Album Review: TesseracT, Sonder
TesseracT took a little while to get their career off the ground. The band was started by guitarist Acle Kahney in 2003, and although a full lineup didn’t solidify until 2006, the band built plenty of notoriety on the internet before finally releasing their first full-length album in 2011. Since then, it’s been balls to the wall: in spite of a dizzying array of vocalist swaps (including current singer Daniel Tompkins’ departure and subsequent re-entry into the band, with two other vocalists in between), these guys have been cranking out new albums roughly every two years with three EPs scattered along the way as well.
So: how does their 2018 entry Sonder — their first album to be released with the same lineup as the one before it — stack up against their past material? Admittedly, I might not be the best judge: TesseracT have yet to write a bad album, but my favorite is Altered State, the lone offering Daniel Tompkins didn’t sing on. This band is remarkably consistent, though, so perhaps the best criteria to judge new music upon is this: in what ways does Sonder, their fourth full-length, take TesseracT into new territory?
“Beneath My Skin” is a worthy departure for the band, traversing creepy, chilling soundscapes (replete with wonderfully audacious drum fills) before opening up into a relaxed groove that carries the rest of the song. It never really quite “gets there,” so to speak, and I really like that about it: unresolved tension can be as wieldy a songwriting tool as repetition. “Mirror Image” starts out with a haunting piano intro, some background noise and Tompkins’ wistful voice, and while the band cranks things up a bit later on there’s none of TesseracT’s patented lock-step chugs in this one. The slower pace of “Smile” makes for an interesting listen, with layers of dissonance, haunting sound effects and more-abrasive-than-usual guitar tone (plus some rare screamed vocals from Tompkins) making this one particularly gnarly.
Elsewhere, Sonder finds TesseracT doing what TesseracT usually do. “Luminary” is a standout with both a big, catchy chorus and a dastardly amount of heaviness in its main riff. “King,” the album’s longest track (with a very creepy video) follows with more major league riffs and singalong vocal hooks, while “Juno” switches seamlessly between time signatures and grooves without sacrificing it’s nod-along qualities. These are all catchy songs that mix heaviness, melody and groove seamlessly; like I said, this is what TesseracT usually do, and they do well.
My main criticism (constructive, of course) for Sonder is this: I would really like to hear TesseracT venture fully into new territory next time around. Whether that means they embrace their melodic side a bit more, go heavier, get weirder, shred proggier, go full-on grindcore… I don’t really care so long as they switch up the formula more than just a little. Surely they’ve all evolved as both humans and musicians since One was released in 2011, and while there’s definitely been forward movement on each subsequent album I’d like to see more — as a fan, I would love nothing more than to see them fucking go for it. They’re at that point in their career now where they’ve built enough good will to afford it — the fans will ride along for the journey — and they are absolutely capable musicians. So, fuck it, dive right in, dudes! Let’s all get weird together.