Gail El-Halaby reviews and interviews progressive metal band TesseracT...
By the time I arrived at SWX just after doors, the venue had already started filling up. Having missed the prog-metal pioneers at Download Festival this year, I was looking forward to finally seeing them at their own headline show. There was one thing I couldn’t help noticing, however, and that was the absolute male domination in the room, my friend and I being part of a laughably conspicuous female minority.
First up, the instrumental proggers Plini warmed the crowd appropriately with their slick musicianship. Shortly after came Between the Buried and Me: eclectic and unique, they had most of the crowd head-banging and gazing in admiration at their unpredictable and fascinating musical wizardry.
As we neared the time for TesseracT’s grand entrance, I could feel the anticipation and excitement in the room as conversations turned to how hyped everyone was to see them. As soon as the lights went down, the crowd began to roar as a pit instantly opened. When Luminary’s initial heaviness kicked in, it was obvious this was going to be special.
The band made sure to play tunes that spanned their entire discography. There were heavy throwbacks to their first album One, such as Concealing Fate parts 1, 2 and 3, followed by an absolutely gorgeous and emotional performance of 'Survival' from 2016’s Polaris, which probably remains my favourite TesseracT song ever. You could feel the crowd go especially crazy during tunes from 2013’s Altered State, such as Of 'Matter- Proxy' and 'Of Mind- Nocturne'.
Tesseract were a bit good last night. . . That lighting rig! @ Bristol, United Kingdom https://t.co/RjlAbBiE5v
— Tom Moore (@TomMooreSounds) November 28, 2018
The crowd’s reactions were a real mix, though all were positive: some wore looks of deep concentration, clearly being blown-away by what they were experiencing, whilst others, including myself, rushed to go all-out in the mosh pit, singing along to every word. There were even a few crowd surfers, and we looked on as lead singer Dan Tompkins grabbed a surfer’s outstretched hand perfectly in time with a lyric about hands. It was a really personal and satisfying moment for the crowd.
Dan Tompkin’s vocal range is incredible, and we witnessed it reach soaring highs and swoop to melodic lows; he was pretty much pitch perfect throughout. The band members were all musically tight and perfectly in sync, full of dreamy riffs yet retaining the aggressive undertones.
The production itself also blew me away. A beautifully atmospheric lightshow complimented TesseracT’s already dynamic music and gave the show an almost ethereal experience from start to finish. The band ended with a rendition of the old ‘Concealing Fate, Part 1: Acceptance’. As the show finished, chants of ‘one more song’ lingered long in the air and all around me were satisfied faces and remarks about how amazing the set had been. After that epic performance, it’s safe to say TesseracT has cemented itself as one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen.
A few days before their Bristol date, I was lucky enough to have had a chat with the lovely guitarist James Monteith. We cover general tour life, what it’s like doing PR these days and pretty much everything in-between:
Hi James! First off, it’s been out for a while but congratulations on the latest album! How’s the tour going so far?
It’s going really well! We have our biggest production we’ve ever had on a headline run, a cool light show, we’ve had lots of shows and sold out 5 or 6 of them, which is great, couldn’t ask for anymore! Logistically it’s been an absolute nightmare, we’ve had buses break down, equipment not work, but luckily, we’ve made it through.
Apart from that, how has the reception been for your latest album compared to previous releases?
Yeah, good, we’re playing the biggest crowds we’ve ever played, loads of new songs coming out, the audience has become more diverse and the age range has grown. There’s a lot more young people there. We had a spontaneous wall of death one night, which doesn’t happen very often at our shows, which was cool.
Wall of death? Amazing, what song was that for?
'Concealing Fate: Part 1!' It was an unexpected surprise.
So, have you found your fanbase has increased in size, in terms of age etc since the latest album?
'Yeah, I mean we’ve always had quite a diverse range of ages but I feel like our new album has appealed to people who may be newer to music and new to more proggy/tech stuff.'
I definitely think you guys were the band who eased me into more proggy and tech bands!
Do you have a favourite song to play live on this tour at the moment?
'I’m not sure I quite enjoy playing everything at the moment, that’s a hard one, it just depends on the day and the vibe.'
How about choosing setlists, is it a collaborative effort, songs that you know people will like etc?
'Yeah, it’s a mixture of all really, we play songs we know will go down well, songs that will fit well together as it’s a continual thing we need all the tracks to work together musically… though sometimes it’s laziness as there’s some songs that we’ve never actually got round to learning properly as it’ll take extra effort.'
