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Dark Matter Dimensions: the album every Scar Symmetry fan loves to hate. Being the album after the great Christian Älvestam left, it was bound to be heavily scrutinized by every fan of the band. Unfortunately, along with a vocalist switch - where they hired two vocalists to replace Christian, I might add - they also did a bit of a music switch. Scar Symmetry was known prior to this album for their tremendous talent for melody. I mean... melody was the very foundation of the music. Go listen to Holographic Universe, and you will see the album is devastatingly dominant with melody, showing it off at an abnormal quantity for even a melodic death metal band. These melodies are simply poppy at times. Sure, the music has a lot else going for it, but it's all buried under the colossal amount of melody. Guess what, the melody was carried predominantly by Christian's vocals. So, what did Scar Symmetry decide to do? They decided to replace a member key to the very foundation of their music, then... spiral off into a completely different direction. While past Scar Symmetry albums always had progressive elements to them, Dark Matter Dimensions forsakes the melodies in favor of the progressive elements. This album almost eschews melodeath in favor of techdeath. Yeah, this album was fated to be criticized by every Scar Symmetry fan possible.
There, though, does the question lie: was this a mistake? The average Scar Symmetry fan would tell you yes. Truthfully, however, the average Scar Symmetry fan is butthurt about the band taking on a new direction with this album. They're upset that the band isn't offering the same type of music offered in their previous output. And in the fan's rage, they completely neglect to acknowledge the album still excels in what it does.
No, this was not a mistake. The technical proficiency of the band is completely upgraded in this album. Songs like "Mechanical Soul Cybernetics" and "Nonhuman Era" are primed with almost brutal techdeath material, while songs like "The Consciousness Eaters" and "Ascension Chamber" have slick progressive riffing. Axemen Jonas Kjellgren and Per Nilsson really flaunt how tremendously talented players they are - not just in these songs, but through the entire album. It's not just overdone, overcomplex solos this time - the riffs are completely tech'd up too! And it's not even just the guitars - the drums pattern on, for example, "Nonhuman Era" takes on a more technical approach as well.
With that said, one can definitely tell this is a Scar Symmetry album. While the instruments have all been raised to a new level in technical proficiency, the album still bursts with big, catchy choruses like Scar Symmetry has always done on nearly every song. This album is basically Scar Symmetry on steroids, to be honest. And as powerfully progressive as the album can be, it would not be nearly as attractive without the obligatory melody the album is still contains in great amounts. Songs such as "The Iconoclast" and "Radiant Strain" are oozing with melody, just like always. However, it's songs like "The Consciousness Eaters" and "Nonhuman Era" which unite the the new technical approach with comparatively catchy melodies that the album really shines.
This comes to its ultimate climax in "A Parenthesis in Eternity," which may very well be the greatest song Scar Symmetry has ever written. This song takes the progressive riffing of a song like "Nonhuman Era" and unites it with the melody of a song like "The Iconoclast." However, unlike those songs which often disjointedly transition from technical to beautiful, "A Parenthesis in Eternity" unites these elements seamlessly - such as in the chorus, which simultaneously features delicious melodies over hyped up leads. By uniting these elements the way they do, this song almost falls into the same progpower territory past songs such as "Trapezoid" have. Not only is this among their most complex songs, the melodies written here are absolutely delightful. The opening, exempli gratia, is among the best melodies these guys have ever written, certainly. This is saying a lot, because Scar Symmetry has an unquestionable, incomparable, unbelievable knack for writing some of the greatest earworms I've ever been exposed to.
The bonus track, "Pariah," is another great example of this. It unites the technical riffing with a catchy chorus, leads and solos in the same manner, and it is among the best tracks on the album. If you have a chance to grab a copy of the album with this bonus track, do not hesitate to catch it instead. It's well worth it.
This brings us to our vocalists - Roberth Karlsson and Lars Palmqvist. After all, Scar Symmetry's melody has been brought to life with the vocals of Christian Älvestam; how can an album be so full of melody and actually compare to their past successes if the vocals responsible for wielding the melody can't compare to Christian? Indeed, these guys have received their share of criticism for the album. But, really... why? Roberth's growl is nearly identical to Christian's, and Lars's cleans are harmonious and powerful as well. While I still prefer Christian (less so with time, I might add), some may prefer Lars simply because his voice is less poppy. He is able to carry Scar Symmetry's sickly sweet melodies as well as Christian could, at the very least. My only real problem with his vocals in this album is that it sounds slightly synthetic at times; however, it fits. The entire album has a slightly weird mechanized quality to it.
I feel I should also mention the lyrics. Henrik Ohlsson is not just a great drummer, but he is easily among my favorite lyricists. The lyrics to Scar Symmetry have always tackled complex subject matter relating to physics and science, and this album is no different. Even if you hate the approach taken in this album, there is no denying Henrik's lyrics still shine. Henrik compares to Borknagar or mid-era Vintersorg in his topics as well as writing style. His writing style is just as complex as the subjects he writes about, and it actually fits the technical approach of the album.
