There are few bands as integral to the foundation of modern progressive metal as TesseracT. Their vocalist, Dan Tompkins, with a powerful, pristine style, has been at the forefront of frontmen in the genre since 2011’s One was released. However, Tompkins has demonstrated his vocal and songwriting versatility with a variety of other projects, being an ex-member of progressive metal/rock group Skyharbor, and a current member of Zeta, In Color, and White Moth Black Butterfly. Though all of these projects have showcased this artist’s capacity for collaboration, one of the best results of this constant cooperation is White Moth Black Butterfly’s new record, Atone, out September 1. The art pop group, composed of Tompkins, guitarist/programmer Keshav Dhar (Skyharbor), vocalist Jordan Turner, percussionist Mac Christensen and keyboardist/programmer Randy Slaugh, have crafted an impressively melodic, well-paced and lush record.
Atone opens with an epic tone that purveys throughout the record; “I Incarnate” is the first section of a three song suite that is interspersed amongst the eleven track album. With Randy Slaugh a now permanent fixture of the group, the string arrangements are considerably more immersive than on White Moth Black Butterfly’s debut, 2013’s One Thousand Wings. Coupled with Tompkins’ soft vocal delivery, this opening track promises much of what’s to come. However, “Rising Sun”, the track that directly follows, is a stark contrast to the record’s beginning, containing some of the most traditional, guitar-driven moments of the record. Here, we hear Tompkins’ smooth delivery juxtaposed against the sugary edge of Jordan Turner’s voice, whose timbre is almost reminiscent of Canadian electropop artist Lights.
Atone’s first single, “The Serpent”, carries some of this more upbeat energy into a musical exploration of the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. Set against a syncopated drum beat, Turner introduces the tale with Tompkins echoing and harmonizing her lines. The soft bass line, dancing delayed guitar lines, acoustic strums and demure keys build to gentle crests and waves throughout the song’s four minutes, highlighted with a chorus led by Tompkins. Ending with a string finale, we are again introduced to one of my favourite elements of the record: dense, wonderful orchestral arrangements.
“Atone” brings forth some of the strongest vocal interplay and melodic motifs heard on the record, with a somber yet effective hook making for one of the most entrancing songs on the album. Where One Thousand Wings focused solely on Tompkin’s voice with the occasional incorporation of guests, the addition of Turner to the group brings an increased variety of dynamics that lend to the fuller, more detailed arrangements on the album. This approach at times evokes the huge production and gentle instrumentation heard on David Maxim Micic’s Eco.
For a record that is so sonically detailed and dense, Atone passes surprisingly quickly. At thirty-eight minutes, I found that the enthralling, meditative state of the album still moved in a well-paced, accessible way. Such pacing, alongside interesting arrangements and stellar production, makes for rewarding repeated listens with new details apparent after each spin. Though the record is fairly constant, and sometimes repetitive, in terms of dynamics (you won’t find the same contrasts of light and heavy as in other Tompkins material), Atone is the most consistently beautiful album that I’ve heard this year. If you want to hear a familiar voice explore new territory alongside an exceptionally talented line-up, Atone delivers an album that is not only my favorite Tompkins release in several years, but is also a truly enjoyable experimental/art pop record.
Notable Tracks: “I Incarnate”; “Atone”
FFO: Eco-era David Maxim Micic, Lights, Sleep Token