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'Holographic Universe' is the final chapter of what I like to call the Christian Alvestam trilogy. The band did in no way 'lose it' after he left, but lets face it: he had some serious vocal talent. Now what can be said about this album you ask? Its definitely bigger and more diverse than the others, but not necessarily for the better. Don't get me wrong though, this is still a very well crafted album with spotless production values. There are some instant classics on this CD, but as a whole it just doesn't seem to match their magnificent first two albums.
Firstly, the band have clearly branched out further into the ideas of space and time, as is highlighted in the lyrical themes. Song titles like 'Morphogenesis' and 'Artificial Sun Projection' are appropriately named due to their spacey, futuristic riffs. This albums predecessor, 'Pitch Black Progress', took ideas from the debut and made them bigger and bolder. Once again we have that here but it would seem that it is TOO over the top sometimes. For example the choirs in the pre-chorus to 'Quantumleaper' sound almost a bit silly and out of place in an otherwise solid track. There are some jaw-dropping melodies on this record though, like the epic title track which takes the biscuit for the albums finest song. It combines death metal brutality with a beautiful melodic chorus, and some guitar solos that are almost reminiscent of Brian May (seriously!). But they seem to fit well with the song and it works. Songs like 'Trapezoid' have barely any growling at all, and it is nice to have a mixture of diverse sounding songs.
The major flaws on this record are that Scar Symmetry tried to be overly ambitious, and while certain elements work, some don't. The guitar work is sensational on some tracks and downright bizarre on others, which is a shame. 'Prism and Gate' is a shambles of a track, as it constantly changes from brutally harsh to very un-metal indeed, and the result is a song that sounds like two jumbled into one, almost contradicting itself. The drums are pretty solid on this record all the way through, as are the vocals. In fact the vocals steal the show, soaring to dizzying heights in places. The only real problem is that Christian's growling to clean ratio seems strangely placed in some parts. The exception comes with the awesome finale of the album. This is a song that has it all, and he really times it all perfectly here.
Overall this album is by no means 'bad'. There are some truly unforgettable tracks that match, or even surpass some of those on the old albums. However it is let down by some sickly, OTT melodies that strain so hard to be epic and 'out of this world' that they just sound odd and lifeless. I have a feeling that this is the last possible half decent album they could have made in this manner, before voyaging into all out absurdity. Buy it if you already follow Scar Symmetry as there is gold to be found here, but if you are just getting into them maybe start from the beginning. The Christian Alvestam Trilogy is the metal equivalent to the Godfather trilogy.
A marmite album for sure.
I really liked Scar Symmetry's previous effort "Pitch Black Progress" so I was eager to see what their new album would bring. The metal press had already started falling over themselves in their praise of this new melodic death metal masterpiece, and while they aren't always correct, rarely have they been so wrong.
I'm going to go against the grain of most of the reviews here (and most other places) and say that I really don't agree that this was a great album.
For a start, "Holographic Universe" isn't death metal. It's melodic metal with some death metal growls. And while the melodies ARE huge, the problem is that they are all the same one! Don't even start me on the riffs, most of which are shapeless and totally formulaic. Sometimes they're not even whole riffs, just big half-chuggy things that some deathcore band left laying around some place. I'm not kidding. After making one of the better melodeath albums of 2006, Scar Symmetry has completely dropped the ball and made one of the most disappointing releases of 2008.
"Morphogenesis" gets things underway OK, like every lead-off track should, but foreshadows what the rest of "Holographic Universe" is going to sound like. Just like Soilwork, Scar Symmetry saves all the melody for the choruses, and then lays them on with a trowel. Christian Älvestam has perhaps the most harmonious clean vocal style in Swedish metal. It's like honey. I kept thinking they'd brought in a boy band to do this choruses; so saccharine they are, it's almost sickening. But the worst part is that he recycles the same melody in every single song. It's like he doesn't know how to sing another way. To top it off, there just aren't any hooks. In fact, these songs are so not-catchy that by the time I'd heard the entire album I had to go back and listen to what the first few songs sounded like because I'd almost forgotten!
Unlike some albums, "Holographic Universe" didn't get any better the second time around. This made me even more disappointed. If there is one redeeming feature, however, it is that in a genre where lead guitar is fast disappearing, Jonas Kjellgren and Per Nilsson really cut loose with some classic metal soloing that goes far beyond the hackneyed collection of trills and sweeps that pose for guitar solos these days. Even so, this isn't much of a recommendation, because the success of an album rides with the strength of its songs, and the songs here are weak.
