Released: 2016, eOne Music/KScope
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
I was rather underwhelmed with Polaris, the third album by British prog metallers TesseracT, upon its release last fall, as evidenced by my lukewarm review here in October 2015. But as the band saddle up for a U.S. tour opening for Gojira they have re-released the album as a deluxe edition with the second disc Errai that features reworked - or rather “re-imagined” - tracks from Polaris: “Survival,” “Cages,” “Tourniquet” and “Seven Names.” My criticisms of Polaris still stand, I find it a rather tepid affair that fails to take advantage of returning vocalist Daniel Tompkins' range and muscularity. But what of the retooled tracks?
Well they most certainly have been rather radically altered – to the point where they are almost different songs. And this is not a case of some hackneyed remix where the original is turned into some ridiculous dance track or cloaked in bogus orchestration. For Errai, the music, for the most part, has been peeled apart, and in some cases stripped down, and reconstructed with Tompkins providing new vocal arrangements over the top.
But while all this provides new atmosphere and nuance, it doesn't address the issues I had with the Polaris versions – namely that they, for one, played to clean side of Tompkins vocals at the expense of his imposing and more abrasive side, and lacked the progressive adventurousness or metallic punch of the band's earlier work. Indeed, the Errai treatments only exacerbate the issues as what heft there was is largely muted and Tompkins' vocal approach is even more understated.
“Survival,” with its djenty friskiness, provided some of the heavier moments on Polaris. For Errai, it trades the shuffling guitar crunch for piano and synths and highlights the earnestness of Tompkins' flawless cleans and their natural soulfulness. The slow-build funky swagger of “Cages” that featured a fleeting moment of Tompkins' feral side, again downplays much of the guitar on Errai in favor of keyboards and is much more subdued. And though it does retain the slow build quality of the initial version, it just doesn't build to anywhere near the crescendo the second time around.
“Tourniquet” had an ethereal, Porcupine Tree-like air on Polaris, though it too built to a relatively bombastic end. On Errai it's darn near ambient at the outset and grows more lush – but nowhere near bombastic – as it progresses. Tompkins stunning vocals once more are showcased as the music becomes more of a subtle undercoating. “Seven Names,” which echoed “Cages” in its original form, is more serene and even delicate in its reinterpretation, with what sock there is provided by Jay Postones' crackling drums.
In the end, the Errai remakes seem designed primarily as a showcase for Tompkins' stirring voice, and as such they are an unqualified success. But it comes, again, at the expense of what got the band noticed in the first place – and what they seem to have been moving away pretty much since that time. New fans that TesseracT gain during the tour with Gojira who pick the Errai edition of the album up might be surprised by band's range – but disappointed that they don't kick near as much ass on “vinyl” as they do onstage.