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TesseracT – Altered State Album Review

TesseracT – Altered State

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Originally posted on Ghost Cult Magazine’s website on 26/05/2013

Since debut album One was released to much critical acclaim prog metal pioneers TesseracT have been dogged with the departure of not one but two lead vocalists. While such adversity would have broken manly lesser acts, the Milton Keynes act picked themselves up and following the departure of American singer Elliot Coleman came across young Brighton based frontman Ashe O’Hara.

The move has proved a shrewd one as O’Hara’s voice has a wealth of emotion and power that belies his cherub like appearance.  Following up such a resound praised record especially after such crippling circumstances TesseracT have refocused with a new album that retains the technically and emotional depth which made the debut so essential.

Boldly hinged around the concept of ‘”The Law Of Conservation” which states energy is transferred between the four states of matter, mind, reality and energy the stabbing polyrthymic structures remain but with a greater emphasis upon melodic hooks. Altered State disowns any screaming vocals which were present on the debut which the band felt they need “in order to fit into the scene”. It’s a bold move but one that paid off well.

Ashe’s delicate haunting notes more than match the unmistakable impression Dan Tompkins left on One with numbers like ‘Of Matter – Retrospect’ showing an emotional range rarely felt within the myopic scope of the average metal band. Familiar complex rhythms and patterns are present but the emphasis has shifted towards a more mature and reflective direction.

O’Hara’s performance is simply stunning. First single ‘Nocturne’ is brimming with passion and sincerity. His angelic tones reaching for the heavens while the swirling mass of guitars churn malevolently beneath him.

Considering the impact One had upon British metal TesseracT could be forgiven for resting upon their laurels yet Altered State expands their vision adding bold new elements. The elegant jazz saxophone on ‘Calabi-Yau’ is curveball and ‘Exile’ breaks new ground with some delicate acoustic chords further enhancing the reflective mood of the song.

A couple of tracks standout from the pack but Altered State” is best experienced as a whole piece. Distilling and focusing all their frustrations into creating a record which transcends the boundaries of the subgenre they found themselves a part of TesseracT have become the benchmark for progressive acts the world over.

8/10

Ross Baker

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Shining (NOR) – One One One Album Review

Shining (NOR) – One One One

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Originally posted on Ghost Cult Magazine’s website on 28/05/2013

Masterminding the melding of Jazz and metal has been attempted by many noisemakers but these proponents have often hailed from the metal world. Shining mainman Jørgen Munkeby has travelled a different path hailing from a trad jazz background Munkeby introduced “Black Jazz” to an unsuspecting world three years ago nailing progressive metal to free jazz and harsh electronics it was an uncompromising and experimental record which sat up and slapped the metal scene square in the face.

Fast forward to present day One One One sees Shining condensing and distilling their freeform frenzy into more traditional song structures.For some this would seem like Shining has lost its edge yet what One One One succeeds in doing is compressing these rogue elements and spewing them out in controlled bursts of kinetic energy.

Spanning thirty five minutes this high energy thrill ride is a seemly mesh of all Shining’s musical styles with all the indulgences stripped away leaving only the juicy succulent flesh for the listener to feast upon.The driving percussion and industrial guitars of ‘I Won’t Forget’ kick off this adrenaline ride recalling the manic rush of NIN circa Broken and ‘My Dying Drive’ pulls no punches with its stellar grooves.

What makes this album so inviting is how every instrument is allowed to stand out without being smothered by the rest. The frantic saxophone on ‘How Your Story Ends’ ads to the song without becoming its main focus and the electronic elements are never employed at the expense of the guitars.The album title itself alludes to Munkeby’s desire to create a series of “track one’s” or “hits” and while the songs have shorter running times than the sprawling Black Jazz this is still the bold work of an extreme act hell-bent continually challenging themselves and their listeners.

The corrosive saxophone grind of ‘The Hurting Game’ alone should serve as a vehement denial of the notion that Shining have become a straight metal act. Jørgen’s vocals while mostly screamed still allow for lyrics to be clearly deciphered and while the cold industrial sections complement the harsh guitars there is an organic feel to the songs.

In One One One Munkeby has succeeded in balancing the fine line between indulging his renegade tendencies while simultaneously delivering his most direct and simplistic album yet. While a fine collection of music never before have Shining’s individual songs shone so brightly even when removed from the context of the album. A vital and exhilarating brand of controlled chaos bravely realised and delivered with the meticulous brilliance of a master craftsman.

8/10

Ross Baker


Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen

Originally posted on Ghost Cult Magazine’s website link here

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As a man of many talents, Vegard “Ihsahn” Tveitan has long drawn inspiration from many genres of music which has ensured the works of both seminal Black Metallers Emperor, Folk project Hardingrock, the classically inclined Peccatum and his sprawling progressive solo work have all remained at the forefront of innovation.

Fourth release Das Seelenbrechen (Candlelight), translating to “The Soul Breaking” in English, sees Ihsahn pushing further into the realms of Avant Garde experimentalism. Aided by the fine gents in Leprous, Tveitan has crafted an increasingly bold complex concoction of intricate time changes, free jazz passages and snarling extreme metal. ‘Hiber’ begins with jagged riffs over which Vegard snarls “The seeds of evil flowers grow…” before chiming keys are entwined with hypnotic synths that wouldn’t be out of place on a Goblin record. It is grand and highly involving material which will merit many repeat listens in order to fully comprehend.

‘Regen’ sees a tender, clean vocal rendered gracefully while shuffling drums and tinkling keys build up tension before that terrifying roar commands “Let the heavens cry!” amongst a whirlpool of power chords and cacophonous symphonics. The eerie, clean vocals of the man himself have gone from strength to strength and while the unmistakable screams are still harrowing in their intensity, they play second fiddle to the heart rendering, solemn falsettos which form the likes of ‘Pulse’.

Such a performance may draw comparisons with the work of former collaborator Mikael Åkerfeldt, yet they retain a feel all their own. Certainly the aforementioned track will not amuse hardcore black metal fans with its synthetic beats which recall acts like Massive Attack but it serves as more than just a breakwater between walls of discordance. Far more challenging are the hellish freejazz workouts of ‘Tacit 2′ a wall of feedback with Tobias Andersen adding a dense layer of tribal percussion underneath torn throated screams.

Stereotypical extreme metal this isn’t and while the discordant rhythms may take a bit of getting used to, the appearance of long time collaborator Jørgen Munkeby lending some ferocious alto saxophone to the demented freak show adds a sublime yet schizophrenic groove. Certainly a few of the seventies prog references do feel somewhat obvious but when you consider the level of musicianship and the speed with which this rich tapestry of styles has been lovingly woven together, it is truly outstanding. A resolute and forward thinking release which boldly presses the agenda of its author. Das Seelenbrechen is a grotesquely wonderful creation.

9/10

Ross Baker