Five years after near complete radio silence, Tetrafusion are back.
Their last release, the crowdfunded 2012 EP Horizons, caught some attention in the progressive world, but progressive metal group Tetrafusion were somewhat eclipsed by the rising popularity of instrumental prog metal group Scale the Summit, of which Tetrafusion’s bassist Mark Michell and drummer J.C. Bryant were a part of. After a messy affair in late 2016, Scale the Summit was left with only Chris Letchford at the helm – but we’re not going to be opening that can of worms today. What’s important is that Tetrafusion released their 3rd full length album, Dreaming of Sleep, back in April this year, an album which was anticipated by Prog Talk admins, Frog and Cerpin.
And so Frog and Cerpin take to the Roundabout once more to muse over Dreaming of Sleep – but do they reach the same conclusions about the album?
We’d like to remind you lovely people that our Roundabouts are compilations of each Prog Talk admin’s individual and subjective opinions. We do not collude whilst writing our reviews, though some admins hold their tongues better than others. So without further ado let’s talk prog!
It’s already been five years since Horizons, one of my all-time favourite progressive rock releases, from Australian band Tetrafusion. Maybe this was delayed in some way by bassist Mark Michell being a full-time member of Scale the Summit for a while. When the announcement came I was just like ‘>:V’. I never really liked Scale the Summit or any of Chris Letchford’s efforts, except for Carving Desert Canyons, and a few songs here and there afterwards… Well, if Michell’s adventures put Tetrafusion on ice for a while, at least it helped craft The Migration, the only other STS album I can get behind. Moreover, it had the beneficial side-effect of putting some limelight on an outstanding bass player and, by association, his original band Tetrafusion – henceforth referred to with the abbreviation 4f.
Back on track with a full-length release by the name of Dreaming of Sleep, Tetrafusion did not gather rust and show us the full force of their artillery. The album spans almost an hour, divided in nine tracks, each with its own personality and points of interest. The musicians seem to have in the meantime sharpened their tools and skills in order to record, once again, one of the best modern progressive rock albums. One of the hallmarks of the band, the front-and-centre bass guitar in the mix, is back. Unfortunately, however, the instrument that made me dream at night, Mark’s Conklin 7-stringer, isn’t. That might be due to his Warwick endorsement – let’s face it, it’s only because of that –, and it’s a shame. However, his chops have attained new heights and more diversity, and the high register of the 6-string is used commonly and efficiently. Rest in peace, yellow Conklin.
The compositions on this record are made of the same cloth as the ones on Horizons. They’re mostly mid-tempo, avoiding the sense of mindless wanking sometimes ushered by complex arrangements at faster tempi, and the one of utter boredom created by sluggish speeds. The songs are well written and deeply thought-out, and they feel that way because there’s time for the listener to make sense of it, if only slightly, at first. That’s part of what made Horizons accessible and so beautiful, so I’m glad it’s back. The vocals of Gary sound as fresh as ever, the drums sound clear and organic, the guitars sound crisp and whole, and, as mentioned before, the bass guitar steals the show. On a musical point of view, Dreaming of Sleep hits bull’s-eye.
I was highly sceptical and apprehended this album quite a lot, because its predecessor was just so near-perfect. It set an apparently unbeatable bar for future expectations, but, against all odds, the Tetrafusion prog quartet hit an even higher mark. Dreaming of Sleep is an indispensable album for any fan of modern progressive rock. On top of that, the album is free on Bandcamp, so there is no excuse for you not to grab it.
Dreaming of Sleep? More like Falling Asleep, am I right? No, I joke, I joke – but every time I revisit Dreaming of Sleep, I truly find it difficult to talk about. Maybe it’s because I find it unmemorable? Maybe it’s because I think there isn’t a lot to consider? Maybe it’s because I’m an imbecile? In reality, it’s a bit of all three.
Clocking in at almost one hour, Tetrafusion’s latest album is double the length of their last release: Horizons – which just so happens to be one of my favourite EPs. Horizons’ subtle narrative structure, tightly knit songs and high energy make it an impeccable record; but the real star is vocalist Gary Tubbs. The ambient intro ‘Aerosolus’ with its distorted vocals and the lone vocals closing ‘Look Away (Pt. 2)’ are perfect ways to bracket the EP, and more importantly they signify Tubbs’ dominion over the record’s progression and the vocals’ strengths when they’re allowed to flourish.
Fast forward five years, and I struggle to see these aspects appearing frequently in Dreaming of Sleep. The closest it gets, and resultantly my favourite track, is in ‘Blank Pages’, which opens the album with a bang; its second half is simply beautiful, where Tubbs’ highs are complimented by a string quartet in a sorrowful, unresolved chord progression. ‘Sisyphus’ also gives the vocals rooms to breathe: the subdued first movement backed by electronic drum beats and a hypnotic, pulsing verse towards the track’s end are the 10-and-a-half-minute track’s highlights. Otherwise, the vocals feel like second priority during the heavier sections and chugging riffs in both the mix and delivery; though I suspect the latter is just an impression given by the former.
Instrumentally, Tetrafusion remain mostly consistent with Mark Michell’s strong, near-melodic basslines being delectable as always, if not a little downplayed in this album. But amongst Dreaming of Sleep’s predominantly heavy prog passages, it’s the more delicate sections that grab my interest; mainly because they stand out from the swathes of progressive metal homogeneity which I’m growing less and less fond of. The aforementioned electronic elements in ‘Sisyphus’; the subtle grooves and light pianos in ‘Vestige’ and especially the sole marimbas closing ‘Awakening’ are my favourite moments in the album outside of the vocals. However these moments are sparse throughout the hour, and are quickly muddied by the oppressive heavy guitar riffs or intruded by lengthy guitar solos. In Horizons, songs progressed rapidly and effectively and not a second was squandered, whereas in Dreaming of Sleep I feel ideas are extended needlessly and lose their punch. I feel that more happens in opener ‘Blank Pages’ than closer ‘Perfect Silence’, which is three times the former’s length.
(Is this a review of Dreaming of Sleep or Horizions? I’m not too sure myself.)
Dreaming of Sleep is a fine record with some outstanding moments, but I feel that pushing the vocals back wasn’t a great move and the lengthy yet forgettable tracks reaffirm my confidence in Tetrafusion’s flair in writing concise prog songs. If Dreaming of Sleep has shown me anything, it’s just how much I value Tetrafusion’s Horizons EP – and I highly recommend it as a showcase of the very best of Tetrafusion and modern progressive rock as a whole.
Finally some very contrasting opinions coming out of our Roundabout: both Frog and Cerpin approached Dreaming of Sleep with an admiration for Tetrafusion‘s previous work, Horizons, but ended up with highly differing views on their latest album. Where Frog feels the band built on their strengths, Cerpin feels that they veered away from them.
But what did you make of Dreaming of Sleep? Are you like our prog-loving Frog? Or are you more of a grouchy Cerpin? How do you think it compares to Tetrafusion‘s previous work? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!