Singer Daniel Tompkins explains the concept behind the band's new album "Sonder."
Since debuting with the Concealing Fate EP in 2010, U.K. progressive metal band TesseracT has based its music around enlightened concepts that spring from its shrewd perceptions and analysis of day-to-day life. For instance, Concealing Fate (which evolved into 2011 LP One) was an existential treatise, 2013’s Altered State probed internal and external change in nature, and 2015’s Polaris explored the shifting nature of truth and how it differs among individuals. They’re weighty subjects to be sure, but TesseracT wants its lyrical output to be as substantial as its complex-yet-accessible sounds.
“We have some quite serious topics that we’re talking about,” singer Daniel Tompkins tells Billboard. However, the quintet wants to convey messages that it believes are important because “we have an opportunity to communicate with people on a level that not many people do, and it’s through the power of music.”
TesseracT’s new collection, Sonder (Apr.20, Kscope), hinges on the idea of understanding that while our own existences are vivid and complex, so are everyone else’s in the world. John Koenig coined the term on his blog The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a project that catalogs words for previously undefined emotions and experiences. “There are a lot of ineffable emotions,” says Tompkins. “That’s a key word here that I always tap into: ineffable, which is when you just cannot describe the way that you feel about something.”
Tompkins’ lyrics and voice, coupled with TesseracT’s precision-edged, atmospheric djent prog metal style, express myriad sensibilities on Sonder. The single “Luminary” launches the album with a reverberating groove and grapples with the feeling of insignificance. Tompkins recalls, “The first time I really had this perspective for sonder, it kind of did make me feel quite insignificant because I suddenly realized that I wasn’t that important and that there were so many people living complex lives.” The vision he had was that of walking through a huge crowd and realizing no one really cared about him. “Maybe that’s a little bit dark, but it’s meant to be a positive thing as well,” he says, “ ’cause it can often stop us from being self-important.”
Meanwhile, realizing that one is physically inconsequential in relation to the cosmos is the core of the drifting, celestial “Orbital,” a song that directly ties into Sonder’s cover art. The rendering, created by bassist Amos Williams, depicts a child looking down on Earth from a space station. The lyrics acknowledge that “the universe is so large, we just cannot fathom and understand the concept of time, and I think seeing from that one perspective [demonstrates] I am one voice in the light, which is the light reflected from the Earth to me,” says Tompkins. “When you look at the Earth, we’re just little organisms living within it, creating it and helping it and also killing it at the same time.”
TesseracT fans are already familiar with “Smile” — a taut but nimble track that focuses on combating pessimism and hopelessness. The band initially released it as a one-off in June 2017 to promote its U.S. tour, where it joined Lillake, Meshuggah and Megadeth on the road. Billboard is exclusively premiering a new version of the song. Listen below:
The spiraling, dreamy “Mirror Image” concerns taking a reflective look at one’s self and “breaking away from technology, [like] going into the wilderness and sitting out in the open, but just having that one-to-one time with your own mind,” says Tompkins. It also relays the sentiment that love is not hazardous, an idea that sprung from seeing the metal world treat the term like a four-letter word. “I find a lot of metal bands don’t want to use the word ‘love.’ I actually wanted to stick it in there to say to people, ‘This is not a dangerous thing. We need more of it,’ ” says Tompkins, laughing.
Nonetheless, an angry undercurrent permeates album closer “The Arrow,” which condemns squandering precious time. Its final notes amplify the painful regret of having wasted one’s life. As a former policeman who saw his peers trade the security of a paycheck for happiness, Tompkins is determined not to succumb to the same trap.
“I was a cop for like eight years. I got to the top of my pay[scale]. I could have retired at 49 and had a pension, an awesome pension, the rest of my life,” he explains. “I looked around at different colleagues, and I saw them at the end of their career, and they were so bitter. So tainted … I think we’ve got such an amazing opportunity to make the most of life and make a difference, and lot of people, unfortunately, don’t.”
The band will launch its Sonder headlining North American tour on April 19 in Boston at Paradise Rock Club; it wraps May 24 at New York’s Irving Plaza. Plini and Astronoid will provide support. In June, TesseracT will play such festivals as Download in the United Kingdom and Spain, and then will tour Europe with Plini and Between the Buried and Me throughout November, beginning Nov. 9 at Cologne, Germany’s Live Music Hall. For complete tour dates, go here.