The second full-length by UK progressive metal phenomenon TesseracT proves to be another mind-bending, kaleidoscopic sonic tapestry of ineffable depths. Altered State is a worthy follow-up to 2011’s One, expanding upon the band’s predilection to uncommon rhythmic shifts, dynamic variation, soaring vocals and compositional space, a novel concept in heavy music.
The new album flows beautifully, from metal to post-rock to prog, with plenty of memorable riffs and vocal hooks. Song length is in flux constantly and makes for an even more engaging listening experience; there are fully-realized tunes as short as two or three minutes, like “Palingenesis” and “Embers,” others around five minutes, like “Proxy” and “Eclipse,” and two more between eight and nine minutes, like progressive epics “Exile” and “Singularity.” Then, in the midst of the ever-expanding atmosphere is “Calabi-Yau,” a shorter track containing a saxophone solo which deftly adds perspective and humility before the finale.
I caught up with TesseracT’s newest member, lead vocalist Ashe O’Hara, for the below Q&A. The band has had tough luck when it comes to singers. Chops have never been an issue, just commitment; Ashe is the band’s fifth singer since they started in 2004 and the third since TesseracT’s first release in 2010. The enthusiasm Ashe expresses for the group’s music, however, is as encouraging for his future as his incredible vocal performance on Altered State is for TesseracT.
What was your background like before you joined TesseracT?
I’m still in a smaller band that I founded about three years ago, called Voices From The Fuselage. It’s kind of similar [to TesseracT]; it’s got a more post-rock, cinematic feel to it. But I’ve always loved different types of music. I’ve been a follower of metal since I was about 13, but never so ferociously. I’ve been quite specific, I guess, with certain bands. I never dove head first into the metal scene and really scoured every different corner. It’s one of my favorite genres, probably my favorite.
Were you a fan before you joined?
Yeah, I was a big fan. I was quite a new fan, actually. I started listening to them just prior to the release of One. I definitely cited [previous singer] Dan Tompkins as an influence, so when I heard that he left, it was really disappointing. But I’ve always had respect and support for the band. When [most recent previous singer] Elliot Coleman joined, I was really pleased for that. I enjoyed the new sound. It was very different and I can understand why people opposed it in a way. But, at the same time, I think most music in this genre is a cut above a lot of shit out there, so I’m happy to hear it.
Was there one metal or heavy rock singer that made you think you could do something in the genre?
Well, when I was really young, the main rock idol for me was Freddy Mercury. As a metal vocalist, he brought to the table something that a lot of metal vocalists at that time didn’t. He had a range that was unheard of.
As I grew, there’s people like Dustin Kensrue of Thrice, Maynard James Keenan from Tool. Currently, I love Ian Kenny from Karnivool and the lead vocalist from Dead Letter Circus [Kim Benzie]. Those bands aren’t traditionally metal, but I love their progressive elements.
So you’re a prog fan, and that’s how you got into metal.
Yeah, absolutely. You pretty much hit it on the head there. I love metal, I love the heavy stuff, but it’s really nice to hear a moment of calm reflection in that context, kind of giving a track time to breathe. It really shows the capabilities of a band as far as the execution of dynamics. And I completely enjoy TesseracT for how good they are with that as well.
One of the things that’s so unique about you guys is that it feels like a lot of parts come about through jamming, yet everything is really planned out.
Well, there’s always going to be someone who implements an idea. From then, nothing’s ever set in stone. It’ll be like, we’ve got this idea [from guitarist Acle Kahney], we’ll practice it and then [bassist Amos Williams] and [drummer Jay Postones] will make alterations to it. Mos is a much more experienced bassist than Acle, so he will put his own style on it. I think, especially on this album, Altered State, that really resonates. There’s a lot to be enjoyed as a bassist. Some of it is groovy as fuck (laughs). I don’t mean to keep swearing.
I’m not a bassist, but when I watch Amos play live, I’m just in awe. You can’t help but nod your head.
