Band digs deep with prog-rock

October 21, 2010

by Robert Wilson

Progressive-rock quartet Tetrafusion, comprised of North Louisiana college students, released their second album, “Altered State,” Oct. 12.

Bassist Mark Michell said the band, also featuring lead vocalist/keyboardist Gary Tubbs, guitarist and vocalist Brooks Tarkington and drummer J.C. Bryant, formed a few years ago at Parkway High in Bossier City where all the members performed in the jazz band.

“We’d played in the marching band, and after we were on the jazz band, we just decided to try it out,” Michell, a junior computer information systems major, said. “We’d known each other since elementary school, and we had the same taste in bands.”

Influenced by progressive groups like Rush, Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree and Tool, Tetrafusion experiments with dynamic rhythms and melodies, often throwing contrasting sounds against each other on the turn of a dime. Michell describes the sound as progressive rock rather than metal because of the public’s interpretations.

“The word ‘metal’ scares some people, but we’re hard to pigeonhole. Not to be pretentious, but we change a lot.”

Tetrafusion’s debut album, “Absolute Zero,” was an instrumental ode to cosmology, incorporating correlations to physics and other aspects of science.

“It was very art rock. We wanted to make it futuristic, technical music.”

Michell also said the album was both slammed and well-received, although he admitted it was a “Dream Theater worship CD.” For its sophomore effort, Michell said the band wanted to focus on the songwriting, making the subjects more earthly and real. Recorded and produced between August 2009 to May 2010 at Queensix Productions in Shreveport, “Altered State” contains seven narrative songs within a larger arc of storytelling, with themes ranging from depression to regret and even post-traumatic stress disorder.

Michell said the album’s opening track, “Collage of the Present,” was inspired by a video on TED.com, a nonprofit website dedicated to the “spreading of ideas,” about Jill Bolte Taylor, a woman who after suffering a stroke began to experience swinging moods of intense euphoria and crushing headaches. The song not only describes the “Inner disaster/growing faster in my mind” in the lyrics, which contain some direct quotes from the video, but also presents Taylor’s case in the music itself.

“We thought it was cool to write about,” Michell said. “The song has two parts representing her brain swings, one really melodic for her euphoria and the other, her migraines, is really heavy.”

One of the biggest steps Tetrafusion took was the decision to add vocals after seeing some reviews saying the band needed a singer.

“People are divided on the vocals. We didn’t have vocals before because we couldn’t find anyone, and we didn’t want anybody doing two things.”

However, the desire to avoid repetition as well as not wanting to disrupt cohesiveness by bringing in unknowns, the band turned to Tubbs.

“He’s been singing since he was five and toured the world a few years ago with a choir,” Michell said. “He has an operatic voice.”

Tetrafusion has since received further criticism, including comparisons to an increasingly popular trio.

“We’ve been compared to Muse. Some people say we’re trying to copy them, but we’re not. That’s just the way he sounds; they (Tubbs and Matt Bellamy) have similar delivery styles.”

One of the standout songs is “Deserter,” written by Tarkington before the band even formed.

“We put it on for variation,” Michell said. “It’s the oldest song we have, but it also has possibly the biggest story.”

With figurative imagery of war and slight biblical allusions over a shifting acoustic guitar, “Deserter” is one of “Altered State’s” most dynamic tracks, particularly in Tubbs’ voice, going from haunted regret to culminating in an aggressive growl by the song’s end.

The band’s ambition is as much its strength as it is its weakness. During a very long instrumental section of the over-12-minute closing song, “Tears of the Past,” there is a wild assortment of sounds including a section described as “elevator music,” which only muddles the underlying themes to a degree.

“There was no reason, it’s just drawn out,” Michell said. “It was for fun, an outlet for everything else we wanted to do.”

Also, Tubbs’ voice tends to have a droning effect a few times, a problem that reminds me of The Editors’ Tom Smith; both can sing, but wouldn’t hurt to expand their styles a bit more.

Overall, “Altered State” is an accomplished work by a young group of artists. With quality musicianship, deep lyrical and musical ideas and ambition, as well as taking time to hone its focus, Tetrafusion has great potential for success.

Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars.

E-mail comments to rww015@latech.edu.