Sound — 9
After a five year long gap since the revamped sound of "Dualism," Textures are back with their fifth full-length release. Since releasing "Dualism," "Phenotype" sees the band with a new line up and what feels like a refreshed and innovative sound. For some background, consider how the current djent scene began and most would say "Meshuggah, herp derp." While they certainly had a big hand in things, most forget the influence of bands like SikTh and The Dillinger Escape Plan. However, there's not much love for the earliest of early adopters.
Along with bands like Sybreed and to a more subtle extent Gojira, Textures were a metalcore band using massive melodic passages and complex polymetric/rhythmic sections that in 2003 (when their first album "Polars" was released), there was very little around the same time that had a similar sound. The effect was interesting but not well publicised. Skip to 2006 and then "Drawing Circles" comes along. That album is what could be considered the first actual djent album. While not as complex as the stuff that comes out these days 10 years later (yeah, it's been that long), "Drawing Circles" was still a landmark.
Skipping through the even better "Silhouettes" and the new era of "Dualism," "Phenotype" is perhaps the band most aggressive, expressive and refined album to date. Opening up with the uncharacteristically explosive "Oceans Collide," already this album feels like a bubbling pit of ideas just waiting to be unleashed. While sticking true to the more complex, syncopated riffs as per usual, there's also much more focus on the layering and atmospheric keyboard elements that give the band their namesake.
The effect is that each song feels like it's own little narrative with a solid definition of beginning, middle and end. Tracks like "Illuminate the Trail" and "Shaping a Single Grain of Sand" have so much of their own personal character, from "Illuminate..." multiple Devin Townsend-esque guitar solos (which should be pointed out, are a rarity for the band, but are here thanks to the inclusion of guitarist Joe Tal) to "Shaping..." having a darker, heavier, even extreme edge to it's tech-deathy ambition.
But still keeping true to their previous albums, there are moments of instrumental beauty as well. "Meander" evokes a tribal Gojira-like build up for the challenging listen of "Erosion" while "Zman" is almost purely a subdued, cinematic piano piece that gives the albums ending a properly emotive climax. There's still some grounded pieces, such as "New Horizons": a song that is not that complex, mostly in half time but has the grand and sweeping chorus sections that were not as emphasised on previous albums.
This album really builds upon the older releases but comes up with so much energy that it just be the bands best yet. On top of that, the songs in general just so have so much more appeal than before. The only thing sadly lacking is another song like "Awake" but y'know, I personally don't think anyone could write another song like that again.
Lyrics — 8
Textures has always been noted for how big a part the vocals play in the bands sound. While firmly grounded in metalcore roots, the previous vocalist Eric Kalsbeek and current vocalist Daniel de Jongh are very distinctive in the djent scene. This is partially because of their more throatier harsh vocal techniques but also because they sing in a more mid-range pitch compared to the majority of the djent scene having tenor vocalists.
De Jongh is sounding at his best on this album, having put in the most detailed vocal lines textures has worked with on this release. Rapidly switching between different styles of harsh and clean vocals is one of his talents and it's one that has a fascinating effect on the riff dynamics. It kind of causes each new riff to have it's own set of peaks and troughs, giving each section much more detail than is immediately apparent. (If you want de Jongh at his craziest, I'd recommend "Deranged Headtrip" by his previous band Cilice.)
Lyrically, Textures have always worked in philosophical, existential themes, revolving around the self or the human condition. Prime examples from previous works include "Reaching Home" and the epic "To Erase a Lifetime." "Phenotype" has a bit more diversity going on, with the themes moving to a less self-centric base and to a more impersonal, "this applies to everyone" approach. Key example is "New Horizons," a song which is basically how one could imagine the scientific method having its own political voice:
"We're to adjust our behaviour
I can feel there is something, someway, somehow
That can help disestablish this hierarchy
Finding a way to welcome new times
The fear of questions fades
We are standing on the verge of a new horizon
Welcome the new day."
The concept of "Phenotype" also appears to be linked to "Dualism" and the next planned album "Genotype," although how it all ties together should be explained in the next release.
Overall, the lyrics work in effect, as a lot of the lyrics bend around the vocal hooks pretty well. Sometimes, however, the themes can come across as vague or even confusingly wistful but that's a minor gripe.
Overall Impression — 8
This album feels like a new starting point for Textures. As one of the older prog-metalcore bands, their evolution has been a strong one and "Phenotype" is perhaps the most gripping of the musical mutations.
Alongside more atmospherics, more developed melodic ideas and a more aggressive edge, "Phenotype" has these little wink-and-nudge details as well. For instance, the ending of "Erosion" transitions perfectly into "Burning the Midnight Oil" from "Dualism" while the music video for "Shaping a Grain of Sand" also sets the beginning for the video of "Reaching Home." It's just interesting to have album concepts interlink in such a way.
Songs to look out for: "Shaping a Grain of Sand," "Illuminate the Trail," "Erosion," "Zman," "Timeless."