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TESSERACT Sonder

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Wednesday, April 25, 2018 @ 12:30 AM


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TESSERACT
Sonder

KScope




If there's been on constant in the decade-plus career of England's TESSERACT it has been change. Lineup-wise, the band has had five vocalists man the mic over the years, including current frontman Daniel Tompkins twice. And, sonically, the quintet has morphed from the jarring djent-style outfit of the 2011 debut One to an understated, even disarming, progressive-minded ensemble more akin to PORCUPINE TREE or RADIOHEAD than MESHUGGAH or PERIPHERY on 2015's somewhat toothless Polaris.

TESSERACT's fourth album, Sonder marks the first time the band has recorded back-to-back albums with the same vocalist, with Tompkins now seemingly firmly ensconced in his second go-round as frontman. And though his vocals have largely shed the harsher aspects that were prevalent on the sing-and-scream approach he took on One, settling for emotive cleans, the band has found a more happy medium between the bombast of old, the relatively serenity of its recent output on the new album and its proggier inclinations.

Sonder has the kind of crunch that Polaris sorely lacked. And while the tempos here are still often agonizingly deliberate, it's good to hear guitarists Acle Kahney and James Monteith flexing some genuine muscle again in the drop-tuned, tooth-loosening grooves they deliver on the opening track “Luminary” and “Juno” or, especially, “King” and “Smile”. They are the album's most adventurous tunes, interspersing progressive throb, ethereal electronics and harmonies, nifty shuffling rhythms and rare instances of Tompkins going full scream, if only briefly.

And while the beefy riffs are often contrasted by sparse, atmospheric passages and soaring melodies that highlight Tompkins stirring vocals, the heavy/mellow back and forth on Sonder is well balanced and gives the album a nice flow that never seems too assertive or sedate. Just when it feels like the band might be settling into dreamy ambient mode with “Orbital”, it proves merely a segue into “Juno” that pits the guitar thunder of Kahney and Monteith during the choruses against the almost funky rhythms of the verses, which ride Amos Williams' nimble bass and Jay Postones' stutter-step drumming.

“Beneath My Skin” offers a similar treatment, though within the body of a single song, building from a shimmering intro to its crashing chorus, then settling back to do it all over again for an emphatic finale. To a lesser extent, “Mirror Image” does as well, but without as much oomph when things take a heavier turn.

TESSERACT really seems to have solidified itself with Sonder. Without change really being part of the equation for once, the band has been able to build on its strengths and fit the ingredients together into an effective and engaging whole. And while some more of the freewheeling spirit of the debut might have been welcome here, the renewed emphasis on heaving hooks - especially as it allows more space for Tompkins' consistently captivating vocals - is a worthy tradeoff.

4.0 Out Of 5.0


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