Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Let me just put on my Professor mortar board… Now, the “genotype” concerns each organism’s core genetic structure, whilst the “phenotype” concerns the morphology and development of the organism’s traits. Essentially the two albums are a study of nature versus nurture. The intention is for the musical structures on Phenotype to reappear within Genotype, only adapted to display the music’s origins – an attempt to mimic an aural version of genotype-phenotype mapping. Yes, it seems odd to release them that way around then (the “after” picture before the “before” picture), but there you go.
Heavier than Dualism, this sports a strong muscular base that draws on pistoning drums, spasming drop-chord structures and a thick, brutish death vocal roar. Echoing the immense wall of power generated by bands like Periphery and Monuments, the whole construct hammers its way into your ears, the driving rhythm rolls around in your skull and once complete emerges with a slowly dissolving echo.
Opener “Oceans Collide” grips like a vice as it builds and builds to an unbearable crush before abating like some of Uneven Structure’s more noisome compositions. Similarly, “Shaping A Single Grain Of Sand” bucks and brays like a mule, jerking from action to inaction, from clean to roared vocal. The closing Meshuggah-styled breakdown even leaps out of hold before it has had the chance to settle but gives vocalist Daniel De Jongh a chance to give it absolutely everything. Which brings us to “The Fourth Prime”. It concerns “the downfall of man” through imperfections within those in control. It is riddled with brutish chugs and zinging fingerwork and proves the switch of guitarist Joe Tal for Jochem Jacobs will ultimately be a smooth transition. Halfway through, the rumbling drop in pace reveals a vast, echoing cave of wonders which ends up being the perfect place from which to launch a renewed aural assault.
There are spots in some songs where the music begins to feel a little overwrought – “Erosion” and “The Fourth Prime” being good examples. At these moments proceedings become swamped by the multi-part construction; the sheer desire of the band to fill every available space with an army of intertwining riffs, leads and rhythms. It proves they are one talented unit of players but sometimes less is more and here there is a tendency for the natural flow to become stifled.
In a poppier, more melodious moment, “New Horizons” proves to be catchier and a heck of a lot more colourful. As vibrant as a halogen bulb, it glows like a deconstructed Killswitch Engage track. The subject matter is all about self-improvement and rising above any perceived limitation. Further relief from the thunder, can be found in “Zman” and closer “Timeless”. The former is a gentile little number that sports a sweetly-echoing, cyclical piano played by Uri Dijk. The latter provides the glorious wash of clean vocals that we were waiting for. It takes the joy of 2011’s “Reaching Home” and turns it into a mournful, emotional ride that describes the curse of a faulty genetic blueprint. It tugs at heartstrings, playing on our own perceived fears and failings with De Jongh driving home the impacting lyric “I heard you crawling, carrying your burden down the yearning hill”.
When all is said and done it’s not a faultless album. There are oddities that initially catch you out, like the drumtrack “Meander”, but even here there is much to draw strength from – it certainly serves as a gentle reminder to Stef Brooks’ incredible percussive work that goes on behind each track. The last album was a grower, and this will inevitably also take longer to fully ingest and appreciate the full impact of Textures’ constructions. No doubt, when all is said and done we have the portent of Genotype to follow and that promises to fulfil so much of Phenotype‘s true potential.
Well they certainly manage to injure with second track “Stargazin'” hammering home the emotional turmoil that surrounded the events of the doomed space shuttle Challenger. It plays out as a series of sound effects and news and interview clips over a strong memorable riff and thumping chords that roll around, echo and splinter. Such simple construction opens old wounds far quicker than any set of lyrics ever could.
Further in, the album’s stuttering portfolio fails to really menace as it should with the tracks staying rooted in one place. Depressive black tones bleed into long sequences of occult psyche and death and such tracks as “Clouds” and the lyrical curiosities “Skies Of No Return” and “So Dark The Con Of Man” provide little more than music to curl up to. The latter track implies that either somebody has been paying attention to the works of American author Dan Brown or those by Norwegian hip-hop duo Madcon and most certainly it seems to imply the infestation of religious thought. As an aside, the idea to base the con around the concept is interesting as they also use Carl Sagan’s famous quote about the earth being a single organism and “an organism at war with itself is doomed”.
Elsewhere, there is their usual solid fare of steady punishing death-doom. Powering up on overdrive they load their bases with sombre riffs, occasional spasms of double-kick and a death-rattle vocal. Suddenly, something loud and obnoxious and not overwrought. “Arrivers” proves to be another gem and offers an oblique shift in purpose – suddenly the sonic blitzkrieg of chugs and intrusive grunt finally gives the listener something to sink their teeth into.
Violent, abortive and, at times, bordering on grotesque Absent/Minded manage to graft together a raft of genres without ever truly nailing their colours to the mast. The times they actually hold the attention come all too briefly and in short sharp shocks of content. The potential in their thematic choices and the simpler, more urgent constructions do prove, however, that they have the capacity to provide a few shocks. Absent/Minded they may be but they certainly won’t be forgotten.
