Review Summary: Just how do you go about replacing one of Metal's strongest vocalists? Why, you get two of course!
Replacing lead singer Christian Alvestam, was always going to be, at best one hell of a struggle. The man who shot Scar Symmetry from obscurity to fame in 2004 with "Symmetric in Design" left the band in 2008, sighting "creative differences" and "touring conflicts" as the reasons. So, how do you manage to replace such a guy, one who could convert between growling and pretty good singing with such apparent ease? The answer in Scar Symmetry's eyes was, of course get two vocalists in, Roberth Karlsson on the nasty stuff, and Lars Palmqvist on the cleans. And, to their credit they have managed to produce a good album, especially considering it only took them 14 months or so to produce it.
Lets get this straight right from the start-Lars Palmqvist is not going to become Metal's best melodic singer over night, and occasionally sounds a tad pale in comparison to Christian. But, as a whole this doesn't detract from the sound of the album, because his other half, Roberth, is fantastic. He elevates the album to a whole new level, helping it sound somewhere in-between a Meshuggah and Hammerfall lock of the horns and a fight to the death.
The album kicks into life with "The Iconoclast" featuring some good, but not spectacular guitar harmonies. But all this does is lead you into a false sense of security, for what follows is a true Scar Symmetry anthem in its own right. Containing the jarring, spasmodic guitars akin to Meshuggah's 2008 opus "Obzen", a classic, beautiful chorus and sledgehammer drumming, this is a great song and reassures you as a listener this is no barrel-bottom stinker of a album desperate to prove its doubters wrong. This thread continues into "The Consciousness Eaters", but this track for me lacks the consistency of its predecessor, partially due to a very strange wail at the end of each chorus from Palmqvist. Unfortunately, the song after, "Noumenon and Phenomenon" is simply fodder, starting out with a promising steam-roller of a riff, before giving into an obviously American inspired verse and chorus, sounding akin to "Five Finger Death Punch's" studio off cuts.
Lets not despair though, for "Ascension Chamber" redeems the album and considerably sets it back on track. This contains probably the strongest instrumental performance from Scar Symmetry in a long while, with Henrik Ohlssen absolutely destroying his kit, and a phenomenal breakdown mid-song, opening with another great guitar harmony. This is followed, again with another strong song "Mechanical Soul Cybernetics" (what a bloody name!) that does exactly what it says on the tin, producing machine gun drums, relentless guitars and gut churning vocals only some programmed machine would be capable of. The story continues for much of this album, although one song in particular deserves a mention. "A Parenthesis in Eternity" does nothing but display just how tight a unit Scar Symmetry are, even after just one album with the new vocalists. It displays the band members on top of their game, and it gives particular emphasis upon Lars Palmqvist. Like any good metal vocalist, he rises to the challenge, his voice perfectly suiting the truly soaring chorus and even sounding here like Christian.
The album really does show us that an old dog really can learn new tricks. But just before I praise the band too much, one or two points really should be highlighted. Despite shining on one or two songs, Palmqvist is by far the weaker vocalist out of the two. While his counter part churns out the vocals, song after song, there is nothing here to distinguish Lars above any other clean vocalist in the genre, or business right now. He also never seems to truly push his vocal abilities to the max, most of his vocals start to blend together after several repeated listens. Another gripe here, and its only a small one is that after a while, the instrumentation starts to sound like the same riff with an extra rhythmic twist added.
However, this is still a really strong effort from Scar Symmetry. They have, at least in my eyes managed to prove many a doubter wrong, producing an album that is truly worthy of a "Kings of the Comeback" status. Perhaps even Christian could admit that leaving the band was a bad idea.
1. The Iconoclast
2. Ascension Chamber
3. Mechanical Soul Cybernetics
4. A Parenthesis in Eternity