Century Media Records/EMI Music Australia
Reviewed By Michael O'Brien
An ambitious and rather bold musical statement
TesseracT is a band I’ve been meaning to check out for a while now, having first heard of them a number of years ago when their name was often muttered in the same sentence as Meshuggah. I never had the opportunity to check out the band’s debut album, One, which was released back in 2011 however I didn’t have to wait long for its successor, Altered State, to arrive in my inbox. Expectations were high.
Much to my surprise, Altered State showcases a band which is far less Meshuggah-clone than it is evocative of late-era Textures with a decidedly progressive bent to their otherwise impressive rhythmic contortions. Melody, atmosphere, and musical narrative are the band’s primary focus on Altered State and, if it weren’t for the occasional breaks into heavier polyrhythmic territory once in a while, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the band has left the metal world behind which, to be frank, wouldn’t really be that far from the truth at all.
The 10 tracks on offer are broken up into four movements (Of Matter, Of Mind, Of Reality, and Of Energy) with the obvious intent being that the album be consumed as one large body of work rather than as a collection of individual tracks. You’d have to say that the band has done a pretty good job here of fulfilling this goal though the counterpoint to this is that each of the tracks sound pretty similar to each other or, at least are forged using similar tools from the same toolkit, so the consistency between them is neither overly surprising or necessarily as mean a feat as it may initially appear to be. That being said, however, the album’s 50-odd minutes of running time flows by with a pleasing if, at times, indistinct uniformity.
TesseracT has been plagued with a revolving door of sorts of vocalists over the years and Altered State sees the band headed by a new front-man in the form of Ashe O’Hara who brings with him a souring, often majestic and ethereal sounding set of pipes that are as impressive in their cleanliness and range as they are a reminder of the noticeable lack of overall aggression in the album itself. His presence and performance serves as a strong statement that TesseracT have taken themselves into territory even further removed from heavy metal and that they’ve done so without self-doubt or, seemingly, hesitation.
What struck me the most about Altered State is the constant feeling that, in spite of the band’s obviously overt shifting of styles, that there is an element of the old days that is bubbling just beneath the surface that wants to get out but can’t. For all its progressive pomp and richly detailed atmosphere, there is a feeling of tension at the heart of the music that never gets released, even when the band does break out into heavier terrain which leads to a very strange listening experience filled with a lack of resolve and unfulfilled expectation; as though there is another part to the puzzle that could have brought us a more complete picture had it been present in some fashion. This is less a stab at the band’s creative desires than it is a sense that they might have thrown themselves into a brand new creative landscape without fully surveying the landscape beforehand and have hit a few bumps along the way.
Altered State is a bold statement from a band with a huge amount of talent within its ranks but its lack of overall distinctiveness across its lengthy running time definitely hurts its lofty intentions. Had there been a bit more in the way of creatively diverse song-writing or, perhaps, had the album been maybe 10 minutes shorter then Altered State would likely have been a great or possibly even excellent release but, instead, it is good with the added bonus of hinting strongly at what might be to come next time around.