TesseracT and the subgenre they helped pioneer were foundational to the beginnings of what eventually became Everything Is Noise. Their signature blend of chiming guitar melodies, complex polyrhythms, and majestic vocals were cemented on early releases One and Altered State. However, it’s now been five years since 2018’s Polaris. With this substantial wait, what do TesseracT bring us with their fifth full-length studio release, War of Being? JP and I (Landon) discuss.
JP: Hey Landon, how’s it going?!
LT: Busy – I’m just back after a bout of Covid so lots to catch up on!
JP: Ooof, I hope you had nothing but a very mild case of that. Glad to hear you’re springing back though!
So let’s get straight to business, shall we? If you had to boil down your thoughts on the new TesseracT down to a few words [or a few sentences], what would that be?
LT: I managed to get through Covid relatively unscathed, so I am not complaining.
Anyway, I’d say this is the most ambitious TesseracT record I’ve heard since perhaps Altered State and easily their heaviest record to date. There are still the same mid-tempo grooves, rhythmic wizardry, pristine production, and soaring melodic hooks you’ve come to expect from the band. However, there are many more extreme vocals here than ever before, and the band uses its longest record in years to stretch out and explore. What about you? Any highlights?
JP: I wholeheartedly agree with a lot of that. It’s tough to deny any of what you said, whether you like how the music turned out or not. I’m beyond glad they took their time with this record, as Sonder did feel a bit rushed. At the end of the day, this album really turned out to be the definitive TesseracT record, and I would’ve gladly waited however long would’ve been necessary.
As for my own highlights, “War of Being” is a clear standout, being the epic journey that it is. It ends in an incredibly satisfying way, even if the middle third of the song feels a bit clunky to me, which becomes more evident with each listen. The closing track, “Sacrifice”, is also a favorite with Tompkins going all out vocally in the way that he belts out the clean passages, akin to his brief stint with Skyharbor. He really does go hard when it comes to closing tracks (refer to “Eden” and “Seven Names”), and this album is no different.
And you? Do you care to elaborate more on the vocals on this record?
LT: For sure. I think Daniel Tompkins is an incredibly versatile vocalist, as is evidenced by the breadth of his projects (including TesseracT, solo material, White Moth Black Butterfly, ZETA, and Skyharbor). His performance on War of Being just further evidences this statement. At moments, he channels Michael Jackson‘s percussive breathing and vocal layering, while at others creating soaring vocal hooks and shredded screams. The fact that all this happens on the album’s first track really shows how much ground Tompkins covers on this record.
The fourth track, “Legion”, goes in some interesting directions. Against a background of esoteric keys, he does some wordless vocalizations that, to me, do not quite land. It’s not necessarily that these lines are performed poorly. Instead, they seem like an experiment that did not quite succeed. It’s still an enjoyable track though, and I appreciate how it evolves through varying atmospheric and heavy sections throughout its runtime.
You had some thoughts on the vocals on the title track as well. Care to share? Also, I know we’ve talked a lot about the vocals here, but any thoughts on the other facets of the record?
JP: Hmmmm, I never caught a Michael Jackson vibe, but now that you mention it, I can totally see it when he flares that sassiness at times. To me, Tompkins has always reminded me of Marc Anthony, a Latin pop artist I grew up listening to. They have nearly identical timbres, and Tompkin’s voice always gives me a bit of unintended nostalgia as an added bonus (listen to “Seven Names” off of Polaris and then Anthony‘s “Dímelo” and focus on the background vocals each vocalist sneaks in and you’ll hear it).
Those keys you mention occur through a lot of other tracks (“Echoes” and “Tender”), and I love how it adds an uplifting type vibe, which is a nice change of pace with how heavy and bleak the music can get at times.
As for the vocals of the title track, the middle third of the song feels clunky. The riff feels like a sped-up, recycled version of “King” from their last album. Tompkins also pushes himself to create some unique (for lack of a better word) sounding vocals, which feel a bit odd. This approach does come off similarly to those wordless vocalizations you mentioned. It almost feels improvised.
Lyrically, the ‘Don’t exacerbate my perception‘ line doesn’t make sense to me, and I can’t help but focus on that every time I hear it. It just feels like they used whatever word rhymed with ‘elevate’. Perception isn’t something that can be ‘exacerbated’ based on the word’s definition, but I’ll get off my soapbox, haha.
LT: Haha, fair enough. I’ll admit that lyrics are usually the last thing I focus on unless I’m listening to hip hop, so I didn’t get caught up on it.
I want to switch gears to talk about Acle Kahney (guitar/production) and Jay Postones’ (drums) contributions to this record. Something I’ve always appreciated about TesseracT is that they never sacrifice groove for complexity. Kahney and Postones’ lock-step guitar and drum compositions primarily accomplish this goal by maintaining relatively slow-to-medium tempos and emphasizing polyrhythmic complexity over noodly guitars. This is particularly successful on the title track’s main riff, which is one of my favourite TesseracT moments in years. “The Grey” also succeeds similarly, with the instrumental impact emphasized by Tompkin’s accompanying staccato screams before moving into an absolutely excellent, juxtaposing rapid prechorus and massive chorus. Even when the guitars get more complex, like in the clean, percussive sections of the track, they are still grounded in groove.
The record’s production is quite lush, filled out by additional vocal and instrumental layers. Every TesseracT album feels like a step forward in this regard. Still, it shows how far the band and Kahney have come since their 2011 debut.
JP: For the record, neither am I when it comes to focusing on lyrics, but that part I mentioned stuck out so much on first listen. Now I can’t hear it without thinking about it…
Regarding the groove you bring up, I’m totally in agreement. The band has struck this perfect balance between intricate rhythmical patterns and hypnotic groove that is easy for the listener to appreciate. They’ve always had that. It’s surprisingly digestible for how complex it can get at times. I easily fall into a trance due to this masterful groove. One of my favorite tracks on this record is “Sacrifice” for that very reason, alongside Tompkins’ gorgeous belting, of course. When those china cymbals come in, it’s nearly impossible to resist the stankface.
Production-wise, it is a continuation of that pristine quality executed on their last (live) release, Portals. No matter how small, every detail sounds immaculate at any given moment. I’ve always wanted to hear their sound from One with a modern, crisp production. With War of Being, I can get exactly that and more. This album is an actual continuation of what was heard on that live release with performances spanning their entire career thus far. The new record is essentially that but in the form of entirely new tracks.
They really have come a long way, as you have said. They mastered it with Portals and are now sticking with it full speed ahead. One of my favorite things they’ve ‘brought back’ is the soaring guitar leads heard primarily on Altered State that express so much emotion and fill the negative space beautifully. The vibrato is immensely satisfying with how it instills this longing or mourning into the music.
LT: Agreed! It’s an impressive feat for a band 12 years and five albums into releasing music to put out something that still shows the group evolving and exploring. I had fallen off TesseracT in the sizable wait since 2018’s Sonder, but I can’t wait to hear where they go from here and continuing to spin War of Being until then.
JP: An impressive feat, it is indeed. I always appreciate watching a band evolve with each successive record, for better or worse, and learning from each album cycle moving forward to the next one, as TesseracT has done. They’ve come full circle and that is beyond satisfying to experience as a listener. Despite being as far along in their career as they are, it’s clear that they refuse to settle as they’re pushing their musical creativity to the limit with War of Being. Of all their records, this one is most worthy of being the self-titled TesseracT record.