Unless you’re genuinely awestruck by Wetherspoons pubs in the middle of roundabouts, there’s not much that’s mystical and momentous about Milton Keynes. The most monumental thing on offer may well be Tesseract, the local DIY progressive metal mainstays who have been making the place sound like Merlin’s moshpit since 2003.
This fourth album – eight polyrhythmic, shape-shifting metal mood-pieces drenched in a “deep and devouring sense of insignificance”, as though Stephen Mulhern has joined SikTh – finds them managing to hold on to the same vocalist (Daniel Tompkins) for more than one record in a row, even though these unstable math metal tracks try to shake him loose every few bars or so. Not so much leaping between time-signatures as entire time-zones, the gristly riffs and ambient metal meanderings of ‘Sonder’ strive for a kind of stoic, sombre enormity, but they clash badly with Tompkins’ often slick pop vocals, alternating between snarling doom lord, wistful James Dean Bradfield and bloke out of Kodaline. ‘King’ particularly sounds like Boyzone being dragged by the testes to Hell, bits of ‘Mirror Image’ will have you convinced Sam Smith is guesting, and proggier moments such as ‘Juno’ could be Imagine Dragons possessed. It’s like Tool have decided to give themselves a fighting chance on The Voice.
Tesseract are at their best when ditching all pretence of rock and gliding through an ambi-synth landscape like ‘Orbital’ and the opening minute of ‘Beneath My Skin’, but they live way too close to Donnington to keep that up for long – the latter ends up sounding like a slap bassist having a fight with himself. ‘The Arrow’ provides a stirring climax, but ‘Sonder’ is too dislocated and confused to warrant unpicking.