Now... I have to admit, I fell in love with Scar Symmetry because of their music brimming with melody. Dark Matter Dimensions is full of this melody, though it may take a little time to see, but it's not overloaded with it such as in the past. As such, I may always view this album as at least a minor disappointment when compared with Holographic Universe, which could be called a mirror of Dark Matter Dimensions. It has a huge emphasis on melody and improved on their technicality, rather than Dark Matter Dimension's approach of technicality with melody. I even prefer their follow-up to this album, The Unseen Empire, for its return to forging the stunning, gorgeous, and downright poppy melodies of which only Scar Symmetry is capable. Still, this is the album I return to when I'm seeking the techdeath form of Scar Symmetry, because they excel at that, too. I will never understand the criticism this album brings.
How this album has over 70% is beyond me.
As much as I hate to admit it now, I had horribly high expectations of this release. I'm a huge Scar Symmetry fan and even though Christian's departure was heartbreaking, I knew that the core members were still there. The same members who wrote beautiful yet crushing melodic death metal for 3 albums straight. The same members who wrote good enough music that earned them a spot in my Top 10 favorite bands of all time. Alas, it seems the apathy bug got to them and they decided pushing out a new album was more important than actually composing one.
I'll start by saying what I DO like about the album: Roberth, the dude growling, has a great tone that is very reminiscent of Christian. There's a nice thick, non-guttural sound to his voice. While his growls aren't as good as Christian, I'd say they're up there so he was a worthwhile replacement. Another thing I enjoy are the lyrics, which have consistently been good. After that, though, everything else blows.
Lars, the guy singing, is mediocre. He's average in every sense of the word. Not BAD, but he isn't GOOD. Just average. He lacks the emotion of Christian. There's no discernible energy emitting from his voice (perhaps because Autotune is getting in the way?) so you're left with a guy who can't find his stride. High notes are not his thing. He just doesn't have the range, no matter how much he'd like to believe so. Maybe if he found what he was truly good at and he put some emotion in his voice I could see him as a fair replacement for Christian, but his debut shows he has a lot of work to do.
In the end, though, there's no point in crying over spilled milk. The new singer doesn't seem to be going anywhere any time soon and admittedly, he's tolerable. So what is the problem?
The musicianship is downright shit here. I don't care if your record label or everyone on Last.FM is screaming for a new album, there is ZERO point in pushing out something as incomplete and half-assed as this. We all know the ability is there, but it seems like they did the musical equivalent of doodling and called it an album. The riffs, which sound awful because of the production, are forgettable and uninteresting. Not that I've ever praised Scar Symmetry for having groundbreaking riffs, but I expect better from guitarists of this caliber. Even their forte, lead and solos, are abysmal on DMD. There are no great melodies like the past albums and the solos are just a complete mess, both of which are incoherent to the point of something a novice would play.
The drums are pretty much the same so that's a plus. Just your average death metal drummer who can also play quite well at tempos that are under 200 BPM. The shitty part is that he just doesn't shine with such bad production. Which leads me to my next point:
The production is fucking awful. The complete antithesis of good. It's flatter than Paris Hilton's tits. Everything is just so equal. It's flat to the point that the energy just can't come out. It's like everything has this layer pressing on it, turning it equal and vaporizing all emotion. As if things couldn't get worse, the production is hollow as fuck. Listen to the chorus of "Frequencyshifter" and you'll see what I mean. Unfortunately, things don't stop at flat and hollow. The production is considerably muddier. While I dislike overproduction, having a dirtier, more raw production just doesn't fit when everything is flat and hollow.
Everything about Dark Matter Dimensions screams of hurriedness. Sure, the competency and ability is there, but it's like they didn't know what the fuck to do with it this time. I hope they take a few years off and dwell on their mistakes because this album should not even exist; devoid of creativity, energy and care.
So I ask again: where's the old Scar Symmetry? This isn't a matter of new vocalists; this is a matter of musicianship. It just simply isn't here. People can bitch and moan all they like about Lars' mediocre singing, but there's a much bigger problem. The drive, the emotion, the ambition. It's all absent here and reeks of a cash out.
I’d stated in an earlier review a short lamentation on how melodic Swedish metal has hit a serious creative and evolutionary snag in recent years, with only so few bands carrying the torch. Those who remain are still required listens, but for what it’s worth no one’s had the tenacity or vicissitude to reclaim the mighty, abandoned mid-to-late-90s throne of Swedish metal supremacy. And while I’m not one to try and advocate a complete and utter rebirth of the whole shebang (that’s neither fair nor up to me), I honestly wouldn’t think it would kill a group to try and do the style justice, at the very least.
