There is a curious irony in how simplicity comes across as a massive risk for Tesseract, because it is a new territory. Previous album Altered State was extremely ambitious with just four tracks – all over ten minutes in length. Similar ambitiousness can be found in their debut album One, during which there is an almost half-hour six-track suite. All of their listeners know what ambition that Tesseract can fulfill. By comparison, Polaris on the surface comes across their least ambitious, with little suggesting a concept, and its brevity – nine tracks over the course of forty-seven minutes. However, listeners will quickly learn that this might be more down to how such massive ambition has been tightly contained.
Opener ‘Dystopia’, its title suggesting the next seven-minutes to be doom and gloom, is lived up to for the first thirty seconds against deep bass and grumble, until the difficult-to-follow beat and vocals tug the rug from beneath the ethereal misery and mystery, before listeners truly get to be immersed. It might be hypocritical to desire more drones of despair, but often such moments feel wasted. It is a slightly anti-climactic formula that continues throughout Polaris, fitting to its opposition related title, in how the majority of tracks begin with a utopian ambient glow, before meeting a dystopian signature, angry progressive math-rock formlessness. However, on occasion it is not a split-personality collision of emotion – whatever Polaris all represents, its heavenly calm and atmosphere, and furious chaos don’t belong together, something that with its titular fixation on opposites, might have been Tesseract’s intention all along. Either way, the in-out interruption of ether and ballistic rhythm becomes almost irritating.
On the other hand, there are some tracks that know full well how to build upon its background, such as closer ‘Seven Names’ and ‘Tourniquet’, the latter of which ironically feels far freer and deeper, with the light ticking of a cymbal providing the percussive metronome while Amos Williams’ complex bass provides a beat before giving away to secluded deep drums, as in spite of its rhythmic complexity, everything feels as though it is being given time to grow. This is documented also by showing off the full spectrum of returning vocalist Daniel Tompkins’ voice – falsetto through screams.
Although math and experimental rock thrives on chaos, Polaris is an impressive sounding album that comes across as far too contained for something with so little focus – almost as though a few tracks are squashed so much that the best moments aren’t allowed to hang around for long enough. Polaris is just asking to be so much bigger. Its bitesize approach (by progressive standards anyway) might make it easier to understand, but not promote Tesseract’s brilliant capabilities.