Since vocalist Daniel Tompkins left the band in 2011, Tesseract have had a tough time finding a stable line-up. They eventually settled on frontman Ashe O’Hara just in time for their excellent second album Altered State, but have since shed him and welcomed Tompkins back into the fold. Recent live DVD Odyssey/Scala proved that Tompkins had the chops to sing the material written in his absence, though it’s surprising that this album follows so hot on the heels of that excellent collection.
Opening Polaris, Dystopia is business as usual: technical riffs, atmospheric layers and a mix of stop-start vocals cut with more acrobatic melodic hooks. It segues seamlessly into Hexes, and clearly there’s a desire to make the tracks flow into one. Throughout the record there are melodic themes that tease at familiarity without ever quite devolving to out-and-out repetition, giving a remarkable consistency to the album without it dragging at all. Tourniquet’s polyrhythms, with the guitar dancing around the beat, represent the most intoxicating playing on the record, and the headbanging, mathematical chugs in Hexes are a similar highlight.
Interestingly, the musical concepts and the technical elements aren’t the most notable facets here, nor is this where the band break new ground. Rather, look to the powerful, simple, hook-laden alt-metal of Phoenix, Messenger and the second half of Utopia. (Granted, the latter two boast more technical sections to wrong-foot the listener; the former is a straight-up metal anthem.)
Survival is more evidence of this, as is album closer Seven Names, which continues where Phoenix left off, albeit in a minor key, and builds to the melodic and emotional peak of the album with unashamed, almost post-rock use of cascading dynamics. Maybe this is TesseracT trying to broaden their appeal, or maybe it’s just the continuation of themes felt on their previous records.
The band have talked before about preferring clean vocals and strong melodic hooks, and they dropped harsh vocals/screams between One and Altered State. Given Tompkins’ solo work with White Moth Black Butterfly, he’s well placed to complete this transformation in the band’s vocal style.
If Polaris’ light ever flickers, it’s because there’s no all-out metal assault such as, say, Nocturne from Altered State. While in the overall scheme of things it’s a minor detraction, it’s a shame that the band’s heaviest side is pretty much absent. Nevertheless, Polaris shines bright among their other material. Bold and brilliant, it may well eventually be seen as their best album yet.