Polaris is the third studio album from British rock and prog metal band TesseracT and with it they have unquestionably captured the shifting moods of a restless generation. There is an immersive, unrefined and at times gravelly realism permeating the album which beckons us not only to see but also to experience the world without the lenses, ideologies or distortions which make it appear to be something other than it is.
Such honesty, as fans of The Matrix well know, can be a tough pill to swallow. The music, as well as the lyrics, is direct, dense, almost overwhelming with a powerful sense of drive and urgency. It is eager to convey meanings and messages in equal measure, creating atmospheric layers of sound which at times hit you like a wall, whilst at others, enfold, hold and soothe you. The experience is captivating, though not always comfortable; expansive, yet at times so utterly focused as to feel suffocating.
As a musical experience it is certainly distinctive from their previous work, with a much greater diversity of layered sounds, dynamic amplification, along with pure, piercing melodies. Indeed, the band believes that it represents “the first chance for us as a group to stop and take stock of what we are right now, to explore a TesseracT of melody, dynamics, and singular focus. For the first time, too, we feel free from the bounds of genre specific expectations.”
The final comment reveals the potential dilemma posed by Polaris to the unwary. By the time you finish listening to it, the difficult realisation dawns that what you have heard is not simply one thing, or one type of thing and as a result, it is easy to see how fans of their previous two releases (One, 2011 and Altered State, 2013) might possibly be disappointed with the various directions being played with here.
Yet such disappointment should, initially at least, be suspended. Building on foundations previously constructed, this album is both a moving away and a going toward, and I think the band have rightly taken a courageous decision to embark on a journey of creative evolution which retains the legacy of previous releases whilst introducing seeds of novelty which mark this album out as quite a daring experiment in exciting progressive music.
That the TesseracT foundations are still well and truly in place is amply demonstrated by the opening three tracks: Dystopia (6:51), Hexes (5:17) and Survival (4:25). Daniel Tompkins returns to provide vocals (whilst also continuing as front man for Skyharbor) with lyrics that are a clear signal of intent of the emotional twists and turns in the journey ahead. The music is aggressive, rough, almost unrestrained.
But the direction noticeably turns with the stunning Tourniquet (5.59), refreshingly light, hauntingly melodic, whilst building all the time to a controlled and refined crescendo. The path continues with Utopia (5.33), bright, forceful, dramatic, with a theatrical scope and conception which perfectly complements and balances Tourniquet yet anticipates the emotionally raw and beautifully moody Phoenix (3.54) which itself marks an ambient and encompassing gateway to yet another change of direction.
Messenger (3.34) resumes again the key themes of life in a harsh and difficult world, the conditioning of our lives through varieties of prisms, the challenges of often painful emotions and the task of holding it all together in day to day existence. The atmospheric and richly layered walls of sound return, insistent, dominant and overarching. Cages (5.28) is akin to taking a deep breath before the final push, packed with ideas, a wonderful isolated keyboard joined by a crisp, clarion yet lonely guitar before a gently rhythmic drum beats fades in, none of which gives an indication of gruff, growling conclusion which lies ahead. The charming Seven Names (5.40) brings a poetic and rousing finale, tinged with melancholia and wistful musical what-might-have-beens.
This is an album which is not easy to live with and I certainly believe it is worth spending time with it before rushing to judgement. The potential mistake is to suppose that what we have is a finished product. It is not. Polaris is in fact the beginning of a new phase, something which is on its way: the seeds, having been planted, need time to grow, develop and mature. Where this goes, only future albums can tell us, but if they continue to experiment in the progressive manner and style laid out here, then I think an exciting journey beckons..
1. Dystopia (6:51)
2. Hexes (5:17)
3. Survival (4:25)
4. Tourniquet (5:59)
5. Utopia (5:33)
6. Phoenix (3:54)
7. Messenger (3:34)
8. Cages (5:28)
9. Seven Names (5:40)
Total Time 46:40
Acle Kahney – Guitar
James Monteith – Guitar
Jay Postones – Drums
Daniel Tompkins – Vocals
Amos Williams – Bass
Guest – Martin Grech, vocals (Hexes)
Format: CD, Digital
18th September 2015