Thursday, 6 November 2014

Scar Symmetry's 'The Singularity (Phase I - Neohumanity)' - Album Review

Usually when I write these reviews, I am pretty familiar with the back catalogue of the band I am reviewing. I might not always be a total expert on the band, but I often have reference points from the band's older material that helps me contextualise what I am reviewing. In this case however, this is not so. The Singularity (Phase I - Neohumanity) is the very first Scar Symmetry album I have heard. Sure, I have heard the band's name mentioned a lot and am pretty sure I have heard the odd song on Youtube over the years, but this is the first time I have made an effort to get into the band. The lyric video for single Limits to Infinity really piqued my interest, so I decided to take the plunge and order the CD. I am pretty sure that my bank account will not be so happy about this, but I will probably now have to go out and buy all their back catalogue, as this is a fantastic piece of work from a band that has mostly eluded me for years. The band take the best elements of progressive metal, power metal, and melodic death metal and throw it into a blender. The sound that comes out is polished, heavy, and melodic; and this is always a winning combination for me. It is a lush-sounding album does not apologise for containing highly memorable songs that are still fairly complex and musically interesting. This is the first album where lead guitarist Per Nilsson has written all of the music for it since the departure of rhythm guitarist Jonas Kjellgren in 2013. He has also mixed and produced the album, giving himself complete creative control over it. Usually, I prefer it when an external producer lends a hand to an album to keep internal egos at bay, but Nilsson has done a fantastic job here. It sounds huge with crunching guitars, washings of keyboards (also played by Nilsson), and fast drums from Henrik Ohlsson. Ohlsson, as usual, has also written all the lyrics for the album. It is worth pointing out too that this is the first album in a trilogy that deals with the themes of artificial intelligence. His lyrics are perfectly sung by the tag-team duo of Lars Palmqvist (who handles the clean vocals) and Roberth Karlsson (who handles the harsh vocals). They work so well together and mix their contrasting styles to emphasise heaviness or melody - or both at the same time! Although