And as a result of it, I started to check out this here SCAR SYMMETRY to see if THEY were able to rekindle such fires…
If I may be as objective as possible, I’d honestly say that this SCAR SYMMETRY band has a LOT of potential, energy, and sweetening melodies that more than gets your attention. Taking a DREAM THEATER-ish progressive nature to a sound akin to early-to-mid-era SOILWORK (up to “Natural Born Chaos”), the “Dark Matter Dimensions” album explodes from the speakers/headphones/what have you with a torrent of brutal riff-work, mesmerizing guitar harmonies/solos/leads, artificial-yet-working-in-its-favor drumming and undermixed keyboards that, like the earlier mentioned SOILWORK, works better as underscored ambience; should it have ended up as the primary instrument it would’ve been a major hindrance. All these fancy-dancy elements come together in tightly-wound yet free flowing arrangements that stack the riffs in nice, neat little piles of musical tastiness with a good amount of staying power, elements of bone-crushing brutality and a sense of controlled chaos…a Ritalin-medicated schizophrenia, if you will. But for as great as the songs are, I’d have to honestly say that the dual vocal approach isn’t quite as natural as some of their contemporaries; the clean voice is powerful in a Bruce Dickenson sort of way (sounds like him, too), but it seems like it would fit better in a more traditional power metal band…and the death growls are a little too deep and inhuman for this sort of upbeat style (a regular Gothenburg rasp would’ve been MUCH better). And when you put them together in the same song it just sounds like both voices are fighting each other to get noticed with nary a sense of camaraderie or togetherness…but that’s neither here nor there, where the musical end of songs like “The Iconoclast”, “Noumenon and Phenomenon” and “Nonhuman Era” make up for those vocal shortcomings.
In the end SCAR SYMMETRY’s latest is quite the impressive bout of melodic metal monstrousness. While not really single-handedly reviving the old Swedish metal spirit, these guys seem like they’re on the right path towards the genre’s once-dominant heydays. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.
Scar Symmetry; one of the few melodeath bands that's actually doing something unique with their sound. Rockin' riffs, groovy drums, and a fantastic mix of clean singing and insanely deep growls was just the tip of the iceberg that is Scar Symmetry's fantastic music. Then Christian Alvestam left the band in August 2008, and this caused much controversey. Not only this, but several videos surfaced on the internet of the two new singers playing some of the Alvestam-era material, which only fueled the skepticism towards the band's new singers and their ability to write material that would match (and/or come to par with) the songs that Scar Symmetry made with Christian Alvestam. I was one of the cynics, until I heard their 2009 offering, "Dark Matter Dimensions."
Stylistically, nothing has changed about this album. You get the same brand of groove and headbanging madness you saw on such albums as "Pitch Black Progress" and "Holographic Universe", along with the heavily praised guitar work of Per Nilsson and Jonas Kjellgren. Each song is easily distinguishable from one another, and they each bear their own unique song structure to keep things fresh each time around; be it a mid-paced song with plenty of groove and riffs to it ("Noumenon and Phenomenon", "The Consciousness Eaters") or an incredibly fast song with kick-you-in-your-teeth drumming ("Nonhuman Era", "Pariah"). Depending on what your expectations are, this can be either good or bad. If you expected Scar Symmetry to pull off something you'd never seen them do before, then this might be bad. But if you don't care and you just wanna hear some decent music, then this is by far a very good thing.
Now to discuss the main point of controversey that this album has managed to spawn; the vocals (or, more aptly, the vocalists themselves). Admittedly, Lars and Roberth don't exactly match up to the range, tone and power that we became acustomed to when Scar Symmetry had Christian Alvestam, but they certainly fit the bill. Lars, the clean singer, is a bit more of a baritone singer and doesn't exactly have Christian's range. Of course, that doesn't mean his overall tone won't easily fit in with the material on this album like a key put into it's proper lock. Robeth's growls are actually, in my opinion, on par with those of Christian, and I'd go so far as to say he just might be better at it than Chrisitan is (to completely annihilate some taboo amongst the Scar Symmetry fanbase). To sum it up, the new vocalists are not of Christian Alvestam's caliber, but they are fantastic at their repsective roles.
"Dark Matter Dimensions", being an album produced by Jonas Kjellgren, has some pretty nifty mixing and production quality to it. It's clean to the degree that "Holographic Universe" was, but a bit dirtier mixing to add that magical pinch of rockin' attitude to it. This is especially noticeable in the drum mixing (and as a side note, Henrik's grooves and beats on this album count as Grade-A stuff), which is clean and articulate yet fairly rough at the same time, particularly in the snare drum.
All in all, the skepticism this album created is unjustiable. The material is the same great stuff you'd expect from Scar Symmetry, the guitar work is phenomenal (everyone bow down and hail to the god himself, Per Nilsson), and above all, THE VOCALS DIDN'T SUCK. Anyone who thinks otherwise either hasn't bothered to hear the new album or is just too hard-headed to try something outside of their shells created by the Alvestam-era Scar Symmetry albums. This album goes on my "buy or die" list big time.
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, that it's bland and generic, yada yada yada. These people are simply-put mentally inhibited!
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, he also 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. (beingperhaps closest to "Pitch Black Progress", although not entirely). 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, and there's six of them. 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 nonetheless 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. 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.