Album Review: TesseracT – Polaris

Here we go again.

With another major music release date happening this Friday, I’ve been gearing up for a busy weekend of listening and writing. Luckily, one of those upcoming albums was released early, made available to stream around the world this Tuesday. Thanks to progressive metal band TesseracT for making my job a little easier. (You can find the stream here)

tesseract live
Photo by Metalsucks

For those not familiar with them, or have not read about them on my site yet, TesseracT are a prestigious progressive metal act from England, and happens to contain one of my favorite drummers in Jay Postones. Having gone through several different vocalists in their history, the band welcomed back singer Daniel Tompkins, who had sung in the band’s first album “One,” only to depart briefly from their second album “Altered State.” I was introduced to TesseracT on the latter, so I was a little hesitant hearing of the vocalist change so early into my fandom. I remember first hearing the news of his return; All I can remember is everyone saying “it’s going to be better,” and “it’s all for the best.” Not knowing what “the best” was in the first place, I wasn’t ready for change. Needless to say, I welcome Mr. Tompkins (back) to the fold with open arms.

What “Altered State” lacked in vocal energy, Tompkins revives in “Polaris.” After hearing their latest album and replaying their prior album, I am suddenly aware of the lack of vocal drive in “Altered State.” Although Ashe O’Hara is an amazing musician, his vocal style and delivery don’t seem to match with what the remaining members of the band dish out. Tompkins’ soaring vocals seem to resonate in my ears longer, lighting a fire from under me. Those screams sparsely present in “Polaris” were dearly missed, and should be met with applause when first belted out live. With each play, I am becoming more of a fan of his work, and hope he stays with the band for many years.

Having gained much of their popularity through the djent community, I am surprised by the resulting sound of “Polaris.” Being pioneers of the genre, their music blends influences from several brands of metal and rock. Unfortunately, being a pioneer would also mean that they are unafraid to push the boundaries. When listening to the album, the saying “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” first comes to mind. As much as I loved the drastic difference between their brutal lows and beautiful highs, I felt like I’ve experienced this all before. It pains me to say it, but what “Altered State” lacked in its vocals, “Polaris” lacks in its orchestration. It’s hard to criticize such a talented group of musicians, one of them being a musician on my bucket list to see live. The production quality is phenomenal, the bass grooves by Amos Williams are heavy and intricate, and the drums fills by Jay Postones are downright delicious. So why is it that I feel indifferent? Could it be that I have no favorite song after a few listens? Or is it the familiarity of certain sections of songs, and how similar they are to previous albums? Your guess is as good as mine.

Maybe focusing on “Polaris” as its own album instead of comparing it to prior albums may give it the praise it deserves. From the opening notes, “Dystopia” bashes the listener with those chunky chords, and is definitely a contender for top honors. The first three songs could be considered as one continuing thought, being one of the most progressive attributes of this album. The whole second half feels like a collection of individual songs in comparison to the smooth transition between these three tracks. The two singles “Messenger” and “Survival” are easily the most radio-friendly, considering their familiarity and likelihood to route a new audience. The album also contains a couple softer tracks, including the atmospheric “Tourniquet” and the uplifting “Phoenix.” Did I mention the rap section of “Utopia?” Yeah, Thompkins goes rogue on us metal fans with that unexpected vocal delivery to close the song. The album ends with the epic tracks “Cages” and “Seven Names,” two songs that lean on the softer side, but still contain that classic TesseracT sound.

So what is my consensus on “Polaris”? I honestly don’t think I even know. On one hand, it could be worthy of being nominated as one of the best albums of 2015. On the other hand, it’s underwhelming compared to their prior releases. I have a feeling with repeated listens my appreciation for this album will increase, and so will yours. Please support the amazing TesseracT by checking out their website, or by following their Facebook and Twitter pages. They are currently preparing for a world tour in support of “Polaris,” so I’d definitely recommend seeing them live if they hit a city near you.
I will be seeing them live this November in San Diego, so I look forward to seeing you all soon!
Purchase “Polaris” by TesseracT by clicking the album cover above!