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TesseracT: Building A Future With A Return To The Past

Wednesday, 03 February 2016 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

Photo: Tom Barnes

As a music journalist, it’s dangerously tempting to be lazy when it comes to interviewing an artist or band for the second (or third) time. For all the talk of progress, you can usually rely on the core elements of their sound to remain the same. “How have you evolved on this record?” Well, once they’ve reeled off a few buzzwords, the real answer is usually “not much”. But still the headline will suggest this new record is their “boldest, most ambitious project to date”.

Luckily, progressive giants TesseracT keep you on your toes. They’ve worked with five different vocalists over the course of their career, so it’s hardly surprising that since I last spoke to them they’ve changed line-up yet again. Rather than go for a new face, though, the band decided to re-recruit a fan favourite for their third record, ‘Polaris’.

Dan Tompkins is arguably one of the most extraordinary ‘clean’ singers in metal today, with an alluring melodic style that would fit just as well on modern R&B or pop cuts. He has range, too, and his more harshly delivered vocals were a key feature on the band’s heavy debut album, ‘One’. While his return is an undeniable boost to the band, Tompkins doesn’t appear to regret his initial departure.

“Everything happened so quickly, really,” he says. “I initially left due to the struggle of being in a touring band. I had very little income five years ago and other commitments ultimately got in the way. We’d drawn a close bond during those initial tours and we always remained friends.

“I actually think the band’s flexibility with vocalists has been a good thing, giving them a thicker skin. The project has become quite durable. The changes have shaken their sound. People don’t like change and that’s natural – you associate a voice with a group and you get attached.

“I felt the same when I was younger, more naïve and didn’t understand how bands operated. For example, Jesse Leach leaving Killswitch Engage left me gutted as a young fanboy. As an artist you tend to empathise more with what bands have to go through to survive.”

Though the high-gain, low-pitched djent stylings that characterised their earlier work are still present, TesseracT have gradually evolved since Tompkins’ initial run as frontman. ‘Polaris’ is their most cinematic album yet, with more time devoted to textured guitar lines than dramatic breakdowns. The band now focus greater attention on layering sounds and building atmosphere.

“We didn’t consciously seek to move in that direction, it just happened,” Tompkins says. “We’ve been happier and more settled as a group, and in that in mindset you don’t tend to write aggressive stuff. On ‘One’ – and on ‘Altered State’ to an extent, although I wasn’t present – there was more angst involved. Honestly, I cringe when I hear myself now. These days, we try to just generate what comes naturally.”

When we spoke previously, Tompkins’ bandmates indicated that they no longer considered themselves to be metal at all. He echoes those sentiments but also highlights the occasional bursts of screaming on the new record, as well as other less familiar elements, as important.

“A part of me wanted to maintain the shouty element of our sound,” he says. “Generally, we try to be more tasteful, because screaming naturally in the studio means I’m expressing an emotion at the right time. On tracks like Utopia I even ended up coming out with this Mike Patton-esque staccato thing. Was I rapping? No, I’m not sure I know how, but it’s interesting that our music would cause that subconscious response.”

It’s these inflections that demonstrate how far Tompkins has come as a vocalist and as an artist. There’s a confidence to his tone that suggests ‘Polaris’ was a far less bumpy ride than previous projects. It also goes a long way to explaining why he was so comfortable returning to the helm, as well as why he left the India-based djent collective Skyharbor.

“Skyharbor was an amazing experience and a personal investment,” he says. “It was incredibly expensive and logistically difficult to travel to New Delhi, but it only happened because of the beauty of the internet. Like with TesseracT, it just came to an end. They needed to tour an establish themselves and it’s important to let Eric Emery, their new vocalist, stamp his mark on the project.

“It’s to this band’s credit that we’ve done things the right way. I didn’t want to step on Ashe’s [O’Hara, the previous vocalist] toes either. It’s all about timing. As a DIY band, we really pushed ourselves to the limit. We’ve learned from a lot of our previous mistakes, though. Both Ashe and I had a tendency to go over-the-top in the studio and record various lead lines that were impossible to sing live.

“We took our time on ‘Polaris’, playing to our strengths. I’m a much stronger singer now, being a vocal coach in my spare time. Oh, and I’ve just finished writing a solo record.”

Given Tompkins’ initial reasons for moving on, it’s somewhat fitting that the band tour 11 European countries over the next two months. Despite their turbulent past, the group are more popular than they’ve ever been. A rotational band with elements of continuity, a heavy band devoted to music that’s beautifully atmospheric, TesseracT are nothing if not multi-dimensional.

'Polaris' is out now on Kscope.

Tesseract Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed February 03 2016 - BRISTOL Thekla
Thu February 04 2016 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute2 Birmingham
Fri February 05 2016 - MANCHESTER Manchester Academy 2
Sat February 06 2016 - GLASGOW Glasgow Garage
Sun February 07 2016 - LEEDS University Stylus
Tue February 09 2016 - NOTTINGHAM Rescue Rooms
Wed February 10 2016 - OXFORD O2 Academy2 Oxford
Thu February 11 2016 - PORTSMOUTH Wedgewood Rooms
Fri February 12 2016 - LONDON KOKO

Click here to compare & buy Tesseract Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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