Review Summary: They proved they could go on without Christian after all.Dark Matter Dimensions
was a throw back for most fans. While critically praised for its technicality and much stronger progressive approach when compared to their previous albums, most fans generally considered it a colossal flop. Christian had just left the band, they'd recruited two
vocalists to replace him, and Dark Matter Dimensions
was their album to show they had made the right choice. Unfortunately, it did little to help their cause. While I am one of the few fans who genuinely enjoyed Dark Matter Dimensions
, and indeed liked its more technical approach, I must admit it did leave a bad aftertaste. It was not the Scar Symmetry I loved. Holographic Universe
had become my favorite album of all time (an honor it currently still holds), and Dark Matter Dimensions
showed a fairly radical shift in sound.
This is not Dark Matter Dimensions
. The Unseen Empire
scores where Dark Matter Dimensions
failed: powerful, melody-driven music with a brutal dynamic to somehow make it seem even heavier than it actually is. This is the album Scar Symmetry fans have been waiting for, and it showcases some monstrous talent from both vocalists. Lars sounds so amazing, the void left by Christian and felt during Dark Matter Dimensions
is now filled to the point I don't even miss Christian anymore. The overall sound is much akin to their first three albums, though admittedly there are fewer progressive moments in here. Where the progressive tendencies kick in (strongly in "Illuminoid Dream Sequence," "Astronomicon," and "The Draconian Arrival"), however, they are used to amazing effect, conjuring some of the best moments of the album.
Most importantly, this album succeeds in the same areas that Holographic Universe
succeeded in. This creates a sound that is occasionally familiar - sometimes it's a little bit too familiar, but fortunately it never feels overly
familiar. This is not to say they aren't doing anything new here either - for example, "Illuminoid Dream Sequence" is laced with industrial elements; odd at first, it quickly feels right at home with the rest of their music. "The Draconian Arrival" even creates a symphonic sound half way through the song, which only helps add to the "horror" aura.
The overall musicianship here is absolutely fantastic, as can be expected. The guitar solos are worth particular note for me. I've often found Scar Symmetry guitar solos to be excessive, and they some times seemed thrown in just for the sake of including a guitar solo, without much thought behind it. This does not exist in The Unseen Empire
(not for me, at least); each solo fits in well with the respective song, and they are pure pleasure to hear. The guitar work in general is very impressive on this entire album, though. There's a bit too much "chug" at times, but on average the riffs are very creative and enjoyable.
The drums are done so well it always seems mechanical. Every beat works perfectly and fits in without seeming unnecessarily out of place. Unfortunately, the bass (as always) seems to serve little purpose other than to add atmosphere to the music. It's generally very difficult to notice, and that's a great shame, because I think some more wild bass riffs (the way someone like Steve DiGiorgio would do) would add a lot to not just this album, but Scar Symmetry's music in general.
Vocally, everything here is a big improvement from Dark Matter Dimensions
. The melodies delivered here by Lars are top notch and some of the best Scar Symmetry has to offer. Lars has a deeper voice than Christian had; where he seemed to be trying to copy Christian on DMD, he finally is doing his own thing for (most of) this album, and he does it very well. Roberth is as great as always, delivering some brutally powerful growls that definitely would make anyone forget about Christian. No change from DMD, because he was great there too.
"The Draconian Arrival" serves as the top song of the album, because it fills all of the roles you'd want out of a Scar Symmetry song. It has an incredibly catchy and powerful melody, strong technical (yet catchy) riffs during the verses, and a slight bit of experimentation to make it sound "fresh." Lars's singing is beyond amazing, and Roberth's growling adds a feeling to the song that cannot be denied. Perhaps most importantly, it shows off one of the best choruses Scar Symmetry has ever done. It's a chorus worthy of the same accolades given to songs such as "The Illusionist" and "Ghost Prototype II - Deus Ex Machina." Not only does it work as the best song on the album, but it's at least one of the best songs in their entire discography.
That said, "Domination Agenda" and "Astronomicon" serve as the two best songs outside of "The Draconian Arrival" for me. "Domination Agenda" sounds like a blend of NWOBHM and power metal, with a single growled bridge (a genre not foreign to Scar Symmetry - "Timewave Zero" is effectively the same type of blend, and several other songs of theirs have shown a power metal influence). It delivers fantastic melodies that are easy to relax to, and they'll potentially get stuck in your head for weeks. It's not exactly complex, but it caters very well to the "sophisticated catchy" of Scar Symmetry. It shows off what is perhaps Lars's best vocal moments on the album, along with those of "The Draconian Arrival," and gives us one of the best choruses Scar Symmetry have ever done, while still having very powerful verses. To top it off, it also has perhaps the best solo on the album. "Astronomicon" is really not much more than the typical progressive influenced melodic death metal song Scar Symmetry is great at creating, but it accomplishes that sound the way only they can, and perhaps better than they ever have. The riffs are phenomenal, and the song gives us a little more complex structure that would be welcome in more songs of theirs. I must put emphasis on how great the duet is between Roberth and Lars during the chorus.
Perhaps the best part of the album, however, is that every song on here is great. Unlike their past albums, where I felt that each one had at least one song that didn't really fit in, every song here fits in perfectly and adds to the whole. There are no filler songs, or even filler moments for that matter. Everything works, and it works well too. Songs like "The Anomaly" and "Alpha and Omega" are effectively anthems that seem built around sweeping choruses, but they're done so well I cannot deny their attraction. "Illuminoid Dream Sequence" is incredibly mellow yet abrasive at the same time in a way Scar Symmetry have never done. It's atmospheric, progressive, and something that can be enjoyed as background music, but still interesting enough to wrap one's head around if one so desires. It's a unique experience with odd riffs, but it's definitely there right below "Astronomicon." "Extinction Mantra" is almost the opposite though; it's very groove oriented, and more about the vibe. It's not a lot to be intellectualized, but more to feel. Again, it gives us a fantastic chorus that I was singing to myself for a long time after. "Seers of the Eschaton" is easily the album's heaviest song, but still is a lot about the groove. Roberth shows off his best moments on the album in this song though. "Rise of the Reptilian Regime" is again a bit more proggy, but the prog elements inevitably take a backseat to the amazing melody given by Lars. It seems like no band can create vocal melodies the way Scar Symmetry can.
Lyrically, the album is experimental as well. Henrik Ohlsson (the drummer and lyricist) decided to ditch the complicated science based lyrics found especially on the last two albums, and replaced it with a conspiracy based concept album. The subject matter is effectively about the Illuminati, and all of it is highly inspired by David Icke. These concepts expressed here are not completely foreign to Scar Symmetry, however; "Slaves to the Subliminal" and "Retaliator," for example, approach the same topics which are expressed here. That said, it is definitely well written and works as interesting science-fiction for those who don't believe in it, and I'm sure it's a refreshing change for those who do believe in it.
Overall, this is an incredibly excellent album, and this is the album most people wanted Dark Matter Dimensions
to be. Holographic Universe
is still their crowning opus, but this fits right in under it as their second best release. This is my album of the year, and I strongly recommend this to any fan of metal, and definitely any fan of Scar Symmetry. The biggest flaw is that it's at least 1 track too short.