Tesseract – Sonder
Released: April 20, 2018
Acle Kahney // guitars / production
Jay Postones // drums
James Monteith // guitar
Amos Williams // bass
Daniel Tompkins // vocals
In 2013, TesseracT released their sophomore album, Altered State. While One, their debut full-length, was a phenomenal release, the progressive metal world was rocked by the impact of the followup. All the intensity of their debut, with the added depth of an increased wealth of musical experience, and a direction more influenced by textures and ambience, the album was a jewel in the prog scene, like nothing else released around the time.
Their 2015 release, Polaris, had a slightly more divisive response – with some praising the increased accessibility of the album, while others expressing disappointment at a lack of depth compared to their previous works. The two albums served as a showcase of two sides of the TesseracT coin – with AS being the more prog, more intense side, and Polaris exhibiting a different song and album structure – not necessarily worse, but more in the realm of a mainstream album. The two directions, in some cases, created a rift between fans – and fans waited to see how TesseracT would approach their fourth release, Sonder.
It is my opinion that Sonder is TesseracT’s best work yet. It’s a big call – but it’s the culmination of all their previous musicality in one. It’s progressive, yet tightly written. Brash and intense, while being thoughtful and considered. It even has Tompkins screaming on some tracks – what a treat! I don’t believe anything will ever pass Altered State as my personal favourite album – but Sonder is almost definitely what fans have been waiting for.
‘Luminary’, the second single released (though in some ways, the first – more on that later), opens the album in groovy fashion, with Amos William’s signature rich bass tone complimented by Jay’s tight drums, leading us into a beautiful falsetto verse by Tompkins. Already, this track is heavier than anything on Polaris – but more immediately confronting than any of their previous work. The track continues in similar fashion, with a bombastic chorus cascading into the final, heavy, breakdown-esque moments of the track. The first time I heard ‘Luminary’, I was instantly on board – but after hearing the album, I can safely say that it’s probably the weakest (proper) track. The bar has been set high.
Jumping into ‘King’, the next single released – there’s perhaps no better showcase of the phenomenal songwriting ability of the band than this masterpiece. Weighing in at almost 7 minutes, it’s the longest track on the album – but it earns every second of its runtime. Almost instantly upon commencing, it’s evident that TesseracT have thrown conventional harmony and chord structure out the window and decided to do their own thing. A groovy intro leads us to an ambient verse, building intensity until the first lines of chorus hit like an earthquake. Upon my first hearing of Tompkins’s screaming, I just about stopped breathing. It’s intense, it’s unexpected (though…not any more, I guess…my bad) – and it’s raw, in a way that we haven’t seen from this band before.
The track has a beautiful middle 8 (or middle…32) melody that begins to weave its way throughout the rest of the track, colouring everything we’ve heard so far, enriching the listening experience, before fading out into a calm, borderline relaxing conclusion, complete with rich vocal harmonies and ambient sound design.
This leads us into the third track, ‘Orbital’ – one of two non-tracks on the album. I don’t mean that as a dismissal either – simply a statement of the track’s nature. At just over two minutes, and with a mood best described as ‘soothing’, it’s purpose is much more ancillary, than direct. That said, however, it’s beautifully haunting, showcasing both Acle’s production and arrangement skills, and Tompkin’s vocals equally – before building smoothly to the next track, ‘Juno’.
‘Juno’ again opens with groove upon groove in a way that only TesseracT can, with Amos showing off some slap rhythms that speak to a texture that we’ve never heard from him before. The chorus is potentially the most catchy of the bunch, and carries us into an uptempo middle section that’ll leave you breathless, while also perfectly exhibiting their new strain of songwriting. It’s basically the prettiness of Polaris, made heavy. Both chord structures, and melodies, exist in a beautiful world where your ears are constantly blessed by unspeakably gorgeous phrases. If this sounds ridiculously flowery, it’s just because I’m struggling to convey how stunning the songwriting on this album continues to be.
‘Beneath My Skin’, the first of a de-facto two-parter, opens 10 minutes of music that is some of the most ‘progressive’ songwriting we’ve seen from TesseracT since Concealing Fate. Layered and complex, these tracks reward multiple re-listens more than any other track on the album, and contain some of the most stunning moments of musical splendour. While this track is certainly one for the Altered State fans, it’s likely that Polaris die-hards will find much to like here as well. ‘Mirror Image’, the second of two parts, continues the threads set up in the previous track, bringing everything to a euphoric resolution. These two tracks exhibit plainly the progressions that TesseracT’s composition and arrangement skills have made since their inception – while only roughly a third of the duration, I would posit that there’s more emotion and depth in these two tracks than in their 27-minute EP, Concealing Fate.
Following up this almost 12-minute journey is ‘Smile’. Originally released in June of 2017, this track was met with mixed reception, with criticism given to both its arrangement and production. Fans were re-assured that the song was ‘in progress’ and would have significant changes by the time the album was released. My anticipation was high, then, on my first listen of the album version of this track – and it absolutely delivered. This is potentially TesseracT’s best track, ever. It’s much more raw and confronting than anything else they’ve released in recent, the new arrangement is tight and layered, and the myriad of new elements (new intro and outro, and Tompkin’s arresting vocals in the second chorus) all serve to make this track a standout. It’s almost lucky that they didn’t release it in its final form all those months ago, as the hype it would have created would probably have been immense enough to measure on the Richter scale. This is Sonder’s ‘Nocturne’.
The final track, ‘The Arrow’, is a brief, though tasty, conclusion to the album. Lasting for a bit sized two-and-a-half minutes, it serves more as a textural bookend to the album, more than a finale or conclusion in the more classic sense (in this way, it functions similar to Altered State’s ‘Embers’ – though overall the album structure is more reminiscent of Polaris).
And, alas, it is here wherein I must discuss my one and only complaint with this (otherwise) masterpiece – it’s length. Or rather, lack thereof. With eight tracks in total, and two of those being half length / ambient tracks, as well as a total runtime of 36:24, this album is almost an EP in length. It feels dismissive to criticise a lack of length when the tracks that *are* there are so rich and layered, but it’s hard not to feel like the album stops only halfway through it’s intended purpose.
Luckily, though, the tracks that are there are all wonders of composition, arrangement, and performance – so this criticism is more or less mitigated.
Sonder is an album for all – people new to TesseracT, fans of Polaris, fans of Altered State, fans of One. I’m excited to see if the band’s popularity increases (even more) off the back of this stellar work – and I know for sure that I will be listening to it for months to come.
TesseracT – Sonder tracklisting
5. Beneath My Skin
6. Mirror Image
8. The Arrow