You’re also touring with Plini and Between the Buried and Me at the moment, how did that come about?
'Well they’re both bands we’ve known for quite a while now, we toured the US with Between the Buried and Me back in 2011. It’s our first time doing Europe with Plini, but we did Australia with them and the US leg of this run with them as well, they’re old friends we’ve known for a while now.'
I also see from your instagram you do post quite a lot of food, are you a bit of a foodie?
'I wouldn’t say I’m a food connoisseur, but I do like my food.'
Obviously, you spend a lot of time on tour, is there any cuisine in particular that you’ve enjoyed?
'We’ll try anything- especially the more extreme stuff! The other night we tried Swedish delicacy called Surstromming, which is essentially rotten fish, well fermented fish, an old-fashioned way of preserving it. But you open the can and the smell itself is enough to make you vomit, it was horrendous and the taste really wasn’t much better!'
Have you tried the Durian fruit? I remember reading that the fruit smells terrible but tastes quite good!
'Oh yeah! In Thailand, I remember seeing a ‘Do not eat this fruit on public transport’ sign. But it’s actually really delicious. The smell isn’t anywhere near as bad as the smell of this fish, smelt a bit like cat piss, to be honest.'
If there was only one food that you had to eat for the entire tour, what would it be?
'I reckon if I asked the other guys it would be sushi! Half the band are complete sushi addicts- don’t know what my staple would be! I’d say maybe kebab? But that’s more a drunk food!'
On a completely new topic- being away on tour means being away from your family quite a lot- that must be quite difficult.
'Definitely, it’s a difficult balance. I have two kids at home, it’s way tougher on my wife than it is for me. I do miss my family a lot when I’m away but it is manageable and you do get used to it. This tour in particular isn’t too long.'
Do they visit on tour?
'Not really, maybe when the boys are a bit older, but at the moment they’re a bit too young. One is 8 and the other is 10, so they are getting bigger. One of them absolutely loves the whole music thing and we actually took him to download festival last year and he had a great time! My other thinks that metal music is racket and hates it- he thinks it’s the worst thing in the world!'
On the same note of being away from family, is it difficult being around the same people 24/7? Sometimes even as a student it can be difficult living with the same people all the time!
'Well we’ve all been doing this together for so long, we’re very good at managing that. The only problems that really occur are smelly feet and snoring. It’s just like any relationship- you learn to manage them!'
I read the other day that you studied mechanical engineering at uni!
'I did! A long time ago. I was always in bands as a teenager and heavily involved in music and at uni I was studying music on the side. Then when I graduated I just thought- do I want to go and get a job which will be completely unaccepting of that side of what I do or do I just bin it off and do what I really love- and I chose the latter. This was back in 2002 that I graduated!'
From that you’re also heavily involved in PR, has the way you publicise bands changed a lot over the years?
'Yeah I’ve been doing PR for a decade. I’d say it’s changed quite a lot, in the past physical mail-outs were a real thing. Postage was a massive thing back then, which is basically non-existent these days unless you’re sending someone a nice finished copy. The online world is always evolving too, online features, online reviews and recently reviews are becoming less important. There was a real phase were premieres were a big thing, such as getting websites to do the first showings of a music videos, again that’s sort of going out of fashion. Content wise it’s shifting way more towards features and special content rather than the run-of-the-mill standard stuff. A lot of things have evolved and I guess a big part of it is how relevant social media has become.'
Which social media site would you say is currently the most influential in terms of marketing and PR, it seems to me Instagram is quite a big deal?
'Yeah Instagram is definitely important at the moment, Facebook his sort of dying and younger people have stopped using it as much. We’re finding that young people under 25 or 30 rarely actually use the programme itself unless it’s for messaging. Twitter is still very useful as well- it’s a far better tool to use rather than cold e-mailing people.'
Do you guys Google yourselves and read online reviews often?
'Probably not as much as I used to, but I definitely read the odd one every now and again. it’s good to keep an eye on that sort of stuff but I don’t worry about it too much. I tend to avoid reading comments on social media- a lot of people say a lot of ridiculous things. You have to take everything with a pinch of salt.'
Before we wrap up- I have to ask! Do you have anything in store for 2019?
'We’re not really sure yet! We obviously have all the live dates coming up but we’re hoping to work on new music as soon as possible and hopefully turn out something quicker than the last one!'
Featured Image: Tesseract/ Century Media Records
Sonder came out earlier this year! Listen on iTunes or Spotify