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Few bands have had as big an impact on the modern metal scene as UK djent pioneers TesseracT. Equally, few bands could also survive changing vocalists twice in a career spanning only three albums. However, TesseracT have welcomed back vocalist Dan Tompkins, who appeared on debut record ‘One’, and have taken stock of themselves in order to bring us their highly anticipated third record ‘Polaris’.
The weight of expectation placed upon the band is apparent in the opening number ‘Dystopia.’ It has all the classic markings of a TesseracT song, with its odd-metre rhythms, mind bending grooves courtesy of skinsman Jay Postones and the welcome re-addition of Tompkins’ soaring melodies. However, there is an undercurrent of uncertainty that grips the song, almost as if the band is trying to let go of something. The song does not really go far and stalls in the middle with an ambient yet seemingly pointless interlude.
This ambience continues on ‘Hexes’, but there is more assurance from the get go. A beautiful introduction, with the crooning tones of Tompkins, builds an almost unbearable tension, with the addition of some killer harmonies helping to further build upon the already solid foundation. The song eventually reaches its climax, breaking into a classic TesseracT groove, the vocals serving as more of an atmospherical backdrop to the wall of noise. Towards the end of the track the band pauses to remind us just how heavy they can be, launching into a heavy assault, with Amos Williams’ thundering bass tones providing a pure aural assault.
The dynamic range of the group is apparent throughout ‘Polaris’. ‘Survival’ rises and falls like the ocean, allowing Tompkins room to expand on his abilities as a vocalist in the verse, before turning up the heat in the anthemic chorus. ‘Survival’ showcases the writing abilities of project mastermind Acle Kahney, who displays the rare trait of a metal musician to be able to pull back, both technically and dynamically, in order to serve the purpose of the song.
‘Polaris’ is a record that mixes moments of both beauty and brutality. Amongst all the crushing, odd-metre riffage, ‘Tourniquet’ is a stunningly colourful piece of art, with some of the most soulful singing committed to record this year. However, what TesseracT suffers from is an old case of sameness. Apart from ‘Tourniquet’, the album opener’s funky partner ‘Utopia’ is the only other song that really pushes the boundaries of what this band can do, with multiple feel and time changes, which keeps the listener hooked upon each note. In defence of the band, they are innovators of the prog sounds so widely heard within the metal community today. However, as the record continues, it becomes increasingly hard to distinguish the songs from one another. As individual tracks, they show the incredible talents of a group of technically advanced instrumentalists with one hell of a singer on board, look no further than ‘Phoenix’ for the falsetto note to end all others. As a collective, ‘Polaris’ can seem strangely familiar. Lead single ‘Messenger’ thunders along with all the groove and energy that we can come to expect from TesseracT. However, in the greater scheme of the album, it does not stand out from the rest of the pack as far as variety of sound goes. The same can be said for ‘Cages’ and album closer ‘Seven Names’. While standing their ground as good songs in isolation, they are easily swallowed in the greater scheme of the record. ‘Seven Names’ is worthy of note though, with its haunting introduction building to a glorious zenith. A great song, if listened to by itself.
‘Polaris’ is both an entertaining and a frustrating album. Each song here holds its own. Although, with each song containing far too many similarities to each other, as a broader body of work it is hard to maintain the same level of enthusiasm throughout.
Overall, ‘Polaris’ is a difficult album to review. Each song here is well composed, well produced and well performed. However, as a complete body of work, the album seems to just repeat itself once too often.
9. Seven Names