Djent never really took off as the next big thing, but it did spawn a few world-class bands that are probably more happy simply living under the Progressive Metal banner. And tonight London’s Shepherds Bush Empire hosts two of the scenes leading lights, Between the Buried and Me and TesseracT. Continue reading
As a part of the early djent movement of bedroom projects that also birthed the likes of TesseracT, the multinational Skyharbor, despite gaining a decent critical reception, almost feel like the forgotten sons in comparison to many of their peers. Two excellent albums in Blinding White Noise and Guiding Lights (both Basick) saw a particularly innovative approach within that sphere, with increasing progressive influences throughout, yet didn’t see them quite reach the heights of the likes of the aforementioned TesseracT or Monuments. Continue reading
Over the course of three full-length albums plus numerous EP releases and reworked pieces, UK progressive metallers TesseracT have shown a propensity for continued change in their music. Making a firm impact on their first full release One, spearheading the then emerging Djent scene, even then they seemed on a different plain of thinking to their brethren and quickly began to branch out. The follow-up Altered State (both Century Media) saw more expansive structures and reduced before Polaris (Kscope) brought refinement, melodic and immediate songs; all throughout retaining enough core to still be recognisable. Continue reading
With such a rich and diverse musical landscape at our fingertips, it is often the nonlinear artists that truly stand out. The ones that, far from sticking to rigid formulae, offer and showcase encompassing palettes; often shared with audiences and showing they aren’t limited to one style or sound. Truly a worldwide venture, White Moth Black Butterfly is one such entity that offers an alternate creative outlet to a contingent across all four corners of the globe. Consisting of Dan Tompkins of TesseracT, Keshav Dhar of India’s Skyharbor; plus Randy Slaugh and Jordan Turner; WMBB was born from a love for less rock-based but still progressive and experimental music, but always felt somewhat sidelined if not creatively immersive. On the evidence of new album Atone (Kscope) and their joining with Kscope, it now feels like this is an entirely serious entity. Continue reading
If there is one thing that djent bands are very adept at it is their ability to lose vocalists, so much so it seems to be a rite of passage amongst bands of this ilk, from Monuments and Periphery to The Contortionist. TesseracT it is well documented are no slouches in this department, seeming to change as much as the WWE attitude era Hardcore Championship. Still in the touring cycle for previous album Altered State(Century Media) and on the eve of the summer festivals, came the news that Ashe O’Hara had left the fold, and the welcome surprise that talismanic vocalist Dan Tompkins (at the time also singing for Skyharbor and his own project White Moth Black Butterfly) had assumed his old role.
At the time it seemed completely out of the blue for Tompkins to return, but as Jay Postones explains, he was always the right man for the job, it was circumstances that played their part: “We always kept in contact with Dan and he just couldn’t do it back in the day, when we were touring it was a bit much for him really. But now we are in a much better position, more stable financially and we are able to do it as a proper band. He’s always been able to ride to the music very easily, he’s always been a part of TesseracT, really it’s just the right time.”
In that time, as Postones states, they were always in contact, and during his absence Tompkins had kept very busy with other bands and projects and has been a frequent part of the scene so the idea of rust wasn’t an issue. With so much time passed however you’d expect a settling in period of sorts. As it turns out, this wasn’t the case: “There was no need for integration at all. The hardest thing was getting all the legal stuff right because he had been screwed over before with record labels, management etc, but in artistic terms of what we were trying to create; our vision and his vision align so it was spot on as it’s always been…It was very simple, he came back in and started writing and it was seamless. It’s just great to be working with him again.”
Talking with Postones it is abundantly clear that the band are extremely happy to welcome their old singer and brother back in, in part due to the memories of those early and older tours that they were so fond of. His return brought back that sense of nostalgia as well as the lease of life to move forward: “One of the cool things was that we had a lot of material and demos written from about 2011/12 when he was with us before that we were able to revisit; there were some riffs that we started for Polaris (Kscope). It was really nice to start at that point because a lot of them were written on tour, Dan would be singing along in the van when we were driving past things like crazy, massive lakes in Canada and places like that, and it was nice to be able to start and think back to then.”
Looking back at début album One (Century Media) and Tompkins’ other projects he has done it is clear that he is quite simply a phenomenal talent, but as Postones explains about the singer’s learning curve, frighteningly he is just getting better: “Everything he has done has improved his abilities, he can sing higher that he could before which is just insane because he could reach some stupid notes when he joined is. Everything he has done has helped him develop his voice to a stage he can effortlessly do stuff on Polaris without over shooting himself, and the reason I say that is because if you play an absolute blinder on recording, you have to do it live as well, especially for a vocalist, so what he has put down, every night he’d be fine.”
The impact of Tompkins’ return has not only seen his performance on the microphone skyrocket, but has also made an impression and effect on the rest of the band, rejuvenating them all to a whole new level: “I think the level we had come to expect, I think the bar was raised when Dan came back to us. He was able to absolutely fly with the material. Seeing him nail it every night made us up our game and it was inspiring to see.”
There is the old adage about people or things fitting together perfectly like a glove, and of course it is always cliché for bands to say this about any member when they are together and then that changes when they depart. With Tompkins’ back in the band however, the obvious connection amongst the entire unit and the bond they have shared even when apart suggests that this is the definite incarnation.
