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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)