Lately, I’ve come to a realization: I really like progressive metal. The lighter, bouncier, often less heavy warmth of its synth-tastic embrace has been rather alluring of late, and I’ve been leaning more towards the Ayreons, the Civilisations, and the Riversides of my collection. Shortly after I came to this realization, I came to another: not all prog is created equal, as the three aforementioned examples demonstrate capably. Still, seeing an album cover with that much purple on it piqued my interest nicely, and that’s the story of how I snatched up Universal Chaos, the sophomore album from Norwegian prog metal act Rendezvous Point. Realizations are tricky things, but I was eager to see how this one would pan out for me.
Musically and aesthetically, Universal Chaos reminds me a bit of Ayreon’s Flight of the Migrator. The production is certainly cleaner and more modern, but the guitars are thick, and synthesizers dominate the soundscape. Unlike Flight of the Migrator, however, Petter Hallaråker’s guitars are pushed rather back in the mix. Way back. So far back, in fact, that I can’t help but think that the album wouldn’t sound all that different without them. Songs like “The Fall” and “Universal Chaos” feel like they’re trying to be heavier than they actually are, because the guitar work is mostly relegated to quiet and repetitive power chords. Whenever Universal Chaos aims for power, energy, or excitement, it almost always falls flat in the end.
The primary focus of Universal Chaos is not the guitars, however, but rather Geirmund Hansen’s singing. He has total prominence in the mix, and most songs feel as though they were built around vocal melodies, rather than instrumentation. The good news is that Hansen is a great singer, with a wide range and a cathartic delivery. The bad news is that his prominence compared with the rest of Rendezvous Point is so absolute that he essentially carries the album on his shoulders. In “Digital Waste,” for example, his voice is digitized to match the theme of the song, which results in noticeable audio clipping that hurts to listen to. Because he is so much louder than his bandmates, this is my primary takeaway from the song. The same issue helps to bring down “Unfaithful,” the only fully guitar-driven song on the album (though the fact that the song is essentially a single riff repeated from beginning to end doesn’t help either). “Pressure” is written with a 7/4 time signature, and the vocal lines are not well-suited to the number. The result is that Hansen sounds awkward throughout much of the song. In all of these cases, Hansen’s singing, the main strength of the album, is turned against itself. The result is sadly tough to listen to for a full 44 minutes.
There are some strong moments across Universal Chaos, hints of potential and promise. Despite the aforementioned issues, “Digital Waste” is a strong slice of prog, upbeat and engaging, with a satisfyingly creepy opening verse and a memorable chorus. “Apollo” is a good start to the album, with Hansen’s evocative singing carrying the number with aplomb. “Undefeated” is also a strong closer, and perhaps the only song on the album where everything comes together to form a memorable, exciting conclusion for the album. These moments are unfortunately few and far between, but they reinforce the simple fact that this is a talented group with some really cool ideas whose execution is simply falling flat more often than not.
I wanted to enjoy Universal Chaos more than I did, but the album ultimately feels like a slow burn to nowhere. I do like the sound of Rendezvous Point, and feel like they have a strong album in them, but Universal Chaos simply isn’t it. While some tracks may pop up in my moments of prog whimsy, I don’t imagine I’ll be returning much to this one. Too universal, not enough chaos.