With original* vocalist Dan Tompkins rejoining the band for their third full length effort Polaris, the British djent pioneers had to once again prove themselves in a highly saturated and often rigid genre. Polaris debuts two years after the highly impressive Altered State, which saw the band’s fifth vocalist, Ashe O’Hara, transition the band away from heavier vocals and towards a more melodic and atmospheric sound.
From the opening heavy twang of Dystopia to the closing piano moments of Seven Names, Tesseract show their intent to reinvigorate the djent genre by demonstrating their ambition to evolve into a truly progressive band. Hexes represents both of these sides, growing like a movie soundtrack from a sombre vocal-led intro with sustaining bass notes and a great surround of sound, before the hard-hitting djent attack takes over. Seven Names takes this one step further; suppressing djent temptations with post-progressive atmospheres for the most part.
However, there are tracks that just stick very closely to the standard djent sound. Survival is vintage Tesseract with beautiful delayed guitars giving way to bouncing riffs and powerful vocals, whilst the simple structure of Dystopia uses dynamics to create depth within the piece, chopping up bouncing rhythms with soft atmospheres and sparse piano. Messenger also brings the heaviness and the djent passages, cramming riffery, chord stabs and an assortment of vocals into just three and a half minutes; the shortest cut on the record.
Juxtaposing this track is Tourniquet, which takes several minutes to build from its gentle beginnings, blossoming into a truly magical vocal performance from Tompkins; his voice soaring above layered guitars. O’Hara set the standard of melodic vocals very high on Polaris’ predecessor, but Tompkins has managed to surpass this standard, whilst showing off his wide range of vocal styles. The hard-to-define and constantly changing Utopia (the highlight of which is a very inventive, almost-unplugged djent passage) has aggressive nu metal style vocals in its outro as well as a spine-tingling wail half way through, which is also replicated on Phoenix. Tompkins gets to excercise his screamed vocals only once on Polaris; for a couple of lines at the end of Cages, which takes five minutes to evolve from soft atmospheres into its harsh conclusion.
Polaris is a record born out of invention, with almost every track bringing new ideas into the progressive diction of Tesseract’s music, to a point where the heavily djent-focussed songs of their debut, One, sound like a different band altogether. Although Tesseract will still undoubtedly be labelled as ‘djent’, Polaris is evidence of the band’s beginnings as a truly progressive group; able to incorporate the addictive twang and complex rhythms of the djent genre into an ambitious and highly atmospheric structure.
*Dan Tompkins performed on their debut album, but two different vocalists preceded him between 2004 and 2009.
RockAtlantic’s last three album reviews:
- Riverside – Love, Fear and the Time Machine (Post-progressive atmospheres)
- Disturbed – Immortalized (The return of the alt metal giants)
- David Maxim Micic – Ego & Eco (Exhilarating instrumental prog)
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