For the last decade, French act Uneven Structure has combined chugging djent riffs with layers on layers of production to create rich, lush soundscapes of prog-metal proclivity. The quartet have supported fellow djent groups Tesseract and Protest the Hero in the past, and following their tour alongside Twelve Foot Ninja last year, the band has brought forth their third full-length, Paragon.
Due to the divisive label of “djent,” the band gets compared to the almighty Meshuggah, for better or for worse. While listening to Paragon, I got more of a feeling of bands such as their fellow countrymen Gojira, with their crushing guitar riffs and death growls mixing with technical prowess. Yet at times, the clean vocals layer on top of one another in such a way that would make Alice in Chains jealous. Singer Matthieu Romarin knows when to make the harsh vocals count, and when to let his cleaner tones do the work for him.
Above all else, I have to mention the incredible drumming of Arnaud Verrier on this record, as his work on this LP is thunderous. When the toms thump, they thump. When the double kick patterns come barreling down the midway, it is modern metal nirvana. Even in sections where the pace slows down, the rhythm section, consisting of Verrier and bassist Benoit Friedrich, create a backbone to the sonic scapes that allow guitarist Igor Omodel to chug away on his downtuned guitars for that added punch.
“Magician” has a minute of only synths and vocals before the percussion kicks in, building until the guitars join the fray just after the two-minute mark. As far as album openers go, this is a fine one, as each facet of the overall sound of the band comes into focus in this first track. As a taste of things to come, “Magician” works on every level. The track bleeds into the next one, “Hero,” with those lovely vocal harmonies I raved about above. The beauty turns to brutality at the halfway mark, as Romarin roars through the middle section.
“Innocent,” the LP’s lead single, might sound to more mainstream audiences like an early 2000s alt-metal intro, with the low-tuned guitar and vocal line, but when the drums and layered guitars kick in, it is unmistakably prog. The instruments largely drop out around the 4:10 mark, which may catch first-time listeners off-guard, what with what sounds like a music box being the only thing between the vocals and the listener’s ears. There’s a reason this is the lead single, and that reason is the catchiness and listenability balancing with the complexity and craftsmanship to make a great track.
The interlude “Caregiver” packs a lot into just under two minutes, with the toms driving the track forward. Halfway through, business picks up, the guitars get heavier, and the toms give way to a more rock-oriented drum pattern. “Outlaw” has a middle section to get lost in, and this is the track where I began to notice the similarities between Uneven Structure and Gojira. Put this track and “Magma” against each other, and some wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. At six plus minutes, it is the longest track, but time does not drag on with this track whatsoever.
“Explorer” follows as a synth-driven soundscape, a moment or two to breathe after the previous track broke the door right off its hinges. “Creator” is a dream of a composition, with the vocal melodies on full display in the intro. The patterns on the snare are dizzying, and when the guitars are in the forefront around the four-minute mark, it feels like a big deal when everything else drops out for this bridge.
As the piano plinks away in the intro of “Ruler,” the vocals ease the listener into the track, as the song builds up, adding the drums first, then a lighter-than-air guitar solo just beyond the halfway point. It’s the mounting structure (or perhaps, the uneven structure, as they are called) that really kept me listening so intently the first time through, and what made me want to come back for more. “Jester” blasts in as the most “djent” song of the album, though the bit before the verse where the guitars drop out, and the drums sound like they’re being played down a long hallway, is chill-inducing.
“Sage” is a downright creepy interlude, with children’s voices and composition that sounds like it would fit into any horror film’s score. “Lover” has a grandiose feel to it, with a jarring breakdown starting around 3:13. The last thirty or so seconds descend into musical madness, punctuating a crusher of a track. To close out the album, we get “Everyman,” with a surprisingly “normal” time signature and an epic guitar solo to close out this triumph of an album.
It’s rare that a release of any genre leaves me with my jaw slacked, mind blown, and thinking to myself, “Let’s do that again!” But here we are, after listening to this masterpiece of a prog-metal record, and I find myself wanting even more out of Uneven Structure. This album is a must-hear for those looking for polyrhythmic panoramas and down-picked devastation, all with a technical edge and fine production values.