“We are all a similar age and we get on really well on tour. You’ve got to be a band of brothers when you’re in a band, not just a touring business which it is for some bands. You can spot the bands that aren’t going to make it more than a few years because there’s arguing, bitterness and egos. The thing with this band for me is that there is none of that. If you need space you get space, we all know each other really well now and can support each other when having a bad time.”
Even the issue of distance between the members (mostly all scattered around the UK with bassist Amos Williams now residing in Shanghai) does not prove too much of a burden for TesseracT, with them all making sure the communication is still going, and the unity they have as a group: “There’s a lot of conversation, the amount of emails between us is ridiculous, like about 100 or so a day. But other than the time difference in Shanghai it’s the same as it’s always been. As well as the emails there’s the usual stupidity between us all, we are a band of mates which is great, and I hope it stays that way.”
WORDS BY CHRIS TIPPELL
With the music industry as difficult and un-financially viable a path as it is in the modern day, the survival of bands is not without some roadblocks along the way. Bands calling it quits altogether, members coming and going and a greater need to stand out and make a mark are just some such trials that can make or break.
Since their roots as a bedroom project of guitarist Acle Kahney in 2003, UK prog metaller’s TesseracT have overcome and experienced much more than many of their peers could ever have imagined, all the while almost making it look easy. Being considered a founding alumni of the ‘djent’ scene with their debut album One, they survived the style’s saturation through some evolution on follow up Altered State (both Century Media), vocalist changes as frequent as the weather. Oh, and they’ve also played on an iceberg.
The transition from One to Altered State saw a departure from the extreme metal influences of which they were known for a more melodic approach. On their newest effort Polaris (Kscope/eOne), as drummer Jay Postones explains, the forward motion is continuing: “It’s just progressed from the last album. I know that’s a really cliché thing to say because its progressive music and we just constantly strive to make something a little bit different but, I think we were perhaps more focused with this one, maybe less rushed and we had a bit more time to structure the songs and work on the ideas that really excited us.”
Comparing Polaris to its predecessors, it is an ever greater leap into more prog and ambient territory than Altered State was; a much more layered and even intricate work. As Postones explains, much of the reason for this was the working influence and presence of their sound engineer Aiden O’Brien: “He wrote a lot of the ambient parts and the piano; he had a massive input on this album. You can hear a lot of subtle differences, like, going between songs, and he has been involved in writing those parts. There’s a kind of sixth dimension to it which has been really cool.”
In fact the experience of O’Brien from other aspects of the music industry helped towards making an invaluable contribution to Polaris’ hypnotic and serene atmosphere. “He performs as much as we do (and) he’s been with us for a very long time; his main job is writing music for TV ads and stuff like that, so he knows how things should sound, for want of a better phrase.
“It’s very subtle things that many people might not hear but for people with massive speakers or headphones, they will hear the things he does. They may be subtle or subliminal but they make an impact and make a difference to us. It helps you feel the music a lot more. There’s a lot more going on than any other record.”
On the face of things it could be said that perhaps TesseracT, more than just moving from the scene that they helped to shape, are in actual fact veering from metal altogether. Certainly there are moments here where metal is entirely stripped away, for example the drifting, brooding ‘Hexes’, but simultaneously there are still heavier moments and even some growled vocals that were completely absent on Altered State. Postones gives an insight in this notion: “I think you’re fair in saying that to be honest. Even though there’s some block out moments and some screams which we didn’t do on Altered State; Dan (Tompkins, vocals) would say that works and put them in, and you never wanted to say never in case it works properly. But we’ve always tried to go with what feels right, we never want to conform to anything, we just want to write music that feels right to us.”
Postones goes on to explain that, rather than being a calculated decision by the band, or even a committee, the creative process simply happens organically: “There isn’t even conversations or emails from management saying you have to write a song like this, its never been like that with this band. We put our foot down and that’s how we choose to do it. If we ever had to compromise any creative aspect of this band to appease the business I don’t think we would get as much enjoyment out of it.
“We enjoy playing, we enjoy touring and writing. We aren’t stubbornly trying to do anything , we just do what we like to do.”
WORDS BY CHRIS TIPPELL
The Skyharbor story is a real triumphant battle against the difficulties of geography if anything else. What began on an seemingly insignificant stage of computer files by guitarist Keshav Dhar resulted in a truly international affair with a completed lineup of Indian, American and British personnel. The resulting album Blinding White Noise: Illusion And Chaos (Basick Records) was very well received by critics and fans alike, and even the logistical nightmare of live shows was even managed, including a support slot to Lamb Of God in India. The achievement this band has made in a short time should not be downplayed.
Follow up album Guiding Lights (Basick) sees the (ahem) light of day after around only 20 live shows, and sees them writing as a unit rather than as scattered pieces written mostly by Dhar; and it does show. Where Blinding White Noise… at times felt mismatched and lacking in focus, Guiding Lights is all the more wholesome and cohesive throughout. Proving all the more spacey than many of their djent counterparts, Skyharbor offer a more prog friendly variant, based more on soaring melodies and expansive time frames, but still with splatterings of groove. TesseracT frontman Dan Tompkins matches the softer element perfectly with his delicate pipes, eschewing the use of growls completely.
The albums only pitfall is the somewhat taxing running time, feeling like it runs just a little too long. This aside Guiding Light shows progression in huge leaps and bounds from its predecessor, more beautifully flowing and even near ambient in part. Skyharbor already forged a reputation as a shining (sorry) presence in progressive metal, now Guiding Light is one of the brightest jewels in the tech metal crown.
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