Monday, May 20, 2013

Tesseract - Altered State

While it seemed, for a period of time, that Tesseract's lead singer position was a near weekly revolving door (or dare I say in a continuously altered state?), the band always seemed to roll with the punches and maintained the accessible djentiness that was always at the heart of their sound.  With Ashe O'Hara now at the helm of the vocals department, Tesseract continues to deliver on this promise and has churned out what is certainly their finest full-length work to date, Altered State.

Altered State is ultimately a big step forward for Tesseract mainly due to the maturation of their sound.  It's apparent from the opening track, "Of Matter - Proxy," that the overall aesthetic of the Tesseract of old has remained intact while other subtle experimentations are harnessed to show that the band is ready and willing to move forward in an altered state of transition (what do you think the over/under is on me making altered state puns in this review?).  The first audible innovation comes in the form of rolling guitar lines that sound less like guitar and more like sounds that are shaping an electronic/ethereal soundscape.  These lines are by no means overdone and serve to provide a motif that resonates with the duration of the album.  Because of this stylistic change, Tesseract is not able to rest their laurels quite as heavily on their djent breakdowns.  When these djent rhythms do occur on Altered State, however, they carry much more weight and power: my favorite track off the album, "Of Mind - Nocturne," comes to mind when describing this.

While these new improvements are all fine and dandy, Altered State's greatest strength is the fluidity of the album as a whole.  I must admit, while listening to the album casually, I was rather hard-pressed to notice the track transitions.  The majority of the album's tracklist is seamless.  The transition between "Of Matter - Retrospect" and "Of Matter - Resist" is particularly awe-inspiring.  Whether it's through slower/softer guitar passages or clean vocals, many of these transitions are achieved through Tesseract's commendable control over melody.  Djent rhythms can be catchy in and of themselves, but where Tesseract excels is in balancing these rhythms and beats with interlacing melodies. The result is absolutely entrancing.

Even though Altered State has many things to be proud of, it is certainly not without fault.  First and foremost, there is not an ounce of screaming on this album.  While the clean vocals are executed well, a scream or two here and there is what initially hooked me into Tesseract with their debut EP, Concealing Fate.  Without these screams, the vocal department loses a beneficial heaviness that it once knew.  In addition, even though the majority of Tesseract's new stylistic changes fell keenly on my ears, there was one "progressive flare" that lost me.  This particular surprise came in the form of a soloing saxophone that consumes the majority "Of Reality - Calabi - Yau" and ends the album's closing track, "Of Energy - Embers."  While I'm all for band's stepping out of their comfort zone and trying new things, it has to be acknowledged that sometimes missteps happen. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't like saxophones, but its incorporation into Altered State is, for lack of a better term, a head-scratcher.  This first solo is jarring and ultimately comes across as something that's progressive for the sake of being progressive.  Unfortunately, the same can be said for the album's closing.

When it's all said and done, Altered State is an album that sees Tesseract making a big step forward.  While it certainly may have taken some liberties that didn't pay off in the end, that's not to say that this album as a whole followed suit.  While the vocals didn't quite have the heaviness I was hoping for, the stylistic nuances produced by the guitar tones and overall soundscape made up for it and then some.  Fans and newcomers alike should respond favorably to Altered State.  There's still plenty of heaviness through the guitars but these sections are often balanced with melodies in ways that not many bands can pull off as well.  While I'll still maintain that their Concealing Fate EP holds up as their best work, you would be doing yourself a disservice as a fan of music to pass up listening to Altered State.


- Mick


  1. I don't believe you; I know you hate saxophones.