Sound — 7
TesseracT formed in 2007, becoming one of the pioneers of the djent movement. The band started out with guitarist, Acle Kahney, sharing his work on sevenstring.org in or around 2003 along with Misha Mansoor (Periphery) and John Browne (Monuments). Over time, Acle and his peers were perfecting their technique, writing material, bouncing ideas off of each other, and learning homebrew music production. Eventually, Acle had material that he was ready to perform and tour with, and put together a touring lineup in 2007, though Daniel Tompkins - who would perform lead vocals on their debut album - did not join until 2009. Their first album, "One," released in 2011 to critical acclaim in the progressive rock/metal community. Fast forward to 2015, and the band's third album is releasing - "Polaris" - and since their initial release has left the band and returned, and the band has moved labels to Kscope Records. "Polaris" has 9 tracks with a total runtime of approximately 47 minutes. The track "Messenger" was released as the lead single from the album in August.
"Dystopia" is lyrically an intensely interesting track, and it reads like an abstract dream narrative - which fits along with the music very nicely. The track does a good job of using quiet/loud dynamics and I appreciate that the bass is actually audible. The tracks on the album are recorded to run into each other, as the outro of "Dystopia" bleeds over into the intro of "Hexes" - I can definitely appreciate that, being an "album" person, myself, rather than a "song" person. "Hexes" has some very soft and light verses, but with powerful choruses. "Survival" comes pretty close, at times, to being a melodic song. There are some things I really like about "Survival," and some things that get just a tad repetitive. "Tourniquet" is dominated by Daniel's vocals, with a lot of the music on this track acting more as a soundscape for the lyrics to go on top of. That being said, there is some pretty sublime interplay between the guitars and bass near the end of the track. "Utopia" has some cool tidbits going on, being possibly the song on the album with the most groove. At times the rhythm playing on the album gets a little repetitive, but the high points in the album usually make up for it, which is what happens on "Utopia." "Phoenix" is dominated by an arpeggio and Daniel singing sustained falsetto notes, which is fairly engaging, initially. The "chorus" of "Phoenix" has a fairly mainstream type of sound to it, which is new for TesseracT. "Messenger" has a pretty intense intro, with some powerfully "djenty" riffing going on and Daniel doing some cool stuff, vocal-wise. "Cages" has a cool little thing going on with some reverb and delay, really creating more of a soundscape than a traditional song for the first 1/3 or so of the track, and from there it moves into a pretty cool groove with dominant bass and drums. The track builds to a peak slowly over the course of several minutes, and by the end has some of the few screamed vocals on the album. "Seven Names" closes out the album, which it does in large part with a chilled out vibe, with the exception of a fairly intense bit in the middle. The musicianship on the album is extraordinary, though the rhythm playing seems to get just a tad repetitive. I absolutely appreciate that the bass was actual dialed up enough to be audible, which is good because Amos is too talented to not be heard. Jay's drumming is pretty awesome, but it seems like it is over-compressed at times - the dynamics just aren't there.
Lyrics — 8
While I think I prefer Daniel Tompkins to Ashe O'Hara on vocals, I definitely look at the band's last effort with Ashe, "Altered State," as the superior album. I don't think that is in any way Daniel's fault, but I find myself trying to compare him to Ashe - just as I found myself, possibly too often, comparing "Polaris" to "Altered State." Daniel is an extremely talented vocalist, and has the right type of range for TesseracT, providing everything from a falsetto to a good energetic and slightly guttural screamed vocal. The lyrics are extremely interesting on "Polaris," and probably one of my favorite parts of listening to this album has been trying to decipher the meaning behind the lyrics on each track. As a sample of the lyrics, here are some from the opening track, "Dystopia": "Talking in my sleep, cursing through my teeth, sweating in the heat/ Stuck inside this dream of darkening frustration/ Liars in my dream, I'm frightened and I'm weak, there's nothing left for me/ And the visions I endure are simply entertainment/ Dark figures chasing me, I hear the wolf that cries, see them multiply/ You're ablaze behind the eyes; they burn into my memory/ A sudden sense of hope, the virtue of my ghost, you're another ugly host/ And I can't believe that you would just deny everything/ I choose to live free/ It took a second warning then I said goodbye/ With tainted eyes I need to believe/ It took a little longer to sympathize/ And you were hoping I would give in to you." I can't help but really enjoy the lyrics on the album.
Overall Impression — 7
I'm not hating "Polaris," but it definitely has to take a backseat to their previous effort, "Altered State," which for me was the ideal TesseracT album. To be more specific, "Altered State" saw the band really stretching their legs creatively and going beyond their previous work. "Polaris" is the equivalent of playing it safe. I can't say that I dislike the album, but a lot of it is boring. My favorite tracks from the album would have to be "Dystopia," "Utopia," and "Cages." I can still enjoy this album, but when I got through listening to it, I found myself loading up "Altered State" for a listen.