When Daniel Tompkins released his solo debut, Castles, last year, it provided a window into the mentality of an artist who has always refused to settle. The Tesseract vocalist made his name in metal’s fertile tech scene, but he grew way beyond those boundaries years ago, albeit carrying with him that same progressive spirit and insatiable appetite for creativity . Since then, he’s been prolific. Check his website and you’ll find a bulging discography of 16 albums from various projects that have seen him dabble in everything from synthwave (Zeta) and experimental pop (White Moth Black Butterfly) to post-rock (Piano).
Castles also broke new ground as an exploration of electronic textures and sounds that recalled the work of Björk, Massive Attack and Nine Inch Nails, but on his second solo album, Dan has turned his innovative intentions back towards his own discography. On Ruins, working with his Zeta bandmate, Chimp Spanner’s Paul Ortiz, he’s revisited and reinterpreted the skittering beats and droning electronics of Castles, treating those songs as though they’re living, breathing organisms that can change and develop into something new. The lyrics and core melodies have remained, but this is a completely different album, with brand new arrangements, and a heavier, groovier tone.
On opener Wounded Wings, a rework of Black The Sun, he brings Aussie guitar virtuoso Plini onboard to transform the song into a soaring, jazz-flecked triumph, while the techy, textural Stains Of Betrayal is unrecognisable from its skeletal source material, Cinders.
For all its experimental touches, Castles was anchored by strong melodies and Dan’s distinctive, silky, clean voice. That core remains true throughout Ruins, and no more so than on the fantastic Empty Vows. Retaining the electronic backbone of the original Saved, it unfurls into a new beast altogether, tapping into Tesseract’s cerebral sense of juddering groove with Dan letting rip the screams that helped make the band’s 2011 debut, One, such an incendiary statement of intent.
Given Dan’s volte face back into heavier realms, stripping these tracks of their original light, and often sparse instrumentation and replacing them with a darker palette, it would be easy to read Ruins as a musical reimagining that reflects the unease, stress and fear of 2020. But closer The Gift, the only new track here, refutes that. It’s an excellent collaboration with Trivium’s Matt Heafy and easily the album’s heaviest song, but the lyrics betray a more positive outlook with both vocalists bellowing: ‘I became so jaded / Discombobulated… Now take me out / Out of the fear.’
Instead, it’s best to consider Ruins as yet another musical triumph, both for Dan and progressive metal. While we’re used to seeing bands remixing and releasing their past works, artists rarely revisit their own material with the intention of tearing it down and rebuilding it from the roots up. It’s proof that the old adage rings true: art is never finished, only abandoned.