Just when I thought 2015 was going to turn out to be a quiet year in terms of quality album releases, a flood of great albums dropped over August and September restoring my faith in the alternative musical genres. With so many great releases it’s easy to overlook some good albums, but there is one which sticks out from the rest and can even lay claim to be one of THE best releases of 2015.
With the return of arguably their quintessential vocalist (incredible to think they have had 3 vocalists in the past 3 years), Polaris sees progressive metal titans TesseracT firing on all cylinders and then some. I can’t say I have been fully on board the TesseracT hype train over the past few years, but after spinning Polaris non-stop since its release I can safely say that I am now stuck on that train and hurtling along at full speed! Tesseract is: Alec Kahney and James Monteith on guitars, Amos Williams on bass, Jay Pastones on drums and Daniel Tompkins on vocals.
Much like their namesake, TesseracT craft incredibly complex and multi-dimensional music. Their previous releases One and Altered State were incredibly dense and required their listeners’ utmost attention, and that there is probably why I never fully boarded the hype train. It’s one thing to write ultra-complex music that can be enjoyed by a select few metal nerds, but it’s another to write complex music that can reach a broad audience and be enjoyed by many. I think with Polaris, TesseracT have finally managed to do that.
RELEASE DATE: 18 September 2015 LABEL: Kscope
Polaris opens with a real banger of a track, “Dystopia”. Many a day has been spent head banging in my car to this track! No long winded intros are to be found here, only a fantastic opening riff filled with thick groovy guitars and absolutely devastating bass tones which hit hard from the beginning. Tompkins soon comes in on vocals and boy does he steal the show! No disrespect to previous singer Ashe O’Hara, but the range of Tompkins is simply something else. Having dropped growled vocals from his repertoire for the most part, Tompkins has really improved his singing over the past few years, gaining experience and different tricks from projects such as Skyharbor and Piano. He has definitely cemented himself at the top as one of the finest vocalists in metal today.
After the truly phenomenal and devastating “Dystopia” we are greeted by the dreamy track “Hexes”. “Hexes” showcases the more ambient aspects of TesseracT’s sound with some wonderfully haunting soundscapes found littered throughout the track. “Hexes” is an epic track, but without dragging on for too long clocking in at just over 5 minutes; one of the great aspects of Polaris is that the tracks never overstay their welcome and this makes for a wonderful listening experience as Polaris is easily listened to in one session. Also noticeable from the very first tracks is the quality of the production, I don’t think you can get a more perfect metal production with ALL the instruments coming to the forefront on this album and the vocals clearly audible throughout each song; one could argue that the bass is a bit high in the mix but that is part of the TesseracT sound and besides, who doesn’t love some loud popping and slapping on the bass?
“Survival” is one of the singles of Polaris and rightly so. The track is catchy as hell and showcases everything TesseracT has to offer; soaring vocals, crushing guitars, groovy bass lines and driving drum beats. “Survival” also represents the shift in sound the band has been taking since One; dare I say that “Survival” is an excellent pop metal song? “Tourniquet” is a wonderful softer track. A dreamy and emotional performance from Tompkins is complemented beautifully with clean reverb infused guitaring from Kahney and Monteith. The track builds to a hard hitting crescendo of groovy bass and syncopated riffing which is a joy to listen to for those who enjoy their instrumentals.
“Utopia” is simply nuts. The time signatures on this track make my head spin every time, and I mean that in the best possible way! “Utopia” showcases the more “cerebral” TesseracT with tons of atmosphere and mathematical riffing which will no doubt please many a music nerd out there. Williams performance on bass is simply jaw dropping at times. His bass playing has become integral to the TesseracT sound and he just seems to be getting better and better with each album. Pastones drum performance is also worth a mention, he never over complicates the drumming and it’s always tight and on point, especially with all the crazy time signatures going on in each track.
If I had to choose one ‘weak’ track off of Polaris, it would be “Phoenix”. I just find myself skipping over it fairly often, it’s definitely an attempt at something poppier like “Survival”, just not executed as well. The next track and first to be released off of Polaris is also one of its best, “Messenger”. The song is short and sweet by TesseracT’s standards, but this warrants repeated listens! The vocals soar with one of the best vocal performances I have ever heard from Tompkins, and the guitars crush with some of the best riffing you will hear all year. TesseracT also manage to fully capture the balance between heaviness and catchiness that they have been going for throughout their careers.
Polaris tapers off with the last two tracks “Cages” and “Seven Names”. The tracks maybe end the album on a bit of a low (I see “Cages” as more of a mid album track) considering the up-beat “Messenger” followed previously, but the tracks are solid nonetheless and the issue is maybe one of track ordering and flow. Of note are the heavier shouts from Tompkins towards the end of “Cages” which are fantastic, I have not heard him do heavy vocals like that for a while and it is still welcome, especially with TesseracT’s heavy instrumentation.
TesseracT are on the brink of something big I think. Polaris sees them striking a perfect balance between complex progressiveness and more accessibility to a larger audience, which is no easy feat to accomplish. Small issues still linger such as the track order being a bit odd, but that’s just knit picking. It’s not as heavy as One, not as progressive as maybe Altered State was, BUT it combines the best of both and is able to stand strongly on its own two feet. TesseracT are one of the pioneers of the whole progressive metal/ djent movement of the past few years, many imitators have come and gone, but TesseracT remain one of the crown jewels of the genre.