There’re two kinds of bands in this world: crowd-pleaser bands, and musician bands. Crowd pleasers are what you hear every day; catchy hooks, crowd-oriented choruses, and typically logical structuring that our feeble minds soak in like fine whiskey, giving us the urge to break shit and dance around naked. Musician bands are the kind of thing that make you contemplate the meaning of life and existence as we know it, thus preventing you from ever knowing what it is to have sex again. Fucked-up time signatures, space-age word play, tones you didn’t know existed (and kinda didn’t need to); while listening to these bands you can barely understand the concept of time and space, much less move your body in any way. Catch a musician band, and you’re standing there with your head cocked the entire time just trying to get it. This was very much the case this past Wednesday the 4th at Montreal’s Cafe Campus for the triumphant return of England’s Tesseract.
What kind of a Jason Greenberg review would this be if I wasn’t late for the first band? Impressively, I somehow made it for at least two songs by the pristinely progressive five-piece, Skyharbor. Based out of both Cleveland, OH and various part of India (they’re all exotic and shit), these dudes rock an ambience like it’s nobody’s business, akin to that of slightly groovier Circa Survive or even a lighter Monuments. The only real synopsis of it that I can give from two songs is that they bring a very rich sound as a band. Vocally, certain parts seemed shaky for about a millisecond (as if the note was slightly unattainable) only to catch itself beautifully. If progressive is an art form you enjoy, this is a band you need to see.
Never in my life have I needed to plug my already damaged-from-birth ears during a fuckin’ line check whilst every speaker or instrument was pushed way past any natural limit on a soundboard. After quite possibly the most painful line check I’ve EVER endured, Birmingham, AL prog-core powerhouses Erra took the stage. Now you might think that with as brutal a line check as what I just described, there must be a brutal set to follow, right? Well you wouldn’t be entirely wrong, but by no means does this act lack in melody either; the problem is that the melody wasn’t exactly executed in the bests of fashions live. Although their pre-show check was extensive, it perpetually felt as if the levels would not find balance, thus any melodic overtones that should have been present were lost in the waves. The clean vocals provided by guitarist Jesse Cash were clear as day, but sadly felt worn-out and slightly painful to hear. This is not to say that he was bad or shouldn’t sing, but he was definitely out of his comfort zone and vocal range to a degree. What was most impressive was the vocal consistency – and sheer size (not kidding, this dude is a fucking mountain) – of frontman Ian Eubanks. If beat downs and happy chords slung into one frightening little package is your bag, then so is Erra.
The term “stole the show” can be thrown around without meaning, but for Indianapolis, IN’s The Contortionst there’s nothing meaningless about it. They do progressive metal by trade, but their specialty is space-age ambience that’ll have you spewing like a volcano. They opened with “Intuition” from their latest release Language. As the sweet melodic ambience and echoing beauty filled the air, it was apparent that I’d require a fresh pair of drawers by the end of this set. If you’ve had the chance to actually listen to Language, then you already know that there’s only one way to flow from “Intuition,” and that’s immediately into “Conspire,” thus reigning in the heavy like a mother fucker. I could list songs all night, but there was absolutely nothing you couldn’t enjoy about this set. The sound was finally impeccable across all fronts. The only thing that you could even remotely pick at was an effect or two, but that’s really only if you’re a diehard Contortionist fan. What obviously did it for me (aside from, you know, fucking everything) was frontman Michael Lessard, be it giving you wood with his ghostly clean vocals, inducing defecation with his gut wrenching roars, or even just giving you the heebee geebies with his zombie twitches and blank stares.
Wrapping up the night was progressive act Tesseract from Milton Keynes, England, making their first Montreal appearance since 2011. I’ve made several previous attempts to get into Tesseract, but sadly I still can’t get into it. Spacey and ambience-oriented acts rely on a variety of elements that I feel these chaps fell short on. Like most ambient groups Tesseract did just fine throwing the time signature book out the window, but I found they lacked in the tones and effects that could set them apart from other acts of the same kin. Throughout the set, I found myself begging for something to pique my interest in any fashion. Even when a song might show signs of excitement, I’d find myself just listening to singer Daniel Tompkins belting a singular, awkward note with no context or lyrical prowess to it whatsoever. Many in the room would not agree with me, but that is the beauty of an opinion! I’d be lying if I didn’t see many a bobbing head during the three consecutive Of Matter tracks played in succession, or if I said there wasn’t at least one dude who managed to climb up for a good ol’ fashioned crowdsurf. I’d most definitely be lying if I said these guys weren’t phenomenal musicians, specifically bassist Amos Williams with his beastly back-ups and earth-crunching bass lines. Tesseract just hasn’t quite grown on me yet, but who knows, maybe it’ll be fuckin heroin to you.
Written by Jason Greenberg
Photography by Melissa Martella
*edited by Kate Erickson