For the prog-metal masterminds in TesseracT, stagnation is a disease. From the crushing chugs of One and atmospheric grooves of Altered State to the soaring melodies of Polaris, the English quintet has chiseled a career out of establishing, destroying and rebuilding their sound every few years. Sonder – TesseracT’s most recent record and their first entry in the ARIA Charts—brings the trend to a peak, fusing elements of each prior effort with a sharp and theatrical technicality.
Such a multifaceted sound means the average TesseracT show is teeming with diversity. “When I look out into the audience, I see pockets of people responding to each song,” says lead vocalist Daniel Tompkins. “We get couples that come right down to the front, and you see them crying their eyes out to things like Altered State. You’ve got people that are there purely for the sound experience—they’re stood at the desk and they’re maybe a little bit more mature, you know. They’re definitely trying to experience the best sound of the night. Then you’ve got the people going crazy in the mosh pit, and they’re obviously the first album’s fans, and then you’ve got all the people in the sidelines and they’re singing along to Sonder.”
The biggest change that shook the Sonder sessions came not stylistically, but from within the band’s own creative routine. Where their first three albums had seen TesseracT adopt a strict formula for writing in the studio, LP number four threw caution to the wind, experimentation the prevailing catalyst for some of the record’s standout moments.
“I think Sonder is a much more cohesive album for us,” says Tompkins. “And I mean that from both a lyrical and musical perspective. The concepts for each song were evolved before the music was finished, whereas in the past it’s been about Alec [Kahney, lead guitar] producing the music first, and then I’d step in and put some kind of lyrical idea on it. I don’t feel like that’s the best way to write music, because it can give you limitations. When you’re coining an idea in your head and then writing music to it, you can be a lot broader and there’s a lot more you can do with it.”
One of Tompkins’ favourite techniques when writing Sonder was for TesseracT to compose movie soundtracks. The band would take scenes from films they found particularly impactful, strip the audio from them and attempt to write what would effectively become a prog-metal silent film score. Most notable of the batch is the 11-minute epic ‘Beneath My Skin/Mirror Image’, which started life as a scene in the Scarlett Johansson flick Under The Skin.
“There’s a scene in that film that the main body of that song was written to, which is why ‘Beneath My Skin’, for example, sounds very progressive. It’s one of the most progressive songs we have on the album. It starts out with that clean guitar line, which repeats and gets bigger and evolves, and that’s a result of the scene that we were writing to. And we did that a number of times with different songs.”
The band also found a de facto sixth member in Aidan O’Brien, whose primary role with TesseracT, alongside acting as their front-of-house engineer, is to aid in self-producing their records. O’Brien has been integral to the fold since work began on Polaris, but Sonder saw him take a much more crucial front-seat position.
“He did this awesome thing where he reached out to our fan base and asked people to submit live audio recordings,” Tompkins says. “They could be of anything—anything that people experience on a day-to-day basis around the world, because we wanted to make this album a more inclusive and intimate process for the fans as well. So there are all these different sounds on the album… There’s the sound of a chef cleaving meat on a wooden chopping board. There’s the sound of a thunderstorm echoing through an air conditioning conduit in a high-storey building. There’s the sound of rivers rushing, and there’s my own two boys’ heartbeats in ‘Orbital’. There are loads of these awesome little samples going on, and Aidan has kind of layered them together throughout the album, which really added a new dimension to what we were doing.”
This makes the album shine when listened to with a quality set of headphones—especially in its binaural version, which is something every diehard fan needs to experience at least once in their lives. But however special Sonder is on tape, it’s undeniable that TesseracT reach a whole new level of ethereality in the live realm. The band will be taking Sonder to stages Down Under throughout September, with theatre shows lined up in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
“I think there’s a very distinct difference between the way audiences react in Australia compared to other places in the world,” Tompkins says. “It’s hard to describe, but I find that the energy is really quite special. People really want to be at these shows—and I know that sounds a bit crazy because it’s like, if you’re going to buy tickets to a show, you must surely want to go to that show. But I do find that some people can be quite lethargic, whether that’s because it’s a mid-week show or because they’ve just finished work for the day and they’re already tired. But you don’t get that with people in Australia. Everyone’s in a really good mood and they’re all full of energy, and that translates into the whole kind of vibe of the show, which is always electric.”
Sonder is out now via Kscope. TesseracT are on tour throughout Australia this September.
Image via Steve Brown.