"Timewave Zero" is just a lame pop song with some heavy bits. Other songs completely misfire and I found still others simply annoying. The totally misnamed "Fear Catalyst" started out like it was going to rip my head off, but Ävestam started up with his boyband routine within seconds, ruining everything! "Prism and Gate" sounded like it was heading in some interesting industrial direction for about a heartbeat, but then -- you guessed it -- that same goddamn melody line appeared. After a brief moment when I thought Scar Symmetry was going to get interesting again, they went straight back to what they'd been doing for the previous 35 minutes. Even the solo was predictable.
The title track offered a slim ray of hope. The first three minutes of this is the best part of the whole album: the synths and guitars working in perfect unison to build a heavy, epic-sounding, almost grand atmosphere, a really powerful section like the build up to the greatest climactic battle scene ever filmed. If the whole thing had been like this, "Holographic Universe" would have not just been the album of the year, it would have been one of the best metal albums ever. But then at precisely the three-minute mark that same poppy vocal line comes back, as if someone decided that one-third of the way into a nine-minute track was simply long enough to wait. The cool bit returned for a while as Kjellgren and Nilsson unleashed some monster soloing, but then after that the whole song just runs completely out of steam, a complete waste of four and a half minutes. Indeed, "Holographic Universe" seems to epitomise the failings of the entire album: so much promise but too few ideas.
If I was enough of a fan of this band to be crushed, I would be pulverised. Because I'm not, I don't care that much. There's plenty of other bands around. But there is a bunch of people out there who actually think this is pretty good, and that makes me very afraid indeed.
Originally written for Pyromusic.net
Holographic Universe is the third studio album of the melodic death metal band from Avesta, Sweden. And it is quite unfortunate that Christian Älvestam is no longer their vocalist. Termed a death metal band, Scar Symmetry and Christian Älvestam in particular, did extremely well in incorporating clean vocals in amongst the systematic din of the guitars. The first two albums were good, but Holographic Universe is their magnum opus. In this album, we see more of Christian Älvestam’s clean vocal which is extremely good and suits Scar Symmetry’s sound. Though not many bands can pull this off as well as these guys do, it is indeed a pity that Christian Älvestam has left the band. Don’t get me wrong, as some people may think I listen to pop and love clean vocals, but the barrage of death metal riffs and the stream of death metal bands that I have heard over the years, has opened my ears to that fact that clean vocals can be incorporated if done properly. Opeth is the best example.
Another aspect of Scar Symmetry’s that has improved is the guitar solos. The solos are quite brilliant and eloquent, with clear melodies being shredded out courtesy Jonas Kjellgren. His guitar playing has improved since the “Symmetric In Design” and “Pitch Black Progress” days, with better solos and pummelling riffage. “Timewave Zero,” “Quantumleaper,” and “Prism and Gate” are excellent songs with breathtaking solos. “Morphogenesis” contains a superb clean vocal which isn’t a rarity on this album, as Christian does not cease to prove how good his clean vocal is. “Fear Catalyst” starts of quite heavy but like most songs on this album, has its part where Christian Älvestam’s clean vocal shines. “Artificial Sun Projection” is another brilliant song with some spectacular guitar work and a brilliant solo.
The thing with Christian Älvestam’s vocal is that his clean vocal is extremely good unlike bands that attempt to sing clean, and he has good range. From a partially high pitch to devastating growls to outstanding clean, Christian Älvestam has an enviable array of vocal styles at his disposal. Some Scar Symmetry fans from 2004 and the fans that supported them well before 2004 may think that the growls should be more prominent as they are a death metal band, but there are those who think that the clean vocals are quite decent.
Jonas Kjellgren has unfortunately retained his title of being an underrated guitarist. His guitar work contains battering heavy riffs and blistering solos which are often taken for granted as people seem to ignore the talent that this band has. Perhaps lacking are the sweeps that used to dominate a substantial number of solos from the “Symmetric In Design” and “Pitch Black Progress” albums. In spite of that, the solos are still above par, blistering and relentless as are most of Jonas’s solos and it would be pleasing to see Scar Symmetry continue with the same tenacity and ferocity that they are know for, in spite of of Christian Älvestam’s departure.
Scar Symmetry has often been the scapegoat of an obviously-failing scene of Swedish melodic death metal bands that look up at one-step-ahead Gothenburg factions and wish they could be like those dreamy cool-cats. “Holographic Universe,” however, is more than another dull record our community wouldn’t embrace; instead, it’s a wonderful glimpse into Scar Symmetry’s finest mindset, not a previous infatuation brightening pathetic mirages like half-rate melodic death metal. As a whole, the band is musically bent on a modernized Gothenburg-like stance, but that small truth should not scare you away, for the mixture of these entities is outstanding when brought together under Scar Symmetry’s fancy sun. In this universe built from illusions, only “Holographic Universe” can connect computerized wires into absolute excellence.
