Genre: Atmospheric Sludge/Post-Metal
Tesa is a unique entity in the post-metal and sludge arena. The Latvian group (specifically on HeartBeatsFromTheSky) managed to create a magnificent blend of sludge and post-rock that flowed smoothly between and intertwined genres, touching beautiful, shimmering and melancholic cleans drenched in a multitude of effects before flattening the listener with jagged swaths of heaviness with a very subtle hardcore undercurrent.
They did this within the span of a half-hour. The loud peaks were intoxicating while the quiet valleys were haunting and serene — making use of effect pedals with great expertise so as to not make it an exercise in tedium, complimenting the tremendous writing. HeartBeatsFromTheSky exists in the space between multiple genres and remains one of my favorite records in the last decade, soaring celestial beauty every minute of its length. Complex and yet so simple, exploding vividly and looping back on itself in the final moments to the opening tremolo riff creating a journey you're compelled to revisit over and over. I plan on giving it a proper review pretty soon in fact.
That record came out in 2008 and I've both longed for and feared the emergence of their next effort. Tesa are a quiet band. They tour a lot but they don't let much slip until the final weeks of any sort of news. My fears lay in the fact that while they're obviously beyond musically competent, and have grown by leaps since their first EP, I couldn't see much rising above HBFTS in their catalog; let alone comparing with it. Despite that nagging doubt I've been eagerly waiting for something new and here it is presented as the simply titled record IV.
IV is practically the same length as HBFTS but containing only three songs. However, much like HBFTS, each song blends into the next so as to create the illusion of one 35 minute track. The big question is does it top or even stand strong with that record? And on the first couple of listens I have to say it falls just short of HBFTS, taking a more minimalistic approach at times (but not by much) with more emphasis on long atmospheric builds; builds which do not reach the same quaking, unearthly conclusions of their previous work but remain pretty, atmospheric and heavy both all at once and then separately.
IV is not a disappointment despite having said this. While there's nothing as inebriating as the final moments of their last record even with terrific climbs here it still touches on sounds that not many other bands do. The record undeniably has some crushing riffs and rhythms with excellent drumming and deep bass. Refined and backed by once again strong writing it shows that they bring a truly unique heaviness in their approach, if slightly augmented from their last entry.
The first and second tracks are more reminiscent of their previous creations. "I" opens with distorted heavy riffs before quickly jumping into mid-paced rhythms — switching off between this and a slow-down to crush you. Much simpler or straight-forward without the emphasis on effects to twinkle up the quiet moments which soon approach.
The drop out comes suddenly and slides back up following the rising tom hits, and we return to an aberration of the opening rhythm for a time, slightly faster. This is the halfway marker where things start to resemble the quiet beauty of HBFTS, as the towering cleans on several guitars gently guide us toward the end: one wailing in the right channel behind cycling noise, soft crashing cymbals and the fragile chords of the second guitar. The final minute things get louder while the sustain whining driven by effects remains, and the song ends as static grows until all is quiet — announcing the second track.
"II" picks up so softly, with ghost chords and notes reverberating as a far off buzz of an organ or synth fade up and down behind them. It reminds me not only of some of the final tracks in HBFTS but also of Braveyoung's We Are Lonely Animals in its minimalistic, spectral ebbs and emphasis on clean, reverberating strokes. It is captivating in its calm atmosphere like a placid lake early in the morning, and eventually as ripples form from the surface being breached things become more powerfully heavy.
As we approach the mid-point the song changes direction, back to the crunch of sludge while the one channel holds a beautiful tremolo melody alongside the crushing blows. This is what Tesa does extremely well and it's sustained the remainder of this song, growing more distorted, loud and saturated in static as the melody and heaviness play out. This is a point where we see Tesa can still bring about a monumental climax but just through a different formula. It hits a peak and holds as the cymbals explode, winding down in the final seconds to break the barrier of the last track.
The final 18 minute song is a (at first) very quiet experience and then transforms into a noisy, slow, and heavy expedition. With the length of this track I was concerned because I know Tesa to have kept their writing tight in the past with shorter songs filled with excellent turns and complexity cloaked in a deceptive simplicity. They know how to progress while keeping things from getting out of control, with a perfect segue ending to open the next track.
My worries are quickly dissuaded though as they keep their strong style of writing intact here, and nothing becomes masturbatory or too drawn out for me. Very well controlled and flows smoothly without tiring. Opening with sustained buzzing synth which carriers over from the last song, this one is largely clean and takes a similar approach as the last song: tranquil, creeping elegance but with a constant electric drone behind the slow and quiet bends and plucks.
As the toms begin, ramping up alongside the feedback and droning bass we're expecting a burst to come but it is delayed for a quiet moment of contemplation — and then the sludgey riffs break through as the droning second guitar continues. The rhythm drops out but returns shortly, a little more quiet than before, stopping occasionally for a quick dive into a slow, trembling section.
All the while the second channel gains volume in its wailing drone as we hit the mid-point, the drums slow and finally the drone begins to lessen to a shining howl. Here rhythmic waves of riffs and undulating bass begin crashing hypnotically, holding steady as that background drone begins to climb again — until the noise in the last few minutes creeps back from the outskirts to overwhelm the riffs; leaving us with the howling wind, lapping waves, chimes and creaking wood as the instruments fade. In this final track Tesa show that no matter the length they can control themselves and create something memorable, leaving only the best on display.
With IV Tesa have once again shown they are not following the pack in the post-metal genre, even though in my opinion this is as close as they've come to sounding like their peers. And yet they still are an unmeasurable distance from those peers. In fact they still sound better and far more different with their perfect mixture of genres and sounds, masking a complexity within a straightforward formula. They hold their sound, remaining peculiar and apart despite the minor departure from the brilliance of HeartBeatsFromTheSky. Admittedly that's holding them up to a ridiculously high standard that they've set for themselves. Even for Tesa it would be hard to capture that brilliance twice but they come close here.
Support Tesa. This band treads the gulf between sludge, post-rock/post-metal, and hardcore like no other with exceptional writing and dense atmosphere. While IV is not as jaw-dropping as HeartBeatsFromTheSky it is certainly worth your cash and I recommend listening to it than purchasing the CD. They will lead you on a trek through the sparkling darkness like no other band.
Go over to OSK Records and pick up a copy, or email them to do the same. You can also pick it up and stream it at Impure Muzik. The site is in Russian so if you have issues contact them since it's all through paypal in the end.