Textures - _Polars_
(Listenable, 2004)
by: Paul Schwarz (10 out of 10)
Like the antidote to some insidious disease, _Polars_ should, by all rights, be causing bands to split up left, right and centre. Rarely does any band make an album as simultaneously infectious and adventurous as Textures have in this six song / eight track, 55-minute metal masterpiece: the fact that _Polars_ is the Dutch band's -debut- just gives its brilliant, diamond-in-a-shitpile-like radiance an extra shade of magnificent clarity. This is truly one of those albums that puts the majority of up-and-coming acts to shame, and in a -big- way.

Recorded over a near-two-year period without any assistance from an outside -- let alone -known- -- producer, in a studio the band built themselves -- and originally released self-released in August 2003 -- _Polars_, by sharp contrast, sounds like a professionally recorded album, even bettering the work some of metal's 'big gun' producers have done over the last few years. (No wonder Listenable snapped Textures up and released _Polars_ properly with only a remastering to alter it.) Of course, it probably helped that guitarist and back-up vocalist Jochem Jacobs is somewhat of a producer in his own right; who having worked on film scores and theatre projects for a number of years has recently begun producing other musical artists, and this month finishes his engineering course at a musical conservatory; yet at the same time, it's not like Textures were simply -blessed- by having a seasoned, veteran producer among their number. The incredible production that propels _Polars_ to its snow-capped heights is, technically speaking, more or less the work of amateurs. Recorded, produced and mixed by the entire band -- with only engineering and mastering being handled by individuals (synth-player Richard Rietdijk and Jacobs, respectively) -- _Polars_ is a living, breathing testament to Textures' dedication to their art, not to mention their immense talents on just about all fronts of musical creation. It is this all-round excellence which has prompted me to award _Polars_ perfect marks. It is perhaps not a "perfect" record -- whatever that means... -- but full-points scores need not be reserved for records which -sound- or -seem- "perfect": they can also be awarded to bands who excel themselves both against the odds and against expectations -- and Textures have done this in spades.

The immense breadth of feeling, depth of sound and musical scope which _Polars_ encompasses is ill summed-up by words. But to put an impression into your mind of what this marvel 'sounds like': imagine Meshuggah-worthy off-kilter riff work, interspersed by vice-tight modern thrash (a la The Haunted, at their best) which periodically explodes into vast, richly melodic space-outs (like you'd find on Strapping Young Lad's era-defining _City_ album), then winds its way into a solo section which would fit snugly on a Cynic album before slamming to a close in neck-snapping style. That's a crude description of "Swandive", which opens _Polars_ -- and it hardly even scratches the surface of what the album has to offer. "Young Man" -- which kicks in just after follow-on "Ostensibly Impregnable", a magnificent melding of mind-bending Meshuggah chug and Townsend/Cynic-like subtleties that some of our Dutch readers may have been lucky enough to see the video for on MTV, as it's apparently been in pretty heavy rotation in The Netherlands -- could be characterised as a Textures take on melodic Swedish death metal; but despite on preliminary listens seeming somewhat derivative, the song is in fact a stunning exemplification of how fresh and seemingly timeless a track can be created from such well-known elements -- if a truly talented group of songwriters are behind its creation.

But though the more traditionally structured 'side' of _Polars_ (think vinyl, people) is truly stunning, it is in its final two tracks that Textures' true genius is revealed. Lasting over thirty minutes, this 'side' sees Textures explore prog rock format from a metal perspective, and achieve a degree of success that is almost entirely unparalleled. The eighteen-minute title track is a more convincing "epic" than Nile, Metallica or any other metal band I can think of has penned. Its closing segment -- strongly recalling the best work of Gabriel-era Genesis -- comprises the most beautiful and truly -moving- five minutes of music I've heard all year. Fourteen-minute outro-of-sorts "Heave" closes the album with a grace and vulnerability that few metal bands ever evidence; and in contrast to so many ambient outings in its field, is a seriously worthwhile listen.

The ultimate icing on the proverbial cake of Textures' talents is that they are a phenomenal live act; a band who can boil their head-expanding, intricately textured sound into its raw essence, and expel it note-perfectly without losing emotional depth or dynamic punch. Though it's certainly the best metal album ever to emerge from The Netherlands; the best debut album to emerge this year; and one of the finest and most ambitious metal album's I've -ever- heard: _Polars_ is only the beginning. Buy it. Listen to it. Go and see Textures play when/if they come your way (Europeans should get the chance in October when the band tour with Alchemist; North Americans may get lucky in the Spring of next year). But most importantly, perhaps, rejoice and revel in the fact that there is a -new- band out there who are moving metal into the future without forgetting or forsaking its past; who are forging sounds which exemplify the style's strength's without succumbing to its weaknesses; and who are ultimately making music which validates how vital and vibrant 'metal' is, while simultaneously proving -- against common critical and public opinion -- that the style is a barrier to progress and a closed door to emotional depth. To those closed-minded morons I say: listen and learn...

(article published 31/8/2004)

5/11/2008 P Schwarz Textures Drawing Circles With the Shortest Straw
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