Review Summary: The change is there, despite what the malicious may say. The sellout is not there, which bodes well for the future. The new vocalists create a subtle, futuristic vibe. A great, beautiful, underrated album.
Only a year after their previous widely acclaimed album "Holographic Universe", Scar Symmetry return with another opus, and hell it's a good album! Don't listen to those who say that Scar Symmetry is ripping off Soilwork, or that it's bland and generic, yada yada yada. These people are simply-put mentally inhibited, or devoid of sensitivity for beauty.
As of the album itself,
With Christian Älvestam gone, the vocal duties are resumed by Roberth Karlsson on growls and Lars Palmqvist on cleans. Robban's growls are very adequate, reminescent of those of Dan Swanö, whereas his predecessor's were leaning more towards guys like Glen Benton. Lars posesses a beautiful singing voice, which is less edgy than Christian's, it's more silky and streamlined, but also more hollow. Undeniably, Lars has much technique training to do, like when to use a good vibrato (the album sadly lacks those). His voice wraps around you like cotton and makes you feel soft, but this may be due to the studio effect work... That said, though, the vocals are solid and shouldn't disappoint anyone who's not a freakin' perfection nerd who as a child would be put in a burlap bag and beaten with reeds for every failure in his life.
There are twelve songs on the new album. The overall feel is very accessible, much heavier than on "Holographic Universe" (so the biggest flaw of that album was addressed on this one), and less melody-oriented than thence, but the sense of melody is uncanny nevertheless (being perhaps closest to "Pitch Black Progress", although not entirely). The album is still not "nu" and still not "mall", which only proves the band's sincerity in their efforts to please not teenagers but themselves first.
The vibe that this album gives is much more futuristic and electronic/spiritual than on any of the previous works. There are three themes of songs on this album, the very melodic and beautiful ones ("The Iconoclast", "Sculptor Void", "A Parenthesis in Eternity"), some of their heaviest ever ("Mechanical Soul Cybernetics", "Nonhuman Era", "Dark Matter Dimensions") and the rest, meaning the songs that blend both of these aspects in varying ratios. What sets this album apart from the previous ones is the reliance on traditional heavy metal riffing. Such riffing is much more pronounced than on the bands' previous works, but if you remember the songs "Abstracted", "Kaleidoscopic God" and "The Path of Least Resistance", then you'll immediately pick up similarities. Per's solos are stellar as ever, the drumming is up a notch from the previous album in heaviness, and the songs are all great, however may take time to grow on you.
The album starts with "The Iconoclast", a beautiful, uplifting and extremely cheesy hymn. The chorus sounds like a j-rock song, and I'm not exaggerating. Takes time to get used to, but if you distance yourself to the cheesiness, you'll be able to enjoy this song.
Then "The Consciousness Eaters" follow, perhaps the single song that carries the most "Pitch Black Progress" vibe of them all on this album. Groovy verses, medium heaviness, a good and relaxing chorus and a bluesy solo.
"Noumenon and Phenomenon" is track three. This song was chosen as one of the video singles, and for good reason. A medium heaviness song, but with a genius breakdown and one of the more experimental solos by Per. Hell, he's such a genius that though his solos are immediately recognizable, they never get boring.
Another video single follows, that is "Ascension Chamber". I'm not really into that kind of stuff, but the chorus of this song sounds like an action cartoon opening or something like that. Must be Per Nilsson's admitted love for movie scores. The intro is crushing, but the verses are pure, groovy, heavy metal, very reminescent of their earlier song "Abstracted". We even get a deathcore-style slowed-down breakdown (not my kind of thing, but I love it in their execution). Great track, of course.
And next is actually the first great surprise of the album, an experimental track called "Mechanical Soul Cybernetics". Now this one is a blast, hell I love this track! Listening to it is like having sex with Megan Fox while being on crack while riding a rollercoaster. When you think it's crazy enough, the track switches to an even more screwed up passage, which culminates in a a loony, highly uplifting solo. This track is... damn!
"Nonhuman Era" follows (nah, I hope it won't actually FOLLOW, I wanna live!). The heaviest song on the album, and one in which blast beats are used on a regular basis. The chorus takes things down a notch, but the verses are great. The song also makes use of polyrhythms, and is one of the moments when Scar Symmetry sounds at least remotely close to Meshuggah. Those who associate SS with Soilwork, suck on this!
Number seven is the title track. This one has a weird vibe around it, a bit monumental, a bit uplifting, it's really subtle. Among the heavier tracks, but imbued with drama, also featuring a twin solo, a thing which is not a common thing in this band. A great listen, although I prefer other tracks.
And here is one of my favorites, the beautiful melodic hymn "Sculptor Void". Never before have Scar Symmetry written a song with a more beautiful and touching chorus. Easily the least technical song on the album, but that's precisely what shows the band's caliber. The charm of Scar Symmetry lies in that they can make a "sellout" single-type song which is a masterpiece nevertheless (like they showed earlier with The Illusionist). This song is really peculiarly beautiful and catchy to the extreme, and the band didn't even feel the need to make it a single, choosing the more balanced-out tracks instead. Genius.
And now even more genius comes, in form of "A Parenthesis in Eternity". This song was hit by the uplifting stick, it screams power and joy of life. Lars shows us some of his higher registers in this song, and manages passably at least. What's great about this little opus is its clear pronunciation of an intro, a middle section and an ending, which makes the song very complete. A grand power metallish fiesta of both verses and choruses. Show this to your grandma, she'll be in love. Mine was.
Track ten is "Frequencyshifter", It follows "Sculptor Void"'s trend of making a beautiful chorus, but amalgamates it with "Abstracted"-style verses. Add in a great solo and a 80's-like linking motiff and you have another great track, which dwarfs most of Soilwork's filler.
"Radiant Strain" please. This is THE 80's song of the album. Groove, speed, catchiness and considerable heaviness make your heart pump (at least they did mine, if they don't make yours then you got run over by the truck of suck). The solo is similar to that of its preceding track, but no harm done, it's brilliant nevertheless. No excess technicality, but anyway a very groovy track that makes you happy that you're alive and have Scar Symmetry to listen to.
There is also a pleasant surprise for buyers of the Digipak Edition, the twelfth song called "Pariah". This song is undoubtedly a highlight. And the first song that actually makes me partially agree with people who consider Scar Symmetry similar to Soilwork. This song actually like Soilwork and In Flames having sex. If you ever wondered how would these two bands' styles sound in one song, here you go. The verses remind me of In Flames, and the transitions of Soilwork's riffing, everything much more spicy and refined of course. The opening riff is brutal and technical - a thing that neither Soilwork nor In Flames would agree on these days in fear of losing their lip-pierced, mall-going teenage fans. The song fades out with a beautiful solo, and also is one of the heaviest songs on the album. Awesomeness.
To summarize, this time Scar Symmetry bets on the heaviness and the groove. They show us some technically inclined death metal, and they show us some groovy, heavy metal complimented with harsh vocals. Both of these things are good, and whoever calls them a ripoff of anybody or generic deserves nothing from me but contempt. These days we have bigger problems, like established bands selling out under the pretext of "creative evolution" etc, therefore we should appreciate a band that does what it does - creates poppy, accessible songs, but because they LIKE it, not because they want to make more cash. They do it without compromise, unlike Soilwork and In Flames who softened their harsh vocals and simplified their lyrics so corekids can stand them. Scar Symmetry draw from many styles, that being the 80s' heavy metal, classical death metal, Gothenburg metal, neo-classical metal and many more. They ARE unique, and this record has proven it once again, period.