Album Review: Sonder - TesseracT
Album: Sonder Genre: Progressive Metal
Release Date: April 20, 2018
Review by Samantha Wolstenholme
Photo: Steve Brown stevebrowncreative.com
Only just over ten years into their career, UK progressive metal titans TesseracT are an unstoppable, ever-expanding force, having established themselves as an archetype of the prog/djent genre with three albums and multiple world tours already under their belt. Through their highly diverse previous releases, the genre-defying five-piece have demonstrated their enormous capacity for stylistic experimentation, characterised by haunting melodies, uneven time signatures and deliciously downtuned guitar riffs. TesseracT’s hotly anticipated fourth studio album “Sonder” is no exception to this. It is a fluid and cohesive piece of work, showcasing the many facets of TesseracT’s quintessential style, though it falls just short of perfection with its very short running time and occasional lack of direction in individual tracks.
Opening track “Luminary” begins at a deceptive crawl, with initially eerie, creeping synths prematurely cutting to bold and brutal swaggering grooves. Daniel Tompkins’ honey sweet vocals soon greet us in an elegant, ethereal line that contrasts so beautifully with the chunky fullness of the guitars and drums, and his passionate belt during the chorus elevates this concise, confident track to new heights (literally). Album single “King” follows, swinging in mercilessly like an anvil with strong, aggressive guitars moving slowly and deliberately as if inching closer and closer towards the abyss. Tompkins’ vocals alternate throughout between distinctly raspy and sweetly sorrowful cleans, and furious, demonic harshes, mirroring the track’s expertly executed ebb and flow. One thing I have always admired about TesseracT is their ability to make the most of gaps in the music, creating and maintaining intensity not just in the sound itself but also the absence of it.
So far there is a raw and mysterious darkness to this album that I have not detected in TesseracT’s previous work. Ethereal instrumental “Orbital” follows on from “King” very nicely, utilising otherworldly synths and gentle vocals to transport the listener beyond the mortal coil, if only just for a moment. The listener is promptly ripped out of their reverie with the sudden arrival of fourth track “Juno”, where the slow and determined guitar march of earlier then gives way to more buoyant and distinctly off-kilter grooves that are signature TesseracT. Props must be given to Amos Williams, Acle Kahney and James Monteith for their continued collective rhythmic versatility, cemented perfectly by Jay Postones’ impeccably tight drum framework.
“Beneath My Skin” begins with emotive vocals and synths swirling uneasily in dissonance until angry, insistent guitars interrupt and set the track on a surer, though varied, course. The extended slow burn in this track is reminiscent of “Altered State”, culminating in a rather conventionally melodic chorus and ending with a solid groove that is consistent with earlier tracks on the album. “Mirror Image” unfolds gently after a fade out, with a static, latent tension as if in suspended animation. Some shimmering clean guitars, subtle yet uneven grooves and a very honest vocal performance from Tompkins round out the track well, though I do feel the heavy, climactic point in the song could have benefited from a more memorable hook of some sort. “Smile” is slow, heavy and pulsating with a sense of foreboding, and this is where the rhythm section shines, with the guitar and synth duo taking on an almost cyberpunk feel reminiscent of Sybreed. The album ends on a rather ambiguous note with “The Arrow”, which feels more like an afterthought and fades off too quickly before the musical ideas introduced in the track get the chance to be properly developed and explored.
All in all, “Sonder” is a fine work that represents TesseracT and their vast universe of sounds admirably. Equal parts meditative and powerful, it offers glimpses of fresh new ideas from the progressive powerhouse and solidifies established ones. Despite the short run time and uncertain ending, this album is strengthened by its unbelievable production and incredible performances, and stands out as being uniquely and distinctly TesseracT.
8.5 out of 10
Sonder is available April 20th.