Review Summary: An uninspired and disappointing melodic death metal album that can only be enjoyed in small doses at best.
Scar Symmetry is a melodic death metal band from Avesta, Sweden. The band was formed in 2004 and have released four full-length albums so far. However, in 2008, after the release of “Holographic Universe”, the original vocalist, Christian Alvestam, left the band. Following that, Scar Symmetry recruited not one, but two replacements. “Dark Matter Dimensions” is the debut for them.
As of release of “Dark Matter Dimensions” Scar Symmetry is:
Roberth Karlsson – vocals (lead growl vocals and backing clean vocals);
Lars Palmqvist – vocals (lead clean vocals and backing growl vocals);
Jonas Kjellgren – lead and rhythm guitar, keyboards;
Per Nilsson – lead and rhythm guitar, keyboards;
Kenneth Seil – bass guitar;
Henrik Ohlsson – drums.
Scar Symmetry is well known for its “if it's not broken, don't fix it” formula. Since the its inception, the bands' overall sound remained the same – catchy, if somewhat generic, melodic death metal. “Dark Matter Dimensions” is not an exception to this. Guitarists Jonas Kjellgren and Per Nilsson handle their duties well, but it's not possible to shake the “been here, heard that” feeling that acompanies their riffs. Most of them sound like a rehash of their older ones. What's more – they aren't quite as attention grabbing as the ones in the previous albums. In fact, some sound quite generic (”Ascension Chamber”, “Non-Human Era”) and even downright cheesy (intro for “The Iconoclast”). Solos are somewhat disappointing too. Very few are memorable enough, most don't even stand out in any way. The solos range from decent, to a complete wankery, at which point I ask myself – did someone switched this with a Dragonforce CD? The keyboards, which are the courtesy of Kjellgren and Nillson too, rarely add anything to the songs. Compare that to previous albums, where keyboards were used to enhance the melody. In “Dark Matter Dimensions” they, well, just exist. And that's all. I may be sounding like a broken record, but that is, again, disappointing.
There isn't much to say about the rhythm section, to be honest. Bass guitar is (surprise, surprise) inaudible save for a few rare spots. And even when you manage to hear it, it's just there to do what guitars do at the time or play something bland. This could lead one to believe bassist Kenneth Seil was absent from the recording sessions for the most part. Or simply did not care enough to show creativity with his instrument. Though the drumming isn't remotely bad or as bland as the bass guitar, it isn't particularly interesting either. Drummer Henrik Ohlsson keeps things flowing smoothly, but rarely shows off his real ability. Although, to be fair, he does provide some nice bass drum work here and there.
The lyrics, written by Ohlsson, also seem to have regressed. Ohlsson used to employ philosophical and scientific (or even bordering on science fiction) ideas for his lyrics. Same lyrical concepts can be found in “Dark Matter Dimensions”, yet they aren't quite as strong as they were on previous albums. Something just tells me that they were written in a hurry and not much though was put into them. A particular example is “Noumenon and Phenomenon”, a song that otherwise is a stand-out. The lyrics for this song are supposed to explore the nature noumena and phenomena - a philosophical concept developed by a german philosopher Imannuel Kant. But the lyrics seem to be written after glancing through Kants' biographical page in Wikipedia. They are very basic, some lines even drift away from the whole concept and sound awkward. Then again, the album was released just a year after “Holographic Universe”, so it might just suffer in both lyrical and musical departments from simply being rushed.
But the biggest change is the two new vocalists. The idea of having two people handling vocal duties seems like a good one. One should excel at clean vocals and the other one – at growls. A perfect formula, right? Well, that would be the truth... except the fact that both new vocalists don't really shine in their areas of expertise. Roberth Karlsson takes the part of the main growler on “Dark Matter Dimensions”. Even though he does his job adequately, he isn't nowhere as good as Christian Alvestam was. His growling isn't very deep, but it's satisfying enough to be considered decent. He is also “supposedly” providing the backing clean vocals too, but no trace of them can be found. That is a let down, because the album could've used some variation – in this case, between the clean vocals.
That brings us to something completely different - the lead singer, Lars Palmqvist. His clean vocals are lacking throughout the album. Most of the time, he sounds like a generic power metal singer, making me wonder for a second time – am I really not listening to Dragonforce? Even at his best performance (“A Parenthesis in Eternity”) he sounds nothing more like a cheap imitation of Alvestam. There are a couple of moments (“The Conciousness Eaters”, “Mechanical Soul Cybernetics”) where his voice is processed and distorted through a vocoder or enchanted digitally. That makes a nice break from the singing, but it's too little, too late. And although Palmqvist is not completely unlistenable, he definitely is a major flaw in this album. He also does the backing growls and, surprisingly, does that quite well. His growls are more high pitched, almost sounding like shrieks. Although that doesn't happen very often, that mixes up with Karlssons growling rather nicely and leaves the listener wanting for more of that, rather than the clean singing.
So, does Scar Symmetry bring anything new to the table? Do they finally change things with the inclusion of the new vocalists? The answer is no. Little has changed and it even seems that things have gone downhill for the band. Rehashed riffs, lackluster vocals, and sometimes silly lyrics turn “Dark Matter Dimensions” into an uninspired and disappointing melodic death metal album that can only be enjoyed in small doses at best.
Noumenon and Phenomenon
A Parenthesis in Eternity