“Remove all expectations,” says TesseracT bassist Amos Williams in his introduction to this streamed concert from the British djent quintet. Portals is billed as a ‘Cinematic Live Experience’ but there’s a little more to it than that. This is no humble stream from a rehearsal studio and it’s not even really live. The concert performance, filmed in Lite Up Studios in Fareham, has been pre-recorded and it’s a very polished affair that’s been through no small amount of post-production. In the Q&A before the broadcast the band talk about using beat replacement software on some snare drum hits that were distorted, so the final result is hardly a warts-and-all experience. Any blemishes have been photoshopped out, leaving a gleaming, flawless complexion.
The performance is intercut with a handful of short film clips that seem to be aiming for a science fiction, 2001 vibe. They don’t fill anything like as much screen time as the story, using that word advisedly, in Metallica Through The Never, which is surely for the best. No one is tuning into Portals for the plot anyway.
There’s one change in the TesseracT line-up. With Jay Postones stuck in Austin, Texas, by the pandemic, Monuments drummer Mike Malyan fills his spot. With six weeks prep, Malyan aces the show, powering through all the odd measures and polyrhythmic passages with plenty of muscle, while his clear acrylic drum kit compliments the set and lighting design. It’s a sparse setting, there are no amps onstage, and all the band members dress in black to match the backdrop. All the colour is provided by the lights and laser show, and different sections of the performance are dominated by particular hues, starting with a chilly blue.
The band opens with Of Matter from 2013’s album Altered State, moving through all three parts in succession, Proxy, Retrospect, and Resist. The album was recorded with vocalist Ashe O’Hara, since departed, but Daniel Tompkins takes full command of the material. He possesses a powerful upper range when he accesses his clear falsetto, but as he proves in King, from 2018’s Sonder, he can flip into an acerbic metalcore scream for the heaviest sections.
The band goes right back to their debut EP to play the first three sections of Concealing Fate, where their djent proclivities are most pronounced. The whole band becomes percussive, with the guitars of Acle Kahney and James Monteith punching out the staccato riffs in tight lockstep with Malyan’s drums and Williams’ bass. The players leave it up to Tompkins to front the band. Williams strikes a pose from time to time, but Kahney and Monteith, in particular, tend to stay rooted in place and it’s slightly odd to see how little eye contact they all make with each other. Everyone seems so focussed on their parts and lost in their own heads, they could pass for a shoegaze band if not for the heaviness. Similarly, while the lyrics are often dark and angsty, it’s slightly disconcerting how no one ever cracks a smile; even when they nail a difficult section or reach for a crescendo TesseracT remain poker-faced at all times.
The middle section of the show draws from the Polaris and Sonder albums. The standouts include Cages, where they ease off from the pummelling djent breakdowns and let the music breathe to make space for a great, expulsive bassline from Williams. Dystopia brings the band back to their most percussive, they’re never going to be funky, but this is as close as they ever get. Phoenix brings in a touch of emo to their djent, principally through Tompkins’ plaintive lyrics and his impassioned delivery.
The streaming gremlins strike during Of Energy – Singularity, and the performance is abruptly cut off. Fortunately, the full concert is made available soon thereafter allowing access to the uninterrupted experience. They close with Of Energy – Embers and Seven Names, the latter another track where Tompkins taps into metalcore and emo as he pleads for forgiveness from some wronged party, wrapping the performance on a characteristically melancholic note.
The cutscenes might not have been particularly illuminating but the quality of the audio and visuals provide testament to TesseracT’s statement that the performance represents their biggest production to date. Musically, the band doesn’t have a great range but what they do they do with absolute conviction. Portals might not be a raw live experience like Live Cream, Yessongs, or Welcome Back My Friends… but it’s a slick and polished record of the djent flagbearers in fullest mettle.