As time rolls inexorably forward, music’s ability to capture the moment remains its most important trait. Five years on from the release of their last studio album, UK progressive metal titans TesseracT have reached the most significant and creative moment in their career to date. An audacious, ambitious and all-encompassing body of work, War Of Being is an album that could change everything.
Formed in 2003, TesseracT are rightly and widely regarded as pioneers. Since dazzling the world with their debut album One in 2011, they have spearheaded a uniquely adventurous and creative movement that has expanded metal’s vocabulary beyond all measure. Although routinely credited as instigators of the ‘djent’ subgenre, the UK five-piece have long since transcended such associations and are now widely acknowledged as one of the most authentically progressive and unique bands on the planet. From the majestic complexities of One and the bittersweet, melodic crunch of 2013’s Altered State, to the experimental sheen of Polaris and the ruthlessly focused tech-trip of 2018’s Sonder, TesseracT have consistently stood apart from the competition, while forging a musical and lyrical world that is theirs alone. Meanwhile, they have established themselves as a live band of great power, with countless acclaimed shows and festival appearances notched up across several continents.
Fast forward to 2023: Daniel Tompkins (vocals), Acle Kahney (guitar), James Monteith (guitar), Amos Williams (bass) and Jay Postones (drums) have completed work on their fifth full-length album. TesseracT are back, armed with a collection of mesmerising and idiosyncratic new music.
“I think we realised we needed to do something different this time,” says Daniel Tompkins. “It’s been five years since Sonder, and we wanted to mix it up and try something new. With the whole progression of TesseracT in mind, this is one of the most important albums we’ve ever done. You do get further into your career and you think, ‘How long will this go for?’ You can’t predict what’s around the corner. I think we’ve all had a change in outlook on life in the past few years, and so we decided to make this a big album.”
“We’ve always tried to punch above our weight, which is important,” adds Jay Postones. “To stretch it and make it look and sound as big as you possibly can, that’s always been really important, and particularly with this record, because it definitely sounds shitloads better than the stuff we’ve done before!”
There comes a time in the life of every progressive band when the only option is go for broke. War Of Being is a brave and challenging concept album, in true prog tradition. Just as the band’s music has evolved tenfold over the last few years, so has their thematic ambition. A tangled web of personality traits, traumatic events and surreal, off-kilter premonitions, War Of Being is TesseracT’s most detailed and demanding record yet, but also their most profoundly satisfying and complete.
“The concept is massive,” says Daniel. ”Amos is actually writing a novel, based on it. It all stems from his original ideas. In essence it’s about the war within oneself. It asks the question, who are we? It ties into Sonder because that record was about looking outwardly at people around you and realising that everyone has a very unique, independent life, and that we don’t notice because we’re so insular about playing a part in a bigger story. This time, we turned the focus inwards, so it’s a very introspective album.”
“It’s about fighting to forgive yourself for being you,” explains Amos Williams. “That’s something that’s always been quite a struggle for me. That’s where the concept of this war comes from. There’s this set of characters that just popped into life, that represent the various fractious elements of my own personal psyche, and we’re just allowing them to grow, basically, and go on a little bit of a journey. We’ve ended up with a collection of songs that feel like they tell a story. On their own, they work fantastically. Put them together with a theme and a concept, and it feels like it allows you to dive into it more, and it has an extra level of excitement to it, beyond the music itself.”
An immersive voyage through conflict, confusion, enlightenment and resolution, War Of Being is a thrilling and thought-provoking album. From the tantalising, atmospheric rush of the opening ‘Natural Disaster’ onwards, it is a free-flowing but meticulously crafted tour-de-force. Songs like ‘Echoes’ and ‘The Grey’ deftly mould the classic TesseracT sound into surprising new shapes, while the amorphous, unpredictable likes of ‘Legion’ (featuring a monstrous quasi-duet between rhythm section alumni Williams and Postones) and ‘Burden’ stride purposefully away from the expected, weaving ornate melodies around a newly inventive framework of polyrhythmic angularity. Most mind-blowing of all, the towering, 12-minute centrepiece of the title track….
“I think it was the element of being forced to experiment by the very nature of working with (producer) Pete Miles,” says Amos. “He’s a Devil’s Advocate for always trying something different and pushing us into our discomfort zone, and not shying away from a somewhat combative studio scenario! [Laughs] That was quite amusing because he’s also one of the most chilled out people you’ll ever meet. But as soon as it comes to making music, it really is all about seeing what happens when you smash two or three or four egos together. That’s why it probably sounds a little outside of the box known as TesseracT quite a lot of the time.”
“I don’t think any of it was calculated,” says Acle Kahney. “There’s still a big part that’s me writing a chunk of it and making demos. But there was a lot more of us jamming together in the studio together this time, at least for the first couple of weeks. The second half of ‘Legion’ was essentially Jay and Mos jamming, because we had the first part of the song and didn’t know what to do with it. I was busy tracking guitars for another song, and I came back and they’d come up with the rest. It was nice for things to progress naturally like that.”
Taken in isolation, War Of Being is an obvious milestone for this most inquisitive of modern metal bands. However, the lyrics and music are only part of this story. In keeping with their reputation for always looking forward and exploring new possibilities, TesseracT have also been working on new ways to spread the new album’s fascinating message. War Of Being will arrive adorned with startling new artwork created by Amos Williams.
“We’ve always had an album like this, with this presentation, in mind, but it’s always just been out of reach for us,” states Amos. “It’s always been my own personal creative ambition to do something like this with artwork. I wanted to make it almost like stills from a film that doesn’t exist, but giving it a really surreal edge, because the album deals with the way your imaginations spins off.”
Due to be preceded by the release of its colossal title track, War Of Being is the kind of record that every band wants to make. Simultaneously definitive and ground-breaking, it provides a telling snapshot of band at the height of their powers, in thrall to the creative process and hell-bent on shattering boundaries along the way.
“I think it’s been a wonderful vehicle, for us to let loose,” says Amos. “That’s why you can hear everyone doing everything they’ve always wanted to do within the format of an album, and that’s pretty fun! The ambitions get bigger and bigger, every time we achieve one little step. It ain’t getting any easier! [Laughs] Every step is harder and harder, and there’s a gravity that you have to overcome.”
“On the first record, you just want to release an album have it be in the record shops and then go on tour,” says Jay. “Now, we accept that that’s happening, so the goals keep stepping up. It just grows.”
“This has always been a battle,” Daniel concludes. “We’re a modest progressive metal band, but we’ve got big ambitions and we always have. We always strive to get there, and it’s a struggle, but we haven’t lost the enthusiasm for it. We want bigger and better things all the time. This is just the start of it.”