Pioneers of history, geography and science get glory, a lifetime’s supply of flags and a chance to stick their name on things.
Pioneers of music get head‑scratching press, late-arriving fan recognition and are then slapped with a genre tag that brands them for life. TesseracT may have to bear the djent label for the rest of their days, but their latest album Polaris dwells in considerably looser, more ambient climes. Tonight their support choices appear to have been made to underline the full extent of this transformation.
Nordic Giants are based in the UK but have been compared to Icelanders Sigur Rós for their kaleidoscopic take on atmospheric post-rock. Live, with their faces obscured by unsettling feathered masks and clad in faux-tribal garb, the duo are far more intimidating. Every track is paired with a custom video, and we’re battered with visuals of eerie animal icons, lunar penitentiaries and a family trip to the lake ruined by a mild outbreak of death (The Last Breath). All the while, the beast-headed band play a theatrical role, from near silence to belting out bursts of stupidly loud skin-hammering and piano crescendos. The audience are appreciative, if somewhat muted, as if watching a video screen family club each other to death isn’t their typical Friday night. The Giants conclude with a graceful bow, arms outstretched and mystery intact.
The Contortionist have previously toured with tech metal whizz kids Periphery, Veil Of Maya and Born Of Osiris, so following our prior emotional bludgeoning, Prog is hopeful they’ll induce the kind of bolshy rapid movement that will stop us questioning whether everything’s going to be all right or not.
The delayed guitar lines of Language I: Intuition bouncing around the curtained walls of the venue provide a good start. It’s tight, heavy American prog, so we’re legally obligated to mention Dream Theater at this point, but there’s a strong hint of Deftones in the band’s dynamic, intelligent approach. Vocalist Michael Lessard initially seems to have all the charisma of a Linux enthusiast, before he unleashes a wild, psychotic growl. Having started loose, they finish tight and brutal, with The Parable guiding us down the path to TesseracT.
Ahead of the headliners, the stage is enveloped by mist. Perhaps it was a youthful addiction to laser tag, but there’s something about ludicrous amounts of dry ice that will never stop being exciting to this writer, and this stage – bathed in cyan and violet blue, as ambient keyboard sounds whirl through the fog – is covered by the rock equivalent of a pea-souper.
Five silhouettes emerge as the soaring synth drops suddenly to make room for Phoenix in a wall of intricately-threaded distortion overlaid with some airy, pitch-bending theatrics from vocalist Daniel Tompkins. The band are, as discussed, still best known for their role as djent colonists, but the Milton Keynes crew have made great strides to detach themselves from such convention, with 2015’s Polaris marking their boldest step yet.
But selling the fans on newer material is, as ever, its own challenge, so TesseracT understandably revert to their past. “We’re gonna play some songs from One now. Is that okay?” asks Tompkins.
With, frankly, inadequate discussion, the audience quickly agree that it is. The complex rhythmic patterns of Concealing Fate, Part 2 – Deception combine with the flashing red and white beam lighting to whip the crowd into new fervour, before the sub-bass and blackness of Concealing Fate, Part 3 – The Impossible kick in. Unable to let the moment just pass, hands thrust into the air and fill phones with video, and another mediocre YouTube contribution goes to die on a server in a Californian valley.
The band span the old and the new with equal aplomb. There’s a sense of dynamism and pacing that, for all their rhythmic machinery, shows a band concerned with connection and craft.
There’s a sense of dynamism and pacing that shows a band concerned with connection and craft.
As we head into the final strait, latest single Survival proves not to be a hard sell for the loyal gathering. As a reward for good behaviour, the assembled are then treated to an electrifying run of Altered State and One tracks, concluding with Concealing Fate, Part 1 – Acceptance.
It’s the last flourish in an accomplished set from a group who are clearly now comfortable with both their past and present. Rock and carefully calculated roll.