“I’m drinking wine from a local vineyard!” says guitarist Igor ‘Iggy’ Omodei, as we settle into a chat about Uneven Structure’s new album La Partition. “There are lots of vineyards in this area.”
A couple of years ago, the French tech proggers moved from Metz in the north-east of France, not far from the Germany/Luxembourg border, to the Mediterranean coast. “For the sunshine,” he explains – as if there would be any other reason. With their own studio, looked after by singer Matthieu Romarin, an invigorated line-up and a new album about to land, life is good for them right now.
Uneven Structure emerged onto the scene during the exponential growth of djent – the heavy metal micro-genre influenced by Meshuggah and spearheaded by fret fanatics Periphery. Their first EP, 8, came out in 2009, the same year as Animals As Leaders’ debut, and their first proper album, Februus, dropped in the midst of the TesseracT and Periphery hype. In short, Uneven Structure’s mechanical proggisms landed at just the right time. It’s not really surprising, then, that the 50,000-plus people who like their Facebook page have been getting a little bit tetchy waiting for a new album that was promised three years ago. Why has it taken so long?
“We felt like we were happy with it [La Partition] and then we changed our mind when we listened to the whole album.”
Omodei is candid about the band’s unease about bringing out a record that didn’t hit the mark. “We felt some kind of pressure to deliver something as good as people expected but we were also trying to catch up with time.”
The term ‘djent’ has never truly been embraced, not least by the bands who feel like they’re being pigeonholed as obsessives of sanitised, muscle-memory music made for people who go to NAMM conventions. At its best, the crunchy, palm-muted riffs this style is known for are used to create multifaceted concoctions of tech metal and melody. But at its worst, djent has driven a deluge of bands who are all crunch and little discernible credibility, leading to the gradual distancing of technically inclined bands from the genre. So when Uneven Structure talk about keeping up with time, you know what they mean.
“It quite quickly became a conscious notion – we just didn’t feel comfortable writing these djenty kind of riffs,” Omodei admits. “There are like 10,000 other bands doing it and it’s not interesting for us to go in this direction any more. We feel like we can offer something else, something different. So much time has passed since 2011 and we don’t find it relevant or exciting to write these kind of riffs.”
Djent’s loss is prog’s gain. Uneven Structure’s second album is a dense, multi-layered departure from the stop-start rhythmic framework of their debut, and has more in common with Opeth, Tool and Katatonia than with Animals As Leaders and Meshuggah. Those elastic riffs that pervaded Februus have become richer, deeper and doomier, achieving a smouldering doom djent hybrid that sits firmly in the prog metal camp, leaning more heavily on Romarin’s clean melodies.
Newcomer on drums Arnaud Verrier provides one of the marked differences, giving La Partition more of a jazzy feel, albeit drenched in sombre metallic tones. It’s an overwhelming listen and comes with some seriously kickass music videos courtesy of Omodei, who also happens to be a music video director.
“It’s been four years since I started my music video company,” he says. “I’m still trying to find the balance between doing that and the band, but it’s going well. I shoot all the videos except for the band scenes, and that’s only because I can’t be behind the camera and behind the guitar at the same time.”
La Partition picks up conceptually where Februus left off, telling the story of a man witnessing chaos all around him. “The track Incube is about feeling protected and putting your confidence in someone,” Omodei says. “The song starts very slowly and it gets faster and faster as a way of showing your confidence with someone’s ability to protect. But then at other times everything spirals out of control and makes less and less sense.”
It’s not a story you’d imagine could be written by a band of contented Frenchmen casually sipping wine in the sunshine. Omodei briefly eludes to “chaotic” times in his own life but is adamant that the album is not biographical. He’d rather keep the sentiment open to interpretation: “I’m not sure it’s a good idea to explain the whole concept to the fans.”
Omodei formed Uneven Structure with bassist Benoit Friedrich in 2007. “I’ve known Benoit since I was two years old and we started making music when we were 12,” he says. “We kept bouncing from band to band and we didn’t feel right in any of them so we thought, ‘Fuck it, we’ll write our own music and find the people who want to play this music with us,’ and it started from there. Every single person who joined the band since has added their own vision and made it richer.
“Back then we were listening to bands like Nirvana, Korn and Linkin Park. I was also into Nine Inch Nails and chaotic bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan and Red Chord. And then we discovered Meshuggah and it started to go all over the place. We were craving new music and different kinds of textures and that’s where the whole ambient thing came from.
“We got into electronic music where there’s so much emphasis on textures and sonics and we kind of fell in love with this precise sound. At that point we wanted to mix them together – the brutality and chaos of mathcore and metalcore with the lush sound of electronic music.”
When asked what he means by electronic music, Omodei’s reply is “Aphex Twin”. So should we expect a cover any time soon? “Ah, like Dillinger Escape Plan did!” he says, reminding us that the math metallers covered the Twin’s terrifying electro mind‑melt Come To Daddy in 2002. But what of Korn?
“There’s a stigma attached to Korn. It’s never been very ‘metal’ or ‘in’ to say you were inspired by Korn, but when you actually listen to them, especially the old albums, there’s so much experimental stuff and technical ability on the guitar, whether that’s due to effects or the playing itself. It’s really low and heavy, really crunching heavy, and that’s not something you had with other bands at the time. Metallica, for instance, played with high gain and high frequency. It was aggressive but not that heavy. I think a lot of bands have been inspired by Korn but I think it’s subconscious.”
Korn. Aphex Twin. Nine Inch Nails. Not very proggy so far [I dunno, some of Aphex Twin’s stuff’s quite proggy in places… – Ed]. Are there any prog bands Omodei digs?
“Yes, Karnivool! They blew my mind with Sound Awake and Asymmetry. They make music for themselves and they don’t care if it’s hard to listen to. There’s something I really like about them.”
There’s one word that follows tech metal around like a bad smell: nerdy. Whether it’s Meshuggah’s metronome parameters, a fixation on guitar techniques and pedals, the word ‘tech’ in itself, the rise of home production and DIY music-sharing sites like Soundcloud, or simply a culmination of all of these elements, the genre has inadvertently become the ‘boffin’ of metal. But it hasn’t stopped it becoming enormously popular. Uneven Structure have made no less than six appearances at Euroblast, one of Europe’s biggest tech metal festivals.
“We love playing there – it’s like a family,” Omodei says. “You know everyone: the bands, the crew, even the fans, because you see them every year and recognise their faces. But we’re not as concerned about technical stuff as other bands. We’re not as obvious about it. Misha [Mansoor] from Periphery, for example, is a true gear nerd. He loves guitars and pedals. We have one guitar each and try to roll with it.”
Uneven Structure might be without their ‘tech’ accoutrements, but God love the internet because if it wasn’t for the wonders of the world wide web, they wouldn’t have found their latest addition to the band, Steeves Hostin. “We met on the internet when the whole djent thing started. He posted some songs, I posted some too, and we got talking. That’s how I know him, and he joined Uneven Structure as a guitarist last year. We’ve been in touch for nearly 10 years now!”
Let’s take a minute to digest that. Djent has been around for 10 years. That’s a decade of what feels like prog and metal’s newest embodiment. So maybe it is time for change, and maybe Uneven Structure are the band to keep it moving forward.
La Partition is out now on Long Branch Records. For more, see www.unevenstructure.net.