Scar Symmetry is a Swedish melodic death metal band that formed back in 2004. The current album, and subject of this review, is the band’s 6th studio album and the first in a trilogy of albums dealing with the extremely interesting theme of transhumanism. Its release in 2014 almost marked a decade of existence for the band and to have 6 full length studio albums out by that point is quite something. Let’s see if releasing an album every 1.5 years affects the quality at all.
As mentioned above, the album and the whole trilogy, will focus on the theme of transhumanism. This theme can be explained briefly as:
“an international cultural and intellectual movement with an eventual goal of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities. Transhumanist thinkers study the potential benefits and dangers of emerging technologies that could overcome fundamental human limitations, as well as the ethics of developing and using such technologies. The most common thesis put forward is that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label posthuman.”
I am pretty certain anyone with an interest in science fiction will instantly recognise the concept and find it as interesting as I do. As a first opinion, Scar Symmetry has chosen to make a concept album based on a really interesting concept which is always a good thing.
Away from the concept though and back to the band – Scar Symmetry is made up of original members Per Nilsson who looks after guitars, keyboards and programming as well as helping out with the clean vocals, Henrik Ohlsson on drums and Kenneth Seil on the bass. Joining in 2008, Roberth Karlsson and Lars Palmqvist came along to look after harsh and clean vocals respectively. Fredrik Groth also joins them on guitar when playing live. They have amassed a relatively large following and are very well known, especially for a melodic death metal band although outside of their fan base their music appears to divide opinion with many of their albums reviewed as low as 2/10 all the way up to 9/10.
Like anything, it is best to make your own mind up, so here goes –
The album is only 8 tracks long in total though a couple of those tracks are enormous in length with one coming in just under 9 mins and one that passes the 10 minutes mark. In total though, it weighs in at around 45 minutes in length.
The first track is called The Shape of Things to Come and is just 52 seconds long. It is very much just a scene setter with softly played guitars and keyboard effects played under a softly sung lyrical verse that essentially just questions the future of humanity in its current state.
Track 2 is almost 9 mins long and is called Neohuman. It continues straight on from the end of track 1 with a swirling keyboard effect before the death metal kicks in with blisteringly fast drums and a heavy riff over the keyboard effects. Verses swap back and forward between clean vocals and growls and musically everything is brilliantly rhythmic. There are stops and starts and pace changes all over the place but it all blends seamlessly. Some really fast squealing guitar solos that lead straight into some furious death metal singing which in turn leads back into the guitar solo is an absolutely brilliant moment as is the rhythmic soloing over speed drumming near the end that leads into simultaneous death and clean vocals. With a song so long, there was always going to be a lot going on but it manages to not drag at all and stay interesting throughout. Really enjoyable song.
Track 3 is called Limits to Infinity and is a more standard length at just under 5 mins long. It kicks straight in at blistering death metal pace before breaking into the main riff over clean vocals that acts more as an introduction to the incoming death metal growls. A really catchy chorus follows before a brilliant second verse with mixed range death metal vocals over a thumping bass and drum beat hits. Throw in a another superb and speedy guitar solo that almost sounds “power metal” near its conclusion and it all adds up to a really excellent track.
Cryonic Harvest is the 4th track on the album. It starts with a very brief keyboard effect before a darker and broodier guitar plays over a deep and rhythmic base and drum beat. The pace grows along with the pitch of the guitars before it bursts into the heavier lyrics with plenty of growls and shouts that mix in also with clean vocals that join in intermittently. Another really catchy chorus is sung in this track and there are well placed short guitar solos throughout. The song slows into am instrumental section near the end that builds before ending with a short but eerie spoken words section that pushes the album’s concept. Really good stuff.
The 5th track is called The Spiral Timeshift and starts straight away with pounding drums under a wailing guitar. The death metal vocals are prominent again here in the verses with cleaner vocals leading the choruses. It all works seamlessly again though and both vocalists’ complement each other perfectly. The drumming in the background is ridiculously fast throughout and, once again, the guitar leads that play throughout are well constructed, interesting and seem to drive the songs and the concept forward excellently. This song feels really well constructed and very complete. It is one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album so far which is high praise as I have thought the same through each one so far.
Children of the Integrated Circuit comes next and is a 2 and a half minute long instrumental very heavily led by the lead guitars over soft effects and bass and while it is nice, and also obvious that Per Nilsson is extremely talented, it is essentially a well-played interlude.
Track 6 leads straight into Neuromancers, the 7th track, with an explosion of pounding drums. Unlike the interlude though, the pace starts frantically with all instruments before the death metal vocals join in as do the clean vocals. Another quality chorus is sung before the sound gets even darker and heavier in the second verse with vocals spat out over a really dark toned riff. The second chorus ends with an extended growl that leads into a mosh pit frenzy section of crashing drums and spat vocals. This leads into my favourite and the longest guitar solo so far which had me dusting off the air guitar. Eventually the riff comes and takes over before more aggressive, shouted lyrics lead back into the softer sung chorus through the end. More excellent work.
The final track on the album is over ten minutes long and is called Technocalyptic Cybergeddon. It starts with keyboard effects that resemble a dance song but that is soon sorted out with an explosive introduction of guitar and drums. The drums are really fast here and when the vocals join in, they are vicious and fast. The instrument pace never settles down here, even with the introduction of a very short cleanly sung section. While the overall tempo stays relatively static, the underlying riffs seem to change every few seconds yet somehow sound seamless, like an evolving beast and not messy in any way. The song is littered with intermixing clean and heavy vocals, clean and guitar lead, heavy and guitar lead and all three mixing together and it works fantastically. At almost half way through, the pace slows to a more rhythmic thumping which leads into a more settled riff and drum pace perfectly suited to the head bangers of the world. This whole head banging section is led by darker vocals and feels really settled. Another section of well sung clean vocals follows and builds into a short solo. The pattern starts to become a short section of singing followed by a short solo but as the end nears, the short solos become a long one and my new favourite solo on the album. At the end of the solo, more power metal like clean singing which sounds epic takes over until the last minute of the track where the song starts to fade out over the keyboard effects heard on the opening track. A complex beast that evolves masterfully.
In regards to the concept, I find it massively interesting and I think that Scar Symmetry have done a really impressive job here of making a concept album actually stay within the concept and tell a story. At times there is so much happening on the tracks you would expect things to get confused or messy but that never happens and they manage to keep their longer tracks interesting all the way through without them ever feeling unnecessarily stretched. I am torn between whether 8 tracks with 2 interludes should be seen as too short or whether it is just right as there is no filler here.
The one thing I am certain of though is that I cannot wait for part of the trilogy. This is a really great metal album that encompasses many genres of metal while staying fresh and interesting. Well done!
Scar Symmetry - The Singularity (Phase 1 – Neohumanity) (Nuclear Blast)