Review Summary: The phenotype of an established progressive metal band.
It’s hard being a progressive metal band in 2016. With a market that is over-saturated with down-tuned guitars and bouncing grooves it’s hard to really break from the mold and, more frustratingly, most bands seem content not to. The “djent” sound has proved to be more of a limitation than an inspiration. Only a few bands really seem to stand out and break forth from the generic sound encumbering this trend and, once established, even fewer push past stagnation. So when a band has a name like “Textures” it seems to suggest that there is more to their music that what’s expected; there are layers that need to be tilled through in order for the listener to garner a true appreciation of their art. Is Textures a band that pushes past the boundaries of their given genre" Is this a band that can masterfully craft swaths of sound into coherent and beautiful pictures"
When you’ve been around the block as long as Textures has the answer should be a simple “yes”. But unfortunately, it’s not. “Phenotype” is an album that has moments of sheer beauty and as well as skull-crushing heaviness while being simultaneously frustrating in its generic nature.
When Textures does something successfully, it’s phenomenal. “Oceans Collide” is like listening to a herd of wildebeests trampling and stampeding over one another. Guitars pummel and shudder amid Daniel de Jongh’s meaty vocals. The song builds in intensity until a lush ending, as waves of sound careen and build upon each other. It’s wonderful to be swimming in such a massive, encompassing noise. It’s in songs like this and “Shaping Single Grains of Sand” that ferocity and beauty are blended together perfectly, and when this happens the album is a real treat to listen to.
The highlight of the album comes at the end, as a culmination between “Zman” and “Timeless”. The former is possibly one of the most beautiful and effective instrumental pieces I’ve heard in years. It’s a fragile, delicate piano piece that dances like a feather falling from the heavens. Individually it’s the best piece of music on the album, which is ironic given that it acts like a prelude for the final song. It folds like a dying roses and then blossoms brilliantly into “Timeless”, an epic closer that really feels like it’s ascending to something greater. In these moments the band lives up to its name. As guitars chug away the piano motif from “Zman” rises above the heaviness, a metaphorical phoenix. This album is dazzling with its conclusion, and with such an ending statement it’s easy to look back upon it fondly.
This, however, does not mask its shortcomings. While the previously mentioned moment serves as an excellent example of what this album could be, there are times when Textures doesn’t match this energy or passion. This leads to songs that never develop and instead just groove for the sake of grooving. “Meander” is a perfect example of this. It’s a percussive instrumental track that rhythmically mimics the sound of a train surging down the rails. While it starts out as interesting it never goes anywhere, dynamically or intensity-wise, and isn’t applied thematically into the next song. This is simultaneously the problem with “Illuminate the Trail”. Clocking in at seven minutes it’s a hard pill to swallow, and this middle section really detracts from the momentum built by “Oceans…” and “Shaping…”.
Is it a bad album" No. What it does suggest though is that this band is seemingly comfortable being neither a front runner nor a bane of its genre. “Phenotype” very much plays the middle ground which is a disappointment considering there are glimmers of what it could be. It will be interesting to see how the second album, Genotype, turns out next year and whether the established themes prove to be a barrier or a guide to something truly memorable.