As the vocalist of a progressive metal band and someone who always tries to push himself to be a better musician, I find myself flocking to progressive music with a hard, modern edge; Phenotype fits this description better than most albums I’ve heard. Textures is a band whose notoriety has snowballed since their 2001 formation and 2006’s Drawing Circles, and with Phenotype as the band’s 5th release, soon to be followed up by Genotype, a conceptual album whose root ideas are introduced in this record. Textures aims for more progressive-inspired guitar riffs, Meshuggah-oriented rhythmic sections, and an overall feel that’s reminiscent of Sikth, all of which have me coming back to this album time and time again. The average song time on the album clocks in somewhere between 5 and 7 minutes, but while I listened to each song, I never found myself bored or trying to figure out when the song was going to end; there’s more than enough diversity to keep any listener familiar with progressive music occupied and excited, whether it’s “Erosion” and its relentless introduction, or “Timeless” and it’s beautiful composition.
From the first moment of this album, Textures’ energy is clear; the opening scream with non-linear hardcore-based rhythms immediately grabbed my attention. Around 1:25, the section is very bouncy, reminding me of a swing-like dance— it’s similar to the bridge from “Anti-Product” by Strapping Young Lad. In terms of song structure, the band never seems to sit still: the pace of “New Horizons” varies entirely from “Oceans Collide” by its linearity from the start, beginning with a clean sung intro before exploding into a hard-hitting chug-based groove that only opens further into guitar-tapping and a rhythmic verse which soon follows. These two songs work well to introduce some of the overall sounds the album shifts through; however, each sound is worked with in different contexts to always keep the work fresh.
For example, the sound effects at the beginning of “Shaping A Single Grain of Sand” toy with panning options, and the Meshuggah-esque rhythms that follow on band instruments are kept flowing well by vocals that follow their own pattern. However, the track is counter-balanced by a more linear chorus at about 1 minute in. As the album continues on, each song seems to become both heavier, yet more melodic, much like “Shaping A Single Grain of Sand’s” structure – this is probably my favorite aspect of the band, as I thought that “Erosion” was the heaviest track until “The Fourth Prime” blew me away with its ability to shift between headbanger-friendly grooves and open, melodic breaks.
The production of the album stands out to me immediately because of how smooth everything sounds. Every instrument in the album is present but far from overpowering, and the layering is beautiful; vocals take a backseat during parts where other instruments are interesting enough to capture the listener’s attention, like the ambient keyboards during the second verse of “Oceans Collide,” as well as the shift in rhythm that takes place about 1/3rd to halfway through the song. The under two-minute “Meander” has drums as the focus of a purely rhythmic track and a few ambient synths to create mood, whereas the touching “Zman” piano instrumental uses ambient synths to counter the harshness of “Meander.” As a band who is no stranger to working with concepts, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was intentional… and it works.
The band’s ability to work with counterbalancing rhythmic sections with ambience and linearity, melody with heaviness, and simplicity with technicality or emotion, had me listen to this record and specific songs more than just a few times before this review was finished. For fans of progressive bands with a modern rhythmic edge, Phenotype will be an album worth picking up and telling your friends to buy,and while I absolutely cannot wait for Genotype, which is slated to be released sometime next year, this release leaves me with more than enough to stay occupied with. I can only hope that Textures gains more of a following from this work, because I’ve definitely become a dedicated fan from this album.