Review Summary: In the face of a rabid demographic eagerly awaiting an improvement on Meshuggah's oft imitated formula; Uneven Structure stands out among their peers with this "one-giant-track" journey that beckons you to sit and devote your attention for its entirety.
Debut albums are slippery slopes these days. It seems that every band’s first album is "eagerly anticipated" and this can have lasting effects on the band's career that are not always for the better. As with any kind of entertainment media, the pre-launch over-hyping of a record often leads to soaring expectations that are so fragile they are doomed to be crushed by any finished product that isn’t an instant classic. In the case of French post-metal band Uneven Structure, the reception of the 8 EP surely didn’t manifest in most people’s minds as unattainable expectations for the debut. Be that as it may, the group's first full length record Februus is likely to have satiated even the most gargantuan of anticipatory appetites. In the face of a rabid demographic eagerly awaiting an improvement on Meshuggah's oft imitated formula; Uneven Structure stands out among their peers with this "one-giant-track" journey that beckons you to sit and devote your attention for its entirety.
Februus sees the group eschewing the unrelenting math stomp tactic that was no doubt over-utilized on the previously mentioned 8 EP. Instead the band compliments their crushing brutality with liberal use of beautiful atmospherics that were only hinted at on their previous attempt. The triple-guitar threat manages to blanket on dense, unobtrusive atmosphere even while pounding your ear drums in with impeccable polyrhythmic groove. The result is a sound that is a perfect blend of chaos and order; technicality and minimalism. It never lumbers about engorged on a one-dimensional diet of any single element. When further combined with the tendency for drastic dynamic shifts, the group is constantly forging peaks and carving valleys in the soundscape that dazzle the listener throughout the record.
The album is structured as one long track split into three parts that beg to be experienced in their linear order. Part I, “Awaken”, “Frost” and “Hail” kick the album off and set the stage for the overall experience. “Awaken” explodes from the disc as if to wrest the listener from a life-long coma before dropping into more subdued passages that maintain energy while lathering the listener’s ears with soaring ambience. The track goes on to seamlessly transition into “Frost” which begins with sludgy staccato strikes on the guitars and menacing vocals before slipping into an infectious atmospheric section. Here the listener finds the guitar’s palm-muted rhythms intertwining with the swelling melodies from the background tones and vocals to form a soul penetrating groove. The song then begins to boil with an extended crescendo section that builds to a magnificent eruption of blazing riffage before smoldering in a middle ground of textures and reigniting into “Hail”. Heavy on bruising polyrhythmic groove but never feeling intrusive or excessive, “Hail” totally assaults the listener yet doesn’t feels at odds with what was established by the first two tracks.
Parts II and III continue to explore the wild dynamic variances that make the first part so interesting. On tracks like “Buds” and “Plentitude” the sextet really hit their stride and display a keen awareness of how the different elements of their sound interact for best effect. It all builds to “Finale” which punctuates the album with an appropriately epic sonic smorgasbord that will have the listener head-bobbing along to the resplendent melody and wide open rhythm.
When the listener reaches this end they find that instead of a juxtaposition of differing ideas for purposes of contrast, Februus solidifies itself as marriage of unique elements that shape a unified sound. The record is a perfect example of how a truly great band can take multiple creative paths and hone in on that sweet spot where they all resonate with each other instead of competing with one another. Never during the experience of Februus does the listener find themself lost in a musical world that is unable to reconcile its different ambitions and therein lies the group's true success: this record is a fully realized idea for a fresh angle on a musical direction already traveled. It doesn’t just allude to one as others have.
It should be noted that while the individual performances of all the band members are superb, props must be given to vocalist Matthieu Romarin. His vocals are constantly shifting between ethereal beauty and intransigent bombardment with both aspects being fully developed. His versatility is a primary aspect of the album and its success owes much to his well displayed skill.
Februus is about as successful as debut albums come. It isn’t an instant classic; some will find the heavy aspects become a tinge tiresome as the record nears its end and it certainly isn’t an example of complete originality. However, when one examines the total package, it’s hard to say the album is anything but a fantastic listen for fans of this genre and a monumental achievement for the band. With this masterful blend of grace and savagery, Uneven Structure set the bar high for their contemporaries as well as their own future releases. If you are at all interested in this brand of post-metal, Februus absolutely deserves your attention.