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Scarve have always had something of a spark about them. I can't quite describe it, but something made them the most energetic band on the French scene; it could have been the interplay between the two vocalists, it could have been the fantastic riffery, it could have been Dirk Verbeuren's frantic (and untriggered!) drumming. But although these elements are present in The Undercurrent, the album falls flat. The energy somehow isn't there; the technical performances are all flawless, but some things just don't sounds right. That clarity of production which made albums like Irradiant so distinct, eschewing Andy Sneap – style saturation for relatively clean guitars, audible bass and snappy drums, has gone; it's replaced with a wall of sound production, more like Devin Townsend than lo-fi. It doesn't suit them; the appeal of Scarve was to sound relatively stripped down, and the energy really shone through. However, it would be stupid to dismiss the album just because of the production: there are other problems.
The main problem is that the amount of filler has gone up. A lot. I can count the number of memorable songs on one hand: The Plundered is great, as is Endangered, and... er... that's it. In general, the riffs sound tired now, when they're actually audible... and the vocals. Oh dear. Well, in the past, Pierrick Valence sounded like he was possessed with a kind of ferocity which I don't hear often in metal these days, while Guillaume Bideau managed to pack his cleans full of grit and aggression. Pierrick is by and large OK, but Guillaume Bideau's studio replacement, Lawrence Mackroy of Darkane, simply doesn't cut it. He sounds positively tame compared to Guillaume. On top of this, the vocal arrangements have become predictable. There is no chemistry between these two. It's very clear that Lawrence is a hired gun, and no more; he does the job adequately, but the passion has gone.
Overall, this is the weakest link in Scarve's discography. It's OK, and no more; the previous albums were bordering on genius, and as such The Undercurrent just doesn't compare. With both vocalists now having left, and guitarist Sylvain Coudret being snagged by Soilwork (Dirk's day job), the future looks somewhat bleak for Scarve. I hope it's not their last release, I really do; it would be a shame to leave on such a down note.
This is probably the most confusing album I have ever heard. When I first heard this album, I felt like chunking out the CD from my window and wishing that I'd never heard the disaster called "The Undercurrent," but I kept on going back to it, given Scarve's previous merits, and soon, I couldn't stop headbanging and listening in awe to such fantastic metal.
Coming off the heels of their outstanding "Irradiant," the Frenchmen faced a lot of problems with clean vocalist Guillaume Bideau bidding adieu to his former band of eight years to join Danish industrial metal band Mnemic, and their drummer Dirk Verbeuren shifting to live in the US, causing recording delays.
The first thing Scarve fans will notice is the production. As opposed to the clear production of Irradiant, The Undercurrent has more of a thick, fat, and bass-heavy production. This organic production can easily turn down most Scarve fans like it did me.
Next, the vocals. After losing Guillaume, Scarve went and had ex-Darkane frontman Lawrence Mackory do session clean vocals. While Mackory's voice sounds a bit like Guillaume, it is the vocal harmonisation where it all goes astray.
Whereas death growler Pierrick Valence and Guillaume on Irradiant sounded like they were meant to sing together, Mackory and Valence sound a bit disorganised.
It feels like they just came down to the studio, recorded their parts separately and left without hearing the other's parts. That is a bit of a problem with having two vocalists, and Scarve suffered a lot here because of this problem. But still, I must say this, Valence has the best death growl in all France. Joe Duplantier of Gojira sounds like a kitten compared to Valence's tiger-like death growl.
I must admit that I was also disappointed with the track listing. Track four "The Plundered" should have been the last song, it would really fit the flow of the album then. And they should have left out "Rebirth." Simply put, that track is the worst song that Scarve has ever made. For some reason I keep thinking of Nickelback(!) whenever I hear that song. They should have put an instrumental out here, or they could have had Pierrick going solo on this track because Lawrence sounds like shit on that track.
Musically, this album is very different from Irradiant. Irradiant was much more straightforward and catchy, you would like it on hearing the first time. The Undercurrent is much more dark, complex and abstract. The drums, as one would expect of Dirk, are top-notch. Guitarists Patrick Martin and Sylvain Coudret deliver on every level, although I am a bit disappointed with the lesser number of solos in this album, but they are still very good while they last. The bass work is very good as well, it almost feels like a punch to the face at times if you're not careful, such moments can be found on tracks 2 (Imperceptible Armageddon) 3 (Senseless) and 7 (A Few Scraps of Memories). I just love it when the bass deviates from the guitars, and Loïc Colin does that through out the album.
By the way, check out "A Few Scraps of Memories." It starts out with a creepy industrial beginning with a baby making baby noises and a woman crying, it sounds frickin' creepy. Pierrick is most prominent in this song. This song has more narrated parts to it and I just love this song. Sylvain Coudret delivers a Fredrik Thordendal-esque solo in this song! I think that this is the best song on the album.
In short, this is the worst album Scarve has ever made. But then why do I still give this an 80? Well, because most people might not understand this album on the first listen, and by seeing the score, hopefully they will go back and try to understand it again, because this album is like a beautifully sculpted statue in a public park which is too covered in pigeon poop for anyone to recognize it's beauty.
Scarve return with a much anticipated follow up (at least it was for me) to Irradiant. The Undercurrent is full of progressive, industrial, and death influences but blends them all together so that each plays off of one another in a well thought out and delightful offering.
This album is not an easy listen though. At first listen, I found the album to feel spastic and scattered sounding and there were many times I thought about just changing it - luckily I didn't. This album deserves much recognition in its ordered chaos sound. There is much to love upon second and third listening. So if on first listen the album doesn't quite appeal - give it a couple more chances before sending it out to the farm.
The guitar work is well composed on The Undercurrent. Although, strangely enough for metal, the guitars are not the focus of the album. There are some very heavy death metal riffs that garner a repetitive and mechanical feel giving the album a strong dose of industrial feel (think Strapping Young Lad for rhythms here). The leads are sparse on the album. They do grace our presence every once in a while and when they do they are expertly placed and well incorporated in the music. Solos aren't a necessary on most of the songs and thusly only appear at climaxes of songs (Fathomless Descent has a particularly impressive solo). The guitars quickly change tempo and sound on the album so expect everything from down tuned crunch to gothic tones in The Undercurrent.
The bass work is quite good - there is a lot of progressive feel at times when the bass does deviate from the rhythm sections of the songs. The bass does flow pretty evenly from a death metal crunch to Dream Theatre-esque technicality without much pause. The song A Few Scraps of Memories has some amazing bass work in it. Not to mention guitars.
Believe it or not the most impressive aspect of The Undercurrent is not the guitars or vocals - but in fact the drumming. The drumming is both technical and varied in sound without ever losing that metal edge. His progressive death metal style leaves almost nothing to be desired. Each song has a very different drum track to it - one that focuses on cymbal work, another that focuses on unusual bass drum patterns. The variety is almost endless and each song furthered my amazement.
Despite the loss of a great vocalist in Guillaume Bideau to Mnemic prior to the recording of this album, Scarve never seemed to have missed a beat in getting a new (and equally) good vocalist. The two separate vocal tracks, one being clean and the other being guttural, give the album a wide variety of sounds. The vocal melodies aren't as good as some previous releases but the album did not really need to have impressive vocal patterns - the music in itself is quite impressive and the vocals fit excellent with music.
Overall, The Undercurrent is top notch metal from France. No one really every thinks that often but in this case it is the truth. There is much to be appreciated on the album. The Undercurrent is a very appropriate title for this release. This one is going to slide right by most main stream metalheads and many will never know the gem they missed.
Songs to check out: Endangered, Fathomless Descent, Rebirth.