Stream here: https://aminded.bandcamp.com/
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
There’s real tonal value in the amalgamated scene-setting introduction “(alien grounds)” and dark backstory of the title-track but, sitting proudly up top and riding on a single repeating riff that incessantly bores its way into your skull as it does, might irk a few into tuning out right there. I do urge you to persevere past that initial anomaly, however, because the Floydian wash and Hawkwind-esque crush soon envelops as tracks like “The Whinery”, “Mindreader” and “Prodigal Son” will undoubtedly attest to.
“Under The Hood” is the star track with a lush, bluesy underscore that gently sways around the ultra-light vocal arpeggios. There’s a sweet lyrical hook in there that draws you up and out of the misty surrounds – “those emerald eyes of yours” have a lot to answer for. On the flipside, the summery 60s vibe that characterises “Friendly Fires” struggles to make any impact and actually seems to work at odds to the vocal styling. Rather, the multiple-tracking and effects overwhelm and hide the upbeat melody.
Whereas 2014’s Stranded In Arcadia had a nagging inclination for analagous tracks, this takes that quality to a whole new level. Identifying where you are in the sonic wash of colours will require a tracklist to hand and an ability for deep concentration. But perhaps to do so would be missing the point. The tracks are, after all, merely subtle shifts in sound that exist across a single piece of art. Yes, perhaps less dead air and gentler segues might have assisted this thought process. It certainly feels like an album that requires a solitary journey. One of those that will give you a chance to curl up to, shut your eyes and ride on through the storm.
Saturday, January 16, 2016
It’s not unusual to find them stumbling over the gritty hardcore edges that frequent the music of Monuments as they do for opener “Fast Worms”. Its raging chorus sees vocalist Sacha Dunable dishing out roars from behind a dark, powerful series of shreds. With the album constantly returning to themes such as the lunacy that lurks within the modern world, the capitulation of reason and the fragility of the human psyche, they pick some rather tasty, suitably insane lyrics to match.
“The pieces fit together
Like so many arms and legs,
Lifeless, limbless, body rejects”.
“Digital Gerrymandering” follows up on this by laying out its theatrics early with barking, downtuned strings – DJUN-DJUN DJUN. It’s pure Periphery but the artistic flourishes soon melt into complex, flowering structures of dots and splats. Riding around a strong central core, the glowing pop-fusion tech of Intervals and the furious stringwork of Animals As Leaders begins to break through. This abrupt switch from driven fervour to jazz interlude is strange but not, in the least, unwelcome.
The album’s weaker material hurts more when you consider the strong stuff. “City Hymnal” is a particular irksome beast and offers little in the way of direction – when you consider the album title, perhaps that’s the point. In the same vein, munching its way into existence with a literal NOM NOM NOM, “The Pleasant Surprise” is a one-dimensional scrawl of strings which digs away at you with the repetitious lyric “Gaps in the wall”.
Compare those two with the crushing title-track and “Sui Ponticello”. The former comes embedded with the rough-housing djentisms and snarling roars of Meshuggah all tipped into a maelstrom of double-kick and scrawling guitars. It all eventually spills into a hushed bridge; the aural equivalent of being torn apart by rip tides before being spat out onto the tranquil safety of a warm, sun-soaked beach. The latter track, the album highlight, bears a malevolent potency; a tapestry of rising and falling arpeggios, overwrought with taped threats.
With Devin Townsend mixing the squeaky tight production, this was never going to be an issue here. What irks are the peculiar structural anomalies and sense that they really are heading back over familiar territory. Blow me if they aren’t deconstructing here more than they are bringing something fresh to the table.
I must admit it is a surprise to find them boxing themselves into corners and not stamping their own mark on proceedings. It hasn’t stopped them sporting a kaleidoscope of polyrhythms and tones – proof that these LA boys are still brimming with promise. As for that flowing music they were hoping to create, they aren’t quite there just yet. There’s enough about The Direction Of Last Things though to prove one thing – surely it is just a matter of time before they crack the code and create a masterpiece.
Having tackled the emotional journey from stoner doom to freak folk they continue their homage to the likes of Pink Floyd by covering their classic composition “Echoes” from the 1971 album Meddle. Here they strongly echo the source material yet manage to expand it from its original 23-minute running time, employing some neat little tricks and charming affectations, to a whopping 37-minuter in two parts. Definitely a melange that Floyd fans will want to check out.
The two original tracks here provide most insight into their evolution. With trumpets and gunshots opening the album the scene is set by “Spider Island”… something wicked this way comes. Slow, clean, dark instrumentation with a long, languid, deeply affected vocal brings the constituent parts to climax somewhere between the damaged grunge of Soundgarden and the dizzying wash of Monster Magnet.
Nestling up to this the title-track and album focal point is a psychedelic journey down a more occult side-road. Big on cyclical effects, pinged bass and warming Hammond organ, the structural twists stand out like bullet-points. The central rhythmic break is a doozy, lingering within an echoic chamber of Jarre-ish Oxygene effects. From here, the instrumental patterning continues to morph until It becomes apparent that the track has already reached its peak and lost its sense of direction long before it meanders to a close.
A record that is not without fault then, but one that sits pretty on its perch.