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Melodic Death Carried Off In Style - 90%

Crank_It_Up_To_666, February 14th, 2008

Much can be said in the cases for and against melodic death metal, and for a great number of metalheads the latter case is the one that holds sway over their beer-befuddled consciousness. This is understandable, not least to the dedicated old schoolers among us who believe that death metal is the mortal foe of all melody: The words simply do not fit together in a sentence. At the same time, it is always worth bearing in mind that no form of music is worthless – rather it is in the implementation of the music where the perceived ‘suckage’ can be generated – for every sublime Dark Tranquillity or Arch Enemy, we have a dozen Soilwork and All Shall Perish-type groups clogging up the golden pipeline with shit.

So, where does Scar Symmetry stand? Up amongst the few who have made a worthy stand for melodeath, or down amongst those who further defecate on the already suspiciously viewed genre?
Well, if ‘Pitch Black Progress’ is anything to go by, then here is a band clawing viciously at the heels of the greats, inches away from joining them in glory.

This is an album that bears all the hallmarks of melodic death – a fat, crunching, over-distorted guitar sound with the bass largely obscured throughout, crashing drums never too overplayed or too flashy, plentiful synth use underscoring everything and the obligatory frontman capable of low-end growl and soaring harmony. With usual ingredients all present and correct as we have seen them countless times, it falls upon the band to provide the extra spice. Thankfully, this they do in abundance.

The structure of the average modern melodeath song is generally what leaves a bitter taste in the mouth for most listeners, with the majority of bands opting to bolt a poorly written melodic chorus onto a ‘brutal’ framework of double bass and doubly boring guitar. ‘Pitch Black Progress’ differs in that rather than throw the elements clumsily together, they are properly blended into a far more seamless work – songs such as ‘The Illusionist’ and ‘Mind Machine’ are a mere two examples of coruscating heaviness and rising melody meeting together effectively, assisted no end by a sharp production free of any of the mud that might drag the epic nature of the material down.

‘The Illusionist’ is particularly worth a mention; a track that epitomises Scar Symmetry’s fantastic combination of uncomplicated musicianship (the riffs throughout are superb despite their relative lack of technical oodling) and fantastically balanced and well measured songcraft (the chorus here will stick in the brain for weeks on end). Other standout tracks include the death-and-death-only title track, and twin epics ‘Dreaming 24/7’ and ‘The Kaleidoscopic God’, both featuring some of the best melodic lead work you’ve heard in recent times. Certainly, the sound peddled by Scar Symmetry is not a new one, but it is carried off with such confidence it is hard to care.

As musicians, Scar Symmetry will divide opinion, vocalist Christian Alvestam key among them. His growl is satisfyingly deep-throated and meaty, though the clean vocals are unlikely to endear him to many metal fans due to his tendency to go somewhat melodramatic in the delivery.
The remainder of the band excel more in confidence than technical ability – the drum work is enjoyable if unremarkable throughout, though drummer Henrik Ohlsson clearly knows how to put a double bass pedal to good use and is no stranger to high velocities. Bassist Kenneth Seil is easily the weak link in the chain, largely because the poor bastard’s instrument is buried beneath the guitars of Per Nilsson and Jonas Kjellgren, who actually make up for this unfortunate fault with the highly memorable lead work that punctuates the album at every turn.

This in short, is Scar Symmetry. A band that will not provide anything to change your life but will carry off a much-derided formula with such panache that they make it their own. An album of epic highs and equally enjoyable downtuned lows, ‘Pitch Black Progress’ is an album that proves that modern melodic death metal still has some vibrant life in its festering carcass yet.