Written by: KW on 27/06/2018 23:27:13

Full disclosure: TesseracT is one of my favourite bands of all time. Their first two albums, “One” and “Altered State”, both cemented that position in very different ways, yet I think they are basically some of, if not the best modern progressive metal albums ever written. So a new release from this Milton Keynes, United Kingdom-based band is like Christmas for me. Every time it happens, I hope they will capture that same magic from the past. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen on their 2015 release, ”Polaris”, but that’s not to say it was a bad album at all — quite the contrary — it just didn’t reach that same level of pure genius that the former releases did. So did they succeed this time around?

“Sonder” starts out in a somewhat lukewarm manner to me. The opening track, “Luminary”, as a whole is actually one of my least favourite tracks on the album, only spanning three minutes, even though the intro and outro riffs hit you like a truck with the signature monstrous production from guitarist Acle Kahney, alongside a snappy snare and fuzzy, enormous guitar tones. However, the chorus just seems a bit awkward to me, with it’s odd rhythmic structure and vocal patterns. This was also the first single that was released before the album dropped, and back then I wasn’t sold either, but had hoped it might make more sense to me in the context of the album or on further listening sessions. Yet, after 20+ listens, it still just stands as an underwhelming track to me and a strange album opener that I find myself skipping altogether.

But then “King” starts playing and this track is just something else. One of the heavier tracks in their discography, “King” is not only one of the best songs on “Sonder”, but also one of the best songs the band has ever put together. Period. It effortlessly flows between heavy and toned back sections, with the groovy, bendy guitar riffs from Acle Kahney and James Monteith being a focus point. The very sinister opening with tasty dissonance and Dan Tompkins’ virtuoso vocal performance just took me to a faraway place until a pleasant surprise blows you back in your seat: Dan’s screams are back! Tompkins hasn’t really been utilising his unclean vocals since the debut in 2011 and I am happy to report that they are back with a vengeance, though they are scarcely placed in a few carefully selected sections. Even though I adore his screams, the fact that they take you by surprise instead of being found everywhere makes the parts where they are included sound incredibly powerful.

Another favourite of mine that contains these expertly executed vocals and instrumentals that the band are known for, is another heavy one and incidentally, in my humble opinion, some of the absolute best music the band has to offer. “Smile” was actually released as a single a year ago, but in a weird, unfinished state where both the mix and the song itself seemed below standard for the band. It seemed rushed so as to just have something out to satisfy their fans. Then it was later revealed that this actually wasn’t the finished version of the song and an updated one would appear on their newest release, and I would have never thought that I would do a 180 this hard with my opinion on the track. The mix of hellish sounding synths, down-tuned guitars, and the phenomenal vocal performance makes the bone-chilling (and crushing) middle section a massive highlight of the record, followed by a shining example of why drummer Jay Postones is one of the greatest drummers of our time, with his swarm of ghost notes on the snare. The climax build-up is just fantastic and when the following is screamed out with immense force over chugging guitars, it represents a thoroughly memorable moment for me — one of the most memorable of the year so far actually:

“I can feel you getting closer

I can sense you start to smile

I see colossal eyes

There's a shadow on the sun

And no wonder why”

Unfortunately, these are the only two songs on the 7-track, 36 minute album that are really fantastic and and utterly live up to the TesseracT name. That’s not to say the others are plain bad though. “Juno” is definitely the more carefree and fun track of the bunch, and you cannot deny those almost criminally groovy first two minutes, where Dan Tompkins channels his inner Michael Jackson in the vocal lines and Amos Williams lays down some sexy slap basslines. The dual-track, “Beneath My Skin / Mirror Image”, draws heavily on creating a spacey, melancholic atmosphere with its 11-minute run-time, and while it definitely has its hauntingly beautiful moments, it also just lacks that giant payoff that the band has delivered before to warrant the long song duration. Furthermore, two of the tracks are only about two and a half minutes long, so basically an interlude and an outro track in “Orbital” and “The Arrow”, the latter also being a slightly underwhelming way to end the journey. That leaves you with an album which, when cut to the bone, is only about 30 minutes long and left me with this disappointed feeling on first listen: “Wait, it’s already over?”. I was actually ready to give this album a lower score upon the very first playthrough, as I know they have pulled off way lengthier albums to much greater success, yet it has definitely been a grower for me personally. I may have sounded way more disappointed than the given score might suggest, but “Sonder” is still a great piece of djent-y progressive metal with some outstanding moments, that overall just doesn’t quite live up to what the band has achieved in the past.


Download: King, Juno, Smile
For the fans of: Skyharbor, Uneven Structure, Periphery, The Contortionist
Listen: Facebook

Release date 20.04.2018

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