Overall Score: 7/10 Songwriting: 6/10 Instrumentation: 7/10 Vocals: 6.5/10 Pros: Adept progressive metal Cons: Far too derivative of its peers | Harsh vocals in serious need of improvement
It’s not unfair to say that France isn’t exactly a frontrunner in the global metal scene. The number of notable acts emerging from the country is rather low, with essentially the only name known to all metal households being Gojira. Of course there are the likes of Alcest, Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord etc., but it would be inaccurate to describe these bands as globe conquerors in the same way as Gojira. So, it seems there is a theme of relative success coming through progressively minded French music. If this is the only way to break into a wider market for French bands, then you could read Uneven Structure’s progressive leanings as a cynical move to capture a market? Is Paragon simply an underhanded attempt to trade on prog popularity, or is it a genuine artistic expression?
There is an awful lot of adoration for Tesseract on this album. Though the guitars don’t go full djent, the mix allows the bass frequencies to cut through and add a satisfying slap to the plucking of strings. Where this praise makes itself most apparent is in the phrasing; the ethereal and floating background harmonies that accompany the chorus of Innocent are dripping in worship, while the rhythmic, syncopated playing is reminiscent of basically every band that has come in Meshuggah’s wake. The heavier moments on the album certainly invoke the mechanistic spirit of tech metal, and too often it becomes bogged down in imitation. You can also namecheck Karnivool – and by extension, Tool – in much of the songs’ structures, as the quieter passages crescendo in a rather repetitive manner. Ruler in particular seems to be content to go through the motions of generic ebb and flow between quiet and loud. The most exciting and original moment on the LP is interlude track, Sage, which simply employs a low register piano that thunders ominously through the empty space created by the lack of accompaniment. It’s an exciting section, but one that only last for just over a minute.
Matthieu Romarin has a reasonable command of his vocal abilities. In the clean passages he is able to inject a modicum of passion, going from a baritone croon to sounding ever so slightly like the rasping charm of the late Chris Cornell in his semi-screamed delivery. His harsh vocals however do nothing to elevate the songs, sounding somewhat strained and under-practiced, as well as being ten-a-penny growls that any old band can whip out to up the metal ante. Musically however, the new Uneven Structure album is well executed; the riff that opens Outlaw with accompanying synthesiser is enrapturing and deftly performed, while the introspective dread of the opening to Creator holds an impressive stranglehold over the tone of the record. It is most certainly the centrepiece of the album, and not simply by virtue of occurring as the seventh track of twelve.
Uneven Structure’s modus operandi is to create ‘grooving polyrhythmic guitar riffs with [a] huge slick of ambient guitar leads’. For the most part they have achieved this goal; there are intertwining rhythms and textures that overlap and undercut one another with aplomb, while the soaring harmonies of glimmering guitars add an extra dimension of reflexivity to the record. Where things fall apart however are in the harsh vocal performance and in the invention of the album. It just feels all too derivative of what is already going on: For progressive music it’s curiously regressive, settling into niches created by more forward thinking acts. This is not to say that there is anything inherently negative about the album; it is adept progressive music that is – best of all – played with passion and without an ounce of cynicism. It is a more than satisfying way to pass the time, but it’s hard to get genuinely excited about an album so content in trading on other bands’ glories.
The new Uneven Structure album, Paragon is out via Longbranch/SPV on October 18th 2019.