Setting fake images aside, Scar Symmetry’s approach is equally balanced between their traditional tampers and a mild edge of pop. Surely, some might find it a little overblown or perhaps unnecessary, yet the band’s combo can only create greatness evolving with slick riffs in the melodic sense alongside catchy choruses that avoid mass repetition and one-layered musicianship; plus, every member keeps this touch alive while riffing and drumming on remarkable wires. Also, all these tracks are written in total direction towards their modernized-Gothenburg stint without driving astray; indeed, they keep the melody and the catchiness in masterful chains. When you view the melodic death facility in general, “Holographic Universe” has it all: spellbinding instrumentation, unforgettable anthems, solos that make Mr. Fantastic stand in awe, and some sweet surprises everyone enjoys.
No matter how magical or futuristic our friends at Scar Symmetry appear, Christian Älvestam stands alone, showered in his blissful larynx. For those that have ignored or never heard of this gentle lad, please grab your headphones and analyze; this is the voice of an underground idol, with more talent and charisma than any namable vocalist of similar niches. The vocalist has a rare gift to sing and growl perfectly on both levels, so let’s just say singers on all spectrums better be worried. His true charm, however, shines amongst cleaner sections in which Christian’s voice reaches into wonderful pitch control and remarkable abilities that could induce rabid love in seconds. If Scar Symmetry is a body, Älvestam is the soul, and I’ll bet he can easily beat up Jesus, no question.
Having acquired that-one-group status, I honestly can’t see why anyone would find “Holographic Universe” an obsolete program for the Gothenburg system. After all, Scar Symmetry has written material beyond their expectations, even despite its poppy spines or semi-generic wallops. It’s really too bad Älvestam exiled from the Scar Symmetry camp, but I guess that’s how time works; always mysterious, and certainly unpredictable. Still, one can only gloat over the mystic production “Holographic Universe” has left for Gothenburg fans, so give it a shot, if you wish. I can’t guarantee you’ll love the release, yet you’ll certainly find at least a few instances otherworldly in a sense of symmetrical wonders.
This review was written for: www.leviatan-magazine.com
Here we have the follow up to Pitch Black Progress. I must say, Scar Symmetry is a Melodic Death Metal band that surely doesn't bring anything new to this tried and true subgenre but they do it so well. With 3 albums and 1 consistent lineup, who knows what this band is capable of?
Christian Alvestam is definitely one of the best singers in music. Not just Metal but music. His tenor voice almost doesn't even fit this band's music but it almost seems like they wrote all the songs on this album around his amazing voice. In songs like, "Timewave Zero" and "Ghost Prototype II (Deus Ex Machina)", the melodies are the best part of the songs. Every time the hook comes up, I prepare myself for an auditory melodic barrage. My one and only problem with the vocals on this album is that during the harsh vocals parts, the growls are not as prominent nor powerful as on previous work. It seems they focused the majority of their songwriting on these vocals melodies.
The riffing is ok. On most of the album, they seemed to focus more on rhythm then on actual riffage. Nonetheless, I enjoy what they've done in the songwriting even if the guitars are not quite as heavy as on their previous albums. The Death Metal part of this band is almost completely gone on this album. Maybe they figured they could ride on the coattails of In Flames and Soilwork with their super melodic guitar work. If that's the case, at least it still works for Scar Symmetry.
Overall, I would say I really enjoy this album namely for the melodic choruses. On standout tracks like "Timewave Zero" and their grand opus, "Holographic Universe", you'll find yourself singing boldly along. Go ahead. It won't hurt. Much.
Scar Symmetry is one of the modern metal bands with the highest rise in popularity lately. Consisting of (ex-)members of several known Swedish bands, such as Theory In Practice, Centinex and Carnal Forge, this 5-piece outfit stroke out of nowhere in 2004 with their blistering debut “Symmetric In Design”. It wasn’t really mind-blowing and will hardly become a classic, but it was very damn good for a debut and managed to attract Nuclear Blast, which is the No. 1 metal label, like it or not. The sophomore album “Pitch Black Progress” came out a year later on the new label and got quite nice critics, with a score averaging about 8.5. As with any Swedish band, expectations for the 3rd album were immediately set very high (say thanks to In Flames, Dark Tranquillity and At The Gates for that, since their third releases became classics). The case in this kind of situation (especially with the mediocrity present in the current Swedish scene – did someone say Sonic Syndicate? Engel? Oh, wait, Soilwork?) is usually a push down the spiral, as bands try to go commercial and blurt out a boring album which “continues exploring while sticking to the band’s roots”.
Well, this ain’t the case with these lads. Not only did they manage to satisfy the expectations, they managed to surpass them. I rarely opt for overused clichés like “the next big thing” or “the saviours of metal” – I leave that to Blabbermouth reviewers. However, these might just apply to Scar Symmetry this time around, at least as far as Sweden is concerned. “Holographic Universe” displays both sides of SS, melody and aggression, but this time, they are bound together, not split into “brutal part – melodic chorus – brutal part” etc. schemes; the band has no problem pummelling while Christian Älvestam is singing to his heart’s content. Speaking of which, this guy is definitely one of the best vocalists in metal of today in general. He combines growl vocals many gore bands would dream of and clear vocals that any power metal band would pride themselves on. His range is stunning even by strictly heavy vocal standards, let alone with such powerful growl from the balls. However, the best part of this album is the guitars. They are not overtly complicated, highly technical or anything – they contain everything that a good song needs. They perform just as well both in powerful riffing of the opener “Morphogenesis” and strange solos, such as displayed in “The Missing Coordinates”. Bass is actually audible (omg!) but doesn’t really stand out. Drums are very precise and usually fit the song perfectly. Henrik Ohlsson is obviously a very competent drummer and it’s a real shame he doesn’t get the chance to display it a little more in the songwriting (like the black metal icon Frost does, for example).
Although you might have concluded from the previous lines that this is an album full of contrasts, this is not really the truth. The album flows very nicely, and the album leaves a unique impression overall, with no songs which would qualify as potential singles. This is the reason no song can be deemed the best (or worst). The opener “Morphogenesis” has melodic properties which are instantly recognisable as Scar Symmetry, and its purpose is obviously to “hook” the listener to the album. The next handful of songs are in pretty much the same fashion, but as the album continues, the atmosphere changes little by little into the cold, futuristic world the band is talking about. This dark note in the feeling of the album is definitely a new thing, and you will feel yourself more and more engulfed in it as the album continues. This will leave you rather puzzled after the one-hour journey ends. The opener track, for example, isn’t too far away from Soilwork (from the period in which they still knew how to write a decent song), while the title track, for example, makes you wonder whether this is SS or Meshuggah you are listening to. This only goes to prove how much the band has evolved since the last album (it’s been three years, after all) and make you crave for the next album even more, because you simply won’t know what to expect, except the same trademark sound that is omnipresent on all SS albums and makes them stand out from the lot.
All in all, even with such high expectations, this album turned out to be a fantastic one, and really makes me proud of the fact that I am still a fan of Swedish melodic death. One of the most serious candidates for the album of the year and my warmest recommendations.
(originally written for the Metal Sound webzine)
The Gothenburg sound has been big for a couple of years now, and to their credit, Scar Symmetry have been one of the recent passengers on that wagon that have made a sort of impression. Using the 'heading for the bigtime' pop-metal formula of two-tone vocals (growled verses/clean harmonised choruses, for those not in the know), they've put out two albums which, while far from being essential, were a fun distraction and decent showcase for some impressive fretwork.
'Yeah sure, they're Svedes. They're supposed to be tight, what else is new?' Ah, hang on, this isn't just a matter of being tight – the guitarists, Per Nilsson in particular, have an extraordinary talent for leads. Far from being a flurry of sweeps and alternate picked madness, some of their solo spots are packed with snaking lines, crazy usage of string skipping and you end up feeling that the notes are coming at you from all over the place. The effect is a bit dampened thanks to an almost keyboard-like tone, but even so, it's hard to ignore the skill.
When you factor the guitar wizardry out, things don't look all that rosy. Christian Älvestam's got a decent voice and that makes for some catchy singalong choruses, but those tend to lose their sheen after a few spins if the song's not strong enough to house it. And unfortunately, third time hasn't been a charm in the songwriting department. While the earlier albums had some tight numbers bordering fillersville, this one doesn't really get that far off the ground. Morphogenesis is probably their tv single, the title track has some cool stuff happening here and there, and the second Ghost Prototype song has this nice pop vibe going for it. There's a few changes to the sound, but nothing to suggest that these guys may be covering new and exciting ground in the future. Even the leads don't seem as impressive as they were before. Some come off a bit hurried and messy, though there are still some sublime runs that could knock you onto your ass. Knowing life's penchant for irony, it's probable that these guys are going to be more popular after this album than the last one.
If you're a big fan of their previous efforts, this one's not going to rub you the wrong way. It's tolerable enough when it's spinning, but doesn't scream to be played when you're going through your options. I think that they just might have painted themselves into a corner with no way to go but down unless they reinvent themselves. However guitarist Jonas Kjellgren's other band, World Below, is a fantastic underrated doom outfit that comes highly recommended.