What’s the most challenging aspect of being in this band for you? Is it hitting the notes? Is it keeping time in all those disorienting parts?
It’s always work. I always try to challenge myself as a vocalist. I know I’m not James Earl Jones, I’m more like Joe Pasquale; I’ve got a squeaky, girly voice (laughs). But I try to use that to my advantage and I’m always practicing and I’m always trying to see how far I can push it but obviously within reason. I think the biggest challenge for me was my stage presence.
I was kind of thrust into this limelight, which is much bigger than I ever experienced. I was probably like a plank on stage. I was singing and I was trying to keep focus on my singing, I’ve only recently realized when we were on tour with Periphery how important it is for the crowd to see that you are enjoying yourself. Me standing there, looking like a scared puppy was probably not a good idea. I think in the past week or so, I feel like I’ve had an epiphany and really broken out of my shell. I’m really starting to enjoy the shows a lot more. That was probably the most challenging thing for me.
Was the record pretty much finished before you joined?
Instrumentally it was about 75 percent complete. The guys have had a lot of time to do a lot of work since One was released. When One was released, all of that best material had been written over a really long period of time, so it was kind of a best of. That was a really well-received album. Most of the stuff on Altered State is brand new, between the time that Dan left and when I joined.
I wrote all the vocals myself while working with Acle to get it as good as we could.
Did you write most of the lyrics, then?
Yeah, I wrote all the lyrics. Mos is kind of like the mind behind the machine. The concept is very much his child. He took me through the different concepts and ideas he had in mind. I would write around [his idea]. Ultimately, we’ve got the four different “states.” It was all arranged in a certain way, in accordance with his concept.
One thing that I find so engaging about TesseracT is definitely the conceptual aspect. Do you know from where Amos pulls his ideas?
I don’t really know, but I do know that he’s probably one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. He’s always inspiring me to be more reflective on everything, more scholar-like. He’s a very intelligent guy and he does a lot of reading. He’s got a lot of inspiration and that’s where it all comes from. One of the main themes on Altered State is change, and it’s presented in four different ways. From when Dan left and now, there’s been a significant amount of change. I think that’s one of the things that have driven this concept.
So is that how you thought about it when you were writing, kind of with the experience of the other four guys in mind?
Yeah. The first three tracks, “Of Matter,” are basically the change presented in a superficial, miniscule way. It’s not so specific to do with a guy leaving a band (laughs), but it’s to do with the loss of something. It’s to do with the replacing of somebody. How do you fill the hole someone has left when they’ve departed? It’s presented like that. It can be applied in many different ways.
What new songs have you been playing live?
This and last week with Periphery has been the first tour we’ve done with the new material. We’re playing all the [material that was released in advance]. We’ve got “Nocturne.” “Proxy” was released in the U.S. on Spotify. “Singularity” was released on Radio 1 over here [in the UK] last week and we’ve got a music video coming out for that soon.
What is the new song you’ve been playing that most thoroughly crushes when you play it live?
I assume you mean crushes in a good way.
(Laughs) “Nocturne” is really popular, which is great. But I think, from the people who have previewed the album, I probably have to say “Resist,” which is the third track. We’ll be playing that all this week. That’s probably the most well-received song. I’ve had close friends and people who’ve reviewed the album come up and say, “I can’t stop listening to that song!” On a personal level, that’s really great to hear. “Resist” is a really personal song for me. It’s a really energetic song and it’s really emotional. I think it probably will be one of the favorites.
Another one of my favorites is “Exile.”
Yeah, that’s probably the band favorite at the moment. That’s probably the next track that we’ll be looking into playing live. It’s probably one of the most sophisticated tracks on the album. There’s a lot of complex drums and shit like that. It’s got a real prog feel to it. I really enjoyed recording that and I really look forward to playing it.
TesseracT’s new album, Altered State, is available now via Century Media. For more information, go to facebook.com/tesseractband.