen.
Second on the tracklist is “King.” It has an angry, brooding feel that I love. It imprints on the darker side of Tesseract’s sound, bringing the harsh vocals out sooner than previous releases, but still maintaining the high quality, operatic vocals Tompkins and Tesseract have come to be known for.
Next is “Orbital.” After two very heavy-hitting songs, it’s nice and refreshing to have a break. This valley in the mountains breaks up the pounding grooves that lead guitarist, Alec Kahney, and rhythm guitarist, James Monteith, write. A great breath of fresh air. Now back to the groovy prog grindstone with “Juno.” It flows in from “Orbital,” which is always personally heart-warming for me. Not much to say, other than it’s another heavy hitter and this album continues to get better and better.
“Beneath My Skin / Mirror Image” is the longest song on the album. It’s around 11 minutes and has two very distinct sections, with clear music and lyrical differences. After a slow intro, “Beneath My Skin” picks up into a heavy, groovy, beautifully disorienting turnaround. It then transitions into a typical, run-of-the-mill Tesseract verse, which there aren’t too many of on this record. That’s a good thing—it shows increasing variety in their songwriting compared to past releases.
Then after a drop into a calm valley, we’re introduced to “Mirror Image.” As a trained musician, who purposefully listens to music that’s difficult to follow, this song messes with my perception big time. It moves rhythmically and harmonically in ways I didn’t expect it to. After a bit of calm, it picks up again, but not too much. This keeps the song down to a ballad, showing the dynamic range and massive technical skill of one of my all-time favorite drummers: Jay Postones.
The last heavy hitter on the roster is “Smile.” Along with “Luminary” and “King,” this song was released beforehand as a promotional single. When it was first released, I was not a big fan of it. Even so, being stretched an extra minute and a half has made all the difference. Keeping up to par, this is another grooving, yet heavy song. That’s what Tesseract is good at, and it’s really good to see them play to their strengths so heavily thus far on the record.
The last song, “The Arrow,” is actually pretty underwhelming. Normally, I prefer really big and epic, or calm and contemplative album closers. Tesseract has shown in the past that they can do both, “Eden” from “One” being an example of the former, and “Of Reality – Embers” from “Altered State,” the latter. However, it seems like they tried to tap into the best of both worlds here, and fell flat in doing so. Just like a book, or a movie, an album should end definitively. Whether it goes out with a bang or a whimper, but certainly never something in between, that’s a big no-no. “The Arrow” just feels unfinished, and leaves me wanting more. While not individually a bad song, in the scope of the album, it should’ve been placed elsewhere.
Overall, the long wait was worth it. Each song is delightful and a good listen. Tesseract has written something to rival the titan that is “Altered State” with “Sonder,” and I’m not certain I could be very much happier. The first listen to this record was 36 minutes that I’m very glad to have spent on Tesseract.
Best Tracks: “Luminary,” “King,” “Juno,” “Smile”
Worst Tracks: “Orbital,” “The Arrow”
Overall Score: 9.5/10