By: Andy Price
Tesa | facebook | bandcamp |
Released on August 5, 2016 via My Proud Mountain
Tesa piqued my interest when I found out they’d been handpicked by Neurosis to be their tour support in August, and when I saw positive comparisons between them and the mighty Pelican. This coincided nicely with an opportunity to review their latest record, a five track instrumental beast called GHOST, which will shortly be reissued by My Proud Mountain on glorious vinyl (and CD). The Latvian trio have been around for quite a while, putting out three albums, including Heartbeats from the Sky in 2008, an EP called 4 in 2014, and then GHOST in early 2015. I can see why GHOST is getting a reissue, especially given timing of the Neurosis tour. Put simply, Tesa sound like Times of Grace era Neurosis jamming with Godspeed You! Black Emperor. There’s the heaviness of post-metal, but with less of an onus on grinding repetition of riff structures, more post-rock tendencies, and very sparing use of vocals.
Tesa do a lot of things really well on this record, the most effective is the layering of sounds to create the whole, the interplay between traditional guitars, bass and drums and more non-traditional aspects including noise layers and vocals abused and mixed so deeply that they effectively provide percussive noise rather than traditional vocals. ‘H’ provides a great example of this at around the mid-point of the song, with vocals ratcheting up the intensity of the song at exactly the right place. The recording even has an Albini-esque feel to it, playing into the Neurosis reference even harder, no doubt helped by some excellent mastering from James Plotkin, which keeps the whole record feeling loud and epic irrespective of the actual volume the songs are played at. A quick note on the song titles – there are five tracks, each assigned a letter. Put together, these spell the word ‘GHOST’, which is the album title. Unless your MP3 player decides to organise things alphabetically, like mine initially did, in which case it spells, ‘HGOST’, which I suspect has less relevance.
The record really needs to be considered as a whole, trying to explain the album by reviewing track-by-track doesn’t really work. Tesa have created a record that manages to be big and oppressive; despite the fact that there are long passages of almost minimalist sound – check the quiet, almost contemplative reverb-soaked guitar introduction to album centrepiece ‘O’, for example, and you’ll note that although there’s really not much going on, the use of quiet atmospheric noise builds tension and lends an air of claustrophobia to the song. This build lasts for three minutes as the noise takes over, feeling like a rising tide, only reinforcing that feeling of claustrophobia, before a Pelican style riff is layered on top of the noise at the four and a half minute mark. This isn’t your traditional break though, the tension is maintained throughout as more and more is layered in, and it’s only when we get to about the seven minute mark to we get a release of some of that tension. Even then, the song continues to build to a GY!BE style denouement before dropping into static.
The band has stated that they wanted to move out of their comfort zone, away from their post-rock roots, and into a heavier direction. In a lot of ways they have succeeded; the record has some really heavy moments and the overall oppressive air adopted on the record is miles from the standard feel of a post-rock release, whilst still feeling like that touch hasn’t been totally lost. In many ways it feels like a record that has positioned itself slap bang in the middle of the post-rock / post-metal continuum and benefits from the best of both worlds. There are lovely counterpoints with the limited parts of the record that do feel a bit like they have been written by a post-rock band – the intro to ‘T’ for example, is open and seems tailor made to build and build – it’s to Tesa’s credit that they then subvert this by building a sludge-y post-metal rhythm, complete with tortured, barely audible screams. That said, when Tesa decide to go post, they do it beautifully. The second half of ‘T’ is beautifully ambient, devoid of percussion for almost five minutes before the final release of riffs, distortion and pounding drums.
Overall this is a record well worth your time, and it’s to My Proud Mountains’ credit that they are helping this record get the attention it deserves. It’s an emotionally engaging journey that moves from big riffs into minimal introspection with little effort but with maximum impact. It doesn’t feel like forty minutes worth of music, and the end of the last track comes way too quickly – fortunately that replay button is easy to reach, right? I’ll be checking out their back catalogue, and if post-rock or post-metal or anything in that arena floats your proverbial boat, I strongly suggest you pick this record up.