Album Title: Phenotype
Label: Nuclear Blast
Year Of Release: 2016
Textures hold a special place in my heart. I didn’t ‘discover’ them until the release of the outstanding fourth album ‘Dualism’ in 2011 but when I did, they made a huge impact upon me. Until that point, my opinion of djent music was not that favourable; I liked a few bits here and there but it was never really my ‘thing’. Up step Textures however, and I’m utterly blown away. The combination of djent trappings with progressive influences, polyrhythms and melodies verging on the downright catchy meant that I was smitten. Tracks like the beautiful ‘Reaching Home’ and the intensely brooding ‘Burning The Midnight Oil’ to name just two, remain stalwarts in several personal playlists.
It has taken a fair amount of time for a successor to materialise in which time, the Dutch sextet have bedded in a new member with Joe Tal (guitar) coming into the fold to join up with vocalist Daniel De Jongh, synth player Uri Dijk, guitarist Bart Hennephof, drummer Stef Broks and bassist Remko Tielemans. It’s never easy when a band tinkers with the team dynamic but I do believe that the changes have been positive ones.
‘Phenotype’ is the title given to this new record and it actually forms one half of a double album concept. Comprised of nine tracks and with a running order of around the hour mark, it represents the more conventional part of the venture. I say this because ‘Genotype’ which is due to be released next year, is a 45-minute single track. According to the accompanying press release, ‘Genotype’ takes the music of ‘Phenotype’ and presents it in a completely different manner.
It sounds intriguing, but this review centres on ‘Phenotype’ and so I’ll park ‘Genotype’ for now.
I must admit that if there was ever an album that proves the point that reviews should only be written after several careful listens, it is this one. At first, I was fixated by the fact that there was apparently no equivalent of the delightful and aforementioned ‘Reaching Home’ on this record. As such, all I kept thinking was that ‘Phenotype’ was ok but it was lacked that one really accessible and mellow track. In addition, I felt that ‘Phenotype’ was perhaps too aggressive in general and lacked enough in the way of melody or at least moments to hook me in for repeated listens. How wrong I was.
Admittedly it has taken quite a while, but I have seen the error of my ways and ‘Phenotype’ has well and truly clicked with me. The aggression and mind-blowing technicality is there for all to see and it hits you hard from the opening seconds of the record when ‘Oceans Collide’ explodes with barely controlled brutality. Vocalist De Jongh roars atop a furious riff and thus the theme of the track is set. Things do calm down slightly as the synths become more prominent atop a subtly groovy riff and De Jongh introduces his powerful clean delivery to nice effect. As the track develops, the ferocity returns and I’m actually reminded a little of the tumult created by Strapping Young Lad. Closing with a bombastic crescendo of sorts, there’s no doubt that ‘Phenotype’ has opened with a bang.
‘New Horizons’ follows and turns things down a notch. It is still a heavy as hell and complex track but is ushered in with a much more relaxed and melodious intro complete with some gorgeous vocals. A lead guitar line catches the ear in what is a real grower of a song that features one of the best vocal performances of De Jongh’s career, not to mention layers of rich yet subtle synths and more melodious intent that only comes to the fore after several listens.
‘Shaping A Single Grain Of Sand’ is initially dominated by a huge chugging djent riff before a chorus enters the fray that gets bigger and better with every listen to the point that I am completely addicted. The progressive undercurrent of the song means that the tempo shifts throughout and it even flirts with both black and thrash metal, albeit very fleetingly.
Thanks to the more overt synths, the wonderfully moody mid-section where all but the synths and drums initially drop away and the lead guitar solo work, the behemoth that’s ‘Illuminate the Trail’ has a very welcome progressive metal feel more in the traditional sense of the description. The oft-overlooked rhythm section is magnificent as always, laying down a rock solid and engaging foundation upon which all else sits. In particular, the bass really impresses me throughout this composition.
‘Meander’ is essentially an impressive drum solo atop the sounds of a dystopian nightmare, acting as a mid-album interlude ahead of the introduction of ‘Erosion’. Complete with polyrhythms, more lead solo work from the guitarists and another subtly catchy, anthemic chorus that increases its impact the more I listen, it’s another highlight amongst many.
The remainder of ‘Phenotype’ is, if anything, even better, rounded out by the absolutely and completely stunning double act of ‘Zman’ and ‘Timeless’. The former is a moody, introspective and rather moving piece of music dominated by a piano melody atop layers of atmospheric synths. It segues seamlessly into ‘Timeless’ and with the benefit of several repeated listens, all I can say is ‘wow’. Reintroducing the melody of its predecessor but with a heavier edge, it is a huge and epic track and the perfect way to close out the album. It sends shivers down my spine, it connects, it resonates and it inspires me. And with it, we have another early contender for song of the year without doubt.
For someone who was close to writing Textures off after a couple of spins, I am delighted that I gave ‘phenotype’ more attention and that I let it breathe and work its magic on me. The melodies may be more subtle and hidden within the apparent aggression but they are there to be discovered. The technicality defies logic at times but it is never at the expense of the song. The same can be said for the potent ferocity and brutality; each track therefore delivers something interesting, exciting and beautiful if you’re prepared and up for the challenge. I adore ‘Dualism’ but sitting here now, I think I love ‘Phenotype’ even more.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld