War Of Being

rating icon 9 / 10

Track listing:

01. Natural Disaster
02. Echoes
03. The Grey
04. Legion
05. Tender
06. War Of Being
07. Sirens
08. Burden
09. Sacrifice

Amidst a colossal mess of pandemic-scuppered plans, TESSERACT seem to have undergone an extraordinary evolution. The UK band's fifth full-length album since emerging with that jaw-dropping "Concealing Fate" EP 13 years ago, "War Of Being" sees their collective imagination run wild across an hour of the most expansive music they have ever made. As widely reported, that is only a sliver of the story.

Deep down a rabbit hole of their own delighted making, TESSERACT have taken the concept behind this record — in essence, a philosophical battle between disparate personality parts of a single, bewildered entity, recast as an epic quest — and expanded its remit far beyond the usual musical boundaries. There is a novella in the works. There is a videogame. There is, most impressively, an entire VR metaverse based around the imagery and concept, into which dedicated fans are invited to dive, safe in the knowledge that the soundtrack will be amazing. Firmly in the arcane spirit of prog's first wave, "War Of Being" could hardly be more three-dimensional and immersive if it came with a free sensory deprivation tank.

But again, none of this would count for a hill of beans if the music itself missed the mark. TESSERACT's last album, "Sonder" (2018),  was a punchy (if brief) consolidation of their trademark sound, with some cool surprises lurking amongst the coiled-spring riffs and angular grooves. "War Of Being", while unmistakably the work of the same band, feels more adventurous from the start. "Natural Disaster" begins with that familiar grinding minimalism, but steadily evolves through several distinct passages, becoming more euphoric and triumphant as it thunders towards blissful catastrophe. Most notably, Dan Tompkins's vocal melodies are hitting countless unfamiliar sweet spots. In tandem with a tasteful rewiring of TESSERACT's most cherished tropes, and an overall sound that booms and roars with a presence that previous albums have lacked, his versatility and expanded range add a finishing touch to what turns out to be a whole-hearted leap forward in all departments.

"War Of Being" is full of songs that could not have been conjured by anyone else, and yet TESSERACT have never ventured down many of these melodic and atmospheric paths before. "Echoes" is a pulsing, bright-eyed earworm with a beautifully downbeat mid-song mellowing. "The Grey" is an intermittently brutal and pointedly prog-friendly show-stealer that showcases the extremes of Tompkins's talents and chucks in some shards of knuckleheaded tech-metal, to thrilling effect. The adrenalin continues to flow during "Legion" — a drawn-out, driving and hypnotic groove, interspersed with bursts of churning fury and dramatic detours into ethereal, white-light fusion, with another sky-scraping Tompkins melody on top. In stark contrast, "Tender" lives up to its name, as guitarist Acle Kahney shimmers, disembodied, in an ambient haze, and Tompkins delivers a wonderfully elegant and nuanced vocal, building from a whisper to a scream.

With a slight twinkle in their third eye, TESSERACT released the 11-minute title track as the first global glimpse of this record. Maximum prog points all 'round, of course. The song itself is a glorious extravagance, with an almost GODFLESH-like grimness to its heaviest riffs. Dense with satisfying bursts of juddering, polyrhythmic aggro, it unfurls almost imperceptibly, shifting seamlessly from one ornate musical conceit to the next. And for all its complexity, "War Of Being" delivers a huge emotional rush, as insidious but rousing hooks emerge from a dark, twisting melee of riffs and near-chewable reverb.

In the aftermath of a towering centerpiece, TESSERACT are still determined to forge ahead. "Sirens" is a sweetly soporific, electro-industrial prog ballad, with another immaculate Tompkins vocal and a disarming lightness of touch. "Burden" begins as a haunted funk odyssey with an audacious, elated chorus, and then skitters fractiously away into the opaque ether, deft vocal harmonies in abundance, knotty emotions on full display, and the absurd fluidity of TESSERACT in full, five-man flight rendered in vivid color. The closing "Sacrifice" is an ingenious marvel: featherweight electronics underpin another lupine groove, setting up a chorus of undeniable hugeness and then reeling away on a star-gazing prog-funk-metal adventure with just a hit of the gothic and the theatrical.

As certified standard bearers for this kind of ultra-contemporary progressive metal, TESSERACT do not really need to take risks with their music like this. But "War Of Being", for all its familiar moments, is the bravest and boldest record they have made to date. The sound of a great band discovering multiple new paths to greatness is something to behold.

Author: Dom Lawson
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