Reluctant but gracious figureheads for a burgeoning sub-scene that they have already outgrown, TesseracT have exuded the metallic and progressive right stuff from the very start. Yet they will undoubtedly have had a few moments of anxious reflection over the last couple of years.
With a tendency to misplace vocalists that has threatened to reduce their steady forward motion to a calamitous farce of Spinal Tap proportions, these bold sonic adventurers have had to face a considerable amount of dissent and opprobrium from a gradually expanding but predictably obstreperous fan base along the way; their consistently sublime music seemingly overshadowed by self-sabotage. But bowing to the witless twittering of online trolls is no way to run a band and it is TesseracT’s persistence and focus that have seen them through to this point.
With new singer – the band’s fifth at the time of writing – Ashe O’Hara now firmly assimilated into this remarkably well-oiled unit, Altered State is almost certainly the most important album this band will ever make. Somehow it feels even more like a debut album or declamatory statement of intent than their long-awaited debut, One, did on release in 2010.
O’Hara’s voice is plainly a key factor in whether or not TesseracT will recommence their deserved upward trajectory at this point. The band’s previous two incumbents, Dan Tompkins and Elliot Coleman, both exhibited extraordinary vocal gifts and, as a result, much hinges on how the new guy blends in with his musical surroundings and whether or not he is able to stamp his authority on these meticulously crafted new tunes.
In fairness, the emergence of pre-album single Nocturne made it pretty obvious that TesseracT had chosen wisely, not least due to the spine-tingling splendour of the song’s soaring and majestic chorus. Listening to it again, albeit in extended form, within the context of this wonderfully fluid and structurally luxurious 10-piece suite, O’Hara’s elegant tenor tones are very obviously a perfect fit and bring a soulfulness and subtlety that perfectly complements the lissom grooves and skittering urgency of those brilliantly idiosyncratic riffs.
The opening triumvirate of Proxy, Retrospect and Resist combine to form Of Matter, the first of the album’s four mini-symphonies, and offer an irresistible spark-shower of sonic space and ticking time. Less cluttered and more deftly paced than anything on One, these are songs that transcend lazy notions that TesseracT are simply standard bearers for the djent generation, taking the band purposefully and with great guile into a brave new future. As shimmering soundscapes collide with warped space funk and mutant metal intensity, O’Hara’s emotionally potent delivery points to the beating human heart that lurks within what many perceive to be a rigid and mathematically dense way of making music. His melodic precision and rhythmic flow are more than a match for the wild imagination that powers his colleagues’ songwriting but it is his vulnerability and slightly androgynous timbre that seal the deal.
Some diehard fans may bemoan the lack of screaming on Altered State, but its absence makes perfect sense: this is the kind of record that a truly progressive band should aspire to make. Comparisons to Pink Floyd or Tool are unnecessary, of course: TesseracT are as distinctive and daring as any of the prog greats and they certainly revel in their own ingenuity here, but this is a textural evolution as much as a musical one. It is the euphoric expansion of the band’s sound that makes this such a relentlessly joyous and absorbing piece of work.
As they veer from Eclipse’s muscular, lurching riffs to the defiantly minimalist Neu!-tinged shuffle of Palingenesis and on to the sax-driven melancholy of Calabi-Yau, the sound of boundaries being disregarded and traversed becomes thrillingly loud. There is bravery here and great beauty too, not to mention the sound of a rejuvenated band shrieking triumphantly as they claw their way to the top of the prog metal pile amid slew after slew of hapless, formulaic corpses.
The album’s a sumptuous and mesmerising 50-minute journey that belongs firmly in the prog realm while still delivering regular haymakers to appease the metal contingent. Altered State flows beautifully, ablaze with passion and the heartening glow of impossible dreams made real.