Sunday, 12 March 2017

Tesseract - Plymouth Review

The 'djent' scene pretty much leaves me cold. The dry guitar sounds, the repetitive mechanical grooves, and the often lack of any big melodies makes it one of the metal subgenres I have explored the least. Tesseract are probably the only band from that world that I have ever really been able to enjoy. There is just something about their music that draws me in, and I find their very atmospheric sound enjoyable and certainly different from the norm. While they use that odd, grating guitar sound that is typical of the genre, their use of atmospherics synths throughout combined with frontman Daniel Tompkins' gorgeous vocals make their sound very interesting; and comparisons can sometimes be drawn with bands like Anathema. With the band about to embark on a UK tour supporting the Devin Townsend Project, and having not played live for a few months, Tesseract decided to arrange a headline show in Plymouth to act as a warm-up for their tour. It was the band's first time in Plymouth and the criminally-underused Hub on Bath Street was the venue of choice. Sadly bands rarely make it down to the South West, but there is clearly an audience here for rock and metal music as every show I have been to at The Hub, and the majority of shows at the White Rabbit before it, has been well-attended. This was no different and, being a Saturday night, there was a really good-sized crowd in attendance all night. The crowd was somewhat different from your average metal crowd, with less hair and Slayer t-shirts than usual and more 'hipster' types which shows the diverse appeal that bands like Tesseract can have.

Before Tesseract however the crowd were treated to two support acts, the first of which were Valis Ablaze from Bristol. With a sound not-unlike Tesseract's own, the band naturally went down pretty well and gained momentum as the set moved along. There was definitely a lot more 'classic' heavy metal elements in their sound however, with more distinct lead guitar passages than many of the bands of their ilk and less of an emphasis on complex time signatures with a more straight-ahead sound at times. It took me a couple of numbers to warm to them, but some of the songs really stood out as being very strong. The closing number in particular, which was possibly called Legacy but I might have heard that wrong, was the best of the bunch and built up to a fantastically rocking climax from a lengthy atmospheric beginning.

Bad Sign from London were different and certainly had the most energy of any of the bands on the night. The three-piece certainly had more traditional 'rock' elements than anyone else on show, but they failed to make any real impact on me. Despite the songs their songs certainly were up-tempo and packed full of energy, there just were not any real hooks to draw you in. They never really roared as a band of this type should, and I am struggling to remember of their 30 minutes on stage. Valis Ablaze were certainly the more interesting of the two supports.

Of course it was Tesseract that everyone was here to see, and by the time they hit the stage The Hub was pretty full. Tesseract really excelled in creating an atmosphere right from the get-go, and played straight through for 80 or so minutes with little crowd interaction or an encore. This mindset helped the band to create the entrancing atmosphere that they did, which was helped by a killer lightshow for such a small venue. I must admit to not being hugely familiar with the band's catalogue. Polaris is the only album of theirs I have heard in full, so much of the set was unknown to me but it was all performed with the same level of musicianship with the band locked into a tight groove at all times. While Tompkins' vocals were the highlight of the set, it was Amos Williams (bass guitar/vocals) that stood out the most musically with so many excellent and prominent basslines throughout. He was nice and high in the mix which was great, and his playing really drives the song and often adds subtle melodies on top of the mechanical and dry riffing from the band's two guitarists. Songs from the Concealing Fate song cycle were early highlights, and heavier than anything the band has done since, but for me the real standout moment of the evening was the duo of Dystopia and Hexes, both of which are from Polaris. The latter is probably my favourite Tesseract song currently and the haunting vocal melodies seemed to hold the whole audience in a trance. Later in the set, the song Of Mind - Nocturne received a big cheer from the crowd and it is the only song from their second album Altered State that I was already familiar with. The big riff worked very well live, and the pulsing verses were sung by many in attendance. The set came to an end with the lengthy and heavy Acceptance, the first part of the Concealing Fate series which prominently featured harsh vocals from Tompkins and Williams to good effect.

Sometimes it is good to go and take in a show that is out of your comfort zone and experience something different. While Tesseract will never be a favourite band of mine, I was impressed with their tight and atmospheric live show. I will certainly be checking out more of their back catalogue over the coming months.

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