Polaris Review

artist: TesseracT date: 09/19/2015 category: compact discs
TesseracT: Polaris
Released: Sep 18, 2015
Genre: Progressive Metal, Experimental Rock, Djent
Label: Kscope
Number Of Tracks: 9
TesseracT's third studio release comes across as a very confident installment to their catalog, coming across as a natural progression of the band's direction. Daniel Tompkins returns on vocals, and this will also be the band's first release on Kscope Records.
 Sound: 7
 Lyrics: 8.5
 Overall Impression: 7
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overall: 7.3
Polaris Featured review by: UG Team, on september 18, 2015
5 of 6 people found this review helpful

Sound: 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. // 7

Lyrics: 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. // 8

Overall Impression: 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. // 7

- Brandon East (c) 2015

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overall: 7.7
Polaris Reviewed by: travislausch, on september 19, 2015
4 of 4 people found this review helpful

Sound: TesseracT's new album "Polaris" dropped on iTunes today, and having been a fan since their "Concealing Fate" EP, I decided to take ten of my hard-earned dollars and buy it.

For people who don't know, TesseracT is a progressive metal band from the UK that draws a lot of influence from bands like Meshuggah, but with almost entirely clean vocals and prominent bass grooves and flighty clean guitar atmospherics. Over the past few years, the band has had a solid core of instrumentalists, but numerous vocalist changes. Since the release of "One," their debut full-length, the band has had such a change of vocalist for every release so far. However, the band has opted to re-recruit vocalist Dan Tompkins, who performed on the "Concealing Fate" EP and "One." On his previous releases with the band, he performed a mix of clean vocals and shouted harsh vocals which, in my opinion (and apologies to anyone who disagrees but I've always found him to sound like this), sound a lot like the work of Linkin Park's Chester Bennington. Now, I like Bennington's vocals, so make of that what you will. But on "Polaris," he's mostly singing clean vocals, with only rare forays into his harsh vocal styles.

The band's usual style also includes huge EP and album-spanning song suites (their previous full-length, "Altered State," consisted of a single composition broken into several tracks). This album, however, lacks such prog escapades and tries to rein in their sound by keeping the songs rather "separate."

Opening track "Dystopia" starts things off with loads of groove and smooth clean vocals from Dan, before launching into a slower ambient bit in the middle. It's pretty much the perfect track to kick off the record and is highly representative of TesseracT's sound. "Hexes" shows the band flexing its melodic muscles with a huge, powerful chorus and huge build-ups in intensity. "Survival" continues the trend from the previous song. "Tourniquet" acts a bit like the band's power ballad, only reaching a peak of intensity after several minutes of ambiance. Of special note is Amos Williams' bass tone, which growls in the nicest possible way on this track. "Utopia" sounds much like a rehash of "Altered State"'s "Singularity," featuring a very similar chord progression and groovy guitar/bass riff. Despite the similarities in sound, this track is a particularly good one on the record. At the end of the song, Dan Tompkins' vocals turn to an almost Faith No More-esque pseudo-rapping sound, which I thought was really cool. "Phoenix" sounds surprisingly upbeat and cheerfully major-key for a TesseracT tune, which would make it perfect for the next single. Dan's vocals soar surprisingly high on the track.

"Messenger" was the first song released to the public on the album, and it has loads of groove, with the bass, guitars, and drums locking into a hypnotic 12/8 pattern that refuses to leave your head. "Cages" takes a couple of minutes to kick in, very slowly crescendoing from a whisper to a (literal) shout by the end, showcasing the only section of the album where Dan's vocals get harsh. "Seven Names" features some epic-sounding piano, and features the very epic section that TesseracT used to promote the album before the release of "Messenger." However, the way they edited that part for the promo video was actually better than how the parts on the album mesh, and I think I would have prefered it if the softer section immediately transitioned into the heavy section, without jamming a few more lines of verse in between. It's still an epic closing track. Closing the album out is a couple minutes of ambient guitar sounds and piano fading out.

Production is as tight as it's ever been with TesseracT, with the bass being mixed rather high, so we can hear the sweet sounds coming from Amos' fingers. The guitarists of this band could certainly never be faulted with wanky shred-fests, and there are hardly any guitar-god moments on this record, but they certainly do their part on this record. Dan's vocals don't sound as "Bennington-esque" this time around, and he really hits some high notes on some tracks. // 7

Lyrics: I've never been good at judging a band for its lyrics. Fact is, Dan Tompkins is a very capable lyricist who doesn't so much write stories, but instead writes tapestries of emotional states. This album doesn't seem to have a concept like "Concealing Fate" or "Altered State," but many of the lyrics deal with love, doubt, introspection... all that jazz. For a band like TesseracT, it's not so much about the lyrics themselves as their delivery, and if this band has one thing to its credit, it's a singer who can punch you in the gut with one word. His voice is powerful, soaring, emotional, but not overwrought. He can go from a whisper to a growl, croon softly or belt out. He may be one of my favourite modern metal singers at the moment, and he has two of the finest ears for melodies in the industry. // 9

Overall Impression: If I have to go into overall impressions, this is where I get to be really honest about the record. The problem with this album, despite strong performances from all of the members, is that it's inevitably going to be compared to their past works. It's not a concept album like "Altered State," it lacks a song-suite arrangement like "One," and frankly, by now, their sound has been copied by many bands and their evolution as a band has been slow compared to some of their contemporaries. While this album's sound, production, and skill are above average, I found myself a little underwhelmed on the first few listens. It might not hurt the band to try something a little different on the next go around, they may benefit from some experimentation with their sound.

However, TesseracT's underwhelming is way better than a lot of other bands' good. With such strong performances from all their players, Polaris is still a really good album and was worth my ten dollars. And it's already starting to grow on me, with many of the melodies getting stuck in my head. TesseracT has a hell of a way with crafting catchy, yet epic, melodies. Sure, it's not epic like their last couple records were, and though there aren't a lot of huge differences with their sound, this album is still worth checking out.

Overall, I'd score this album a good solid 7.5/10. It feels like a step back, but only a step back from perfection, which is way more than forgivable for such a great band. Hopefully, Dan Tompkins decides to stick around for at least another release, because his performance on this record really demands attention. // 7

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