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A complex kaleidoscope - 89%

HeavenDuff, April 17th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2006, CD, Nuclear Blast America

Out of the bands that are usually tagged as Gothenburg metal, Scar Symmetry is one of the bands that get the most positive responses from the metal community. If you aren’t familiar with what is this Gothenburg metal sub-genre, it’s basically a branch of what is usually referred to as Swedish death metal, which is itself really just a sub-genre or melodic death metal. Gothenburg metal was first born in the town of Gothenburg in Sweden before expanding to the rest of Sweden and eventually beyond, and had enough specific elements, noticeably in the grooves and in tone to get its own sub-genre composed of well-known bands like Dark Tranquility and Soilwork. The genre receives most of its negative criticism because of how the clean vocals are used in a “poppier” and maybe more formulaic structure, usually to give punch to the chorus and make it cleaner and catchier.

But Scar Symmetry, especially on Pitch Black Progress, has managed to get the genre somewhere interesting and didn’t fall into self-parody like some other of their fellow Gothenburg metal brothers whom have tried to experiment with metalcore and groove metal to try and stay relevant, or fell into self-parody.

Pitch Black Progress is as progressive as Gothenburg metal gets. It blends the catchier elements inherent to their genre in a technically impressive and compelling form, giving us what I consider to be the best album of the Älvestam era of the band (2004-2008), if not their best album ever. Other pieces of the Älvestam era albums are less focused, toying around with ideas that made this album so good but without getting it right and perfect. What made Pitch Black Progress great is to be found in the strong, heavy and technical riffs, dark tone that helps create a unique atmosphere and effective song structures that always build-up to epic riffs, great guitar solos like on the impressively intense, epic and exhausting track The Kaleidoscopic God. After the departure of the very versatile vocalist Christian Älvestam, Scar Symmetry replaced him with two vocalists, one to take care of the clean vocals, and another to handle the death growls and screams. Älvestam fanboys like to say that it was because of how amazing he was that they needed two different guys to fill in his shoes. Which might be true in part, but I also assume that Scar Symmetry knew that for the live sets, having two vocalists to perform the vocals would work better, especially for the vocal harmonies the band came to use more and more later in their discography.

Scar Symmetry eventually turned to a simpler, more focused on catchy melodies and simpler riffs and still made it work, but the pinnacle of creativity for Scar Symmetry is on Pitch Black Progress, where every riff, even when used to bridge between sections are made properly to fit in the construction of tracks. The Path Of Least Resistance is one example of a track with a song structure that is very common within the Gothenburg metal genre, displaying the obvious influences that Scar Symmetry took from fellow Swedish band Soilwork, but made it work with a great chorus and riffs that support the vocals on most parts while also providing great leads of their own.

Pitch Black Progress is almost an hour long, but never feels redundant or stretched-out because of how diverse the tracks are. I’ve already mentioned the progressive epic that is The Kaleidoscopic God, but I haven’t mentioned the opening track The Illusionist yet. These two are very different tracks but very useful to display just how much Scar Symmetry is comfortable with writing and performing different kinds of tracks. The whole merit goes to both Jonas Kjellgren and Per Nilsson who took care together of both guitars, the keyboards parts and of course, the song writing. Sharing on this record the work on performing the epic synths that support the tracks, but mostly providing what makes this album standout, which is the guitar work. Christian Älvestam is an absolute beast on the vocals, and is an obvious strong element of this album, but good vocals are not what make such an album stand the test of time. Writing catchy choruses like on Dreaming 24/7 and performing them well is obviously important to making the fans move and sing along during live sets, but the heavy and crushing riffs and the melodic leads and solos are the glue that sticks this whole thing together, making the work of vocalists like Älvestam shine, like with epic track conclusions such as on The Illusionist.

If there is something negative that could be said about this album is that the bass guitar never really does much else than double the rhythm guitar. Some see this as being totally okay, while bass guitar enthusiasts like me would definitely enjoy a little more diversity on the low end. But like I explained, this is a guitar album first, and the second most important element is the vocals, leaving some room of course for the bass, keyboards and drums, but in a role that is more supportive then up in front. And if this is what the band was going for, then it’s pretty well done. The drums are tight, providing great death metal and melodic death metal lines, filling in whenever there is room left by the guitars, but usually sticking to the supporting role.

Guitarist Jonas Kjellgren also produced mixed and mastered the album, giving it the final touch that really brings this record to another level by providing the guitars the thick tone that is so distinct to this record and that really helps this sci-fi/dystopian future theme they have going throughout the whole album.

Pitch Black Progress remains, to me at least, the best effort of Scar Symmetry. With both Jonas Kjellgren and Älvestam gone now, the band took another direction and their sound evolved and changed. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though. Better this then self-parodying yourself into oblivion or totally stalling by trying to recreate some kind of magic moment of your musical career. Pitch Black Progress also remains to this day, the album that I like the most from the entirety of Älvestam’s musical career. Other musicians and other bands have worked with him, but many had one of the two following issues. The first one being that they just totally relied on his great vocal performance and wrote around his vocals rather than making the song writing the core element of their music. The second issue being that other bands he took part in never really reached full potential.

All in all, Pitch Black Progress is an album that I’ve really loved and enjoyed since its release in 2006, and that I still really enjoy to this day, almost ten years later to the day, although with a more critical perspective, knowing that it played in some of the clichés of Gothenburg metal, but that they knew how not to drown themselves in them, mainly because of how well the guitarists managed to take influences from bands like Soilwork and In Flames, but having enough creativity and audacity to go their own way with this album.