Firstly, Meshuggah did something very important indeed when they nailed the ever-increasing technical element of their brutal thrash metal on 2002’s Nothing – a record whose ‘poly-rhythmic’ chops, synonymous with more out-and-out ‘prog’ groups like The Mars Volta, became something infinitely heavier: you put it over straight drum patterns people can follow, and groove metal is born. Suddenly those ‘pretentious’ and off-kilter rhythms are just a means to discover syncopation, to hang guitar lines over steady beats and draw out the very essence of groove. THAT is heavy.
About the same sort of time, home recording technology took off, allowing a new generation of guitarists, influenced by Meshuggah, to start really playing around with these new grooves, rearranging drums parts and guitar lines endlessly, and to swap them with the growing online community at a rate of knots.
But why ‘djent’? Well, to make sure the whole thing doesn’t get sludgy and unlistenable, guitarists found they really needed to choke their guitar sounds. A consequence of this was that your usual metal power chord ends up sounding, quite literally, as a ‘DJENT, DJENT, DJENT!’. Nowadays, Djent stands for that genre of music that keeps the guitars tight, is heavily syncopated, and was probably heard online about 7 years ago.
And there, too, is the reason why people are pissed. Periphery managed to really make the big time with last years self-titled album (all the material of which was available online for donkeys years), and at a similar time, Animals As Leaders released their self-titled album seemingly out of nowhere. People are now expecting Djent to move on, but what they’re getting is a number of bands releasing that first lot of material they heard back in ’04.
Tesseract release their debut album One with opinion really split. Those that love the sound are right behind it, but you’ll find a number of people out there complaining that the material is old (not helped by vocalist changes and problems getting a label to release on). Well, no more! Let it be said right here – Tesseract are fully entitled to release the material on this album, because not only is it an exceptional body of work, nobody gets close to pulling off the atmospherics found on One.
Vocalist Dan Tompkins does what few metal vocalists are able to do, keeping the attention on melody and atmospherics as much as the riffs. You notice that the melodies are crafted, understandable, relatable, and while some of the guitar chops may have their roots in Meshuggah et al., this is something those bands have never achieved.
Ambience is used as both a textural layer during the heavy parts, and as dynamic-enhancing interludes within each track. Opening track Lament shows how the central theme within Tesseract’s work is the ambience – it ties each segment together, containing tracks that can switch from heavy riffs, to ambient interludes, to clean quasi-tribal sections.
And the searing riffs are there. The central riff of The Impossible is schizophrenic, Nascent is a monolith and Sunrise is about as close you’re going to get to understanding Djent – but even then, those distinctive ambient textures and melodies quickly take hold, culminating in a middle section that appears like a ray of light (!) amid the ambi-djent chaos.
Having spoken to Dan after their recent show at Camden’s Underworld, the band seem aware of the criticism they will receive for the perceived lack of new material. Quick to point out a new album is already well under way, Tesseract are not a band to rest on their laurels, and you sense they’re as glad to get this album out (and out of the way) as we are. And who cares – it’s amazing.