Review: Tesseract – Polaris

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.

Tesseract - 'Polaris' image from Wikipedia

Tesseract – ‘Polaris’ image from Wikipedia

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.

Overall: 8/10

*Dan Tompkins performed on their debut album, but two different vocalists preceded him between 2004 and 2009.

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Review: Riverside – Love, Fear & The Time Machine

Love, Fear and the Time Machine (LF&TTM from here onward) is the sixth studio album from Polish progressive rock band Riverside. Since forming in 2001, the Polish band have developed a distinct brand of progressive music by mixing the soft themes of post-progressive rock with traditional hard rock and metal riffs, and have gained popularity through comparisons to British contemporaries Porcupine Tree.

Riverside - 'Love, Fear and the Time Machine' Image from Inside Out Music

Riverside – ‘Love, Fear and the Time Machine’ Image from Inside Out Music

However, LF&TTM makes a significant detour away from this style, by dropping much of the heavier elements, in order to develop an atmospheric sound that fits in more with the Kscope label (Anathema, Steven Wilson, The Pineapple Thief) than their own label, Inside Out (Transatlantic, Neal Morse, Steve Hackett).

Proceedings are kicked off with Lost, which grows from its initial swelling organ intro into a sea of floating keyboards and guitars, setting the musical tone for the record. However the most notable aspect of Lost is its extremely catchy chorus, with vocalist Mariusz Duda wasting no time in making you crave a repeat listen. This trend is continued throughout the record, with the most infectious hook occurring in the suitably titled #Addicted, which discusses social media’s affect on society within an immensely enjoyable alternative rock format.

This alternative rock feel is replicated in Under the Pillow, which opens with several clean guitar verses before developing into a more progressive style with plenty of guitar licks and organ chirps, in addition to an instrumental closing passage.

Despite being an atmospheric record, there are still plenty of progressive moments to delve into. Caterpillar and the Barbed Wire takes it time to grow into a butterfly, but is incredibly rewarding after repeat listens; its minute details blossoming into life. At the heart of the record is the most traditionally-progressive track, Saturate Me, with its snaking guitar riffs, circling keyboards, contrasting light and dark passages and vocals that don’t appear until beyond the two minute mark.The final progressive piece on the album, Towards the Blue Horizon, has humble acoustic and piano beginnings, but explodes into hard rock riffs and bleak atmospheres before its eight minute run time elapses.

LF&TTM also explores the softer side of Riverside, not just through its atmospheric nature, but within three clean/acoustic-led numbers. Time Travellers is the most effective of the three, with its gorgeously infectious chorus and stripped-back sound. It is accompanied by Found; a dreamy track that floats through rich atmosphere and gentle piano melodies, and the three minute Afloat, which reminds heavily of Anathema due to the gentle acoustic riffs and angelic vocals that combine to create an overwhelming sense of melancholy.

However, it is Steven Wilson that this record has more similarities to. Discard Your Fear could easily be from Porcupine Tree’s Fear of a Blank Planet record, with its dark atmospheres, prominent bass-line and unique keyboard sound. Meanwhile the guitar riff at the five minute mark from Towards the Blue Horizon comes too close to sounding like a background moment from Porcupine Tree’s Halo and the guitar arpeggio introduction to Found briefly flirts with Steven Wilson’s Harmony Korine. This being said, these moments are a genuine result of Riverside’s post-progressive song writing, rather than an actual attempt to plagiarise.

LF&TTM is a solid first attempt at breaking into the increasingly popular post-progressive/atmospheric genre. However, Riverside have not abandoned their hard rock sound completely and by leaving some of these influences in, they have created a very unique album that blends many different aspects of progressive music together, covering everything from the gentle guitar tones of David Gilmour, to the oppressive atmospheres of Opeth. Whilst this change in direction won’t please everyone, no can deny that Riverside have both the songwriting and the technical ability to pull off such an ambitious album.

Overall: 8/10

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IMPORTANT NEWS: Posts may become less frequent from now on as I venture out into the real world of work from being a student – I will endeavour to post when I can! Thank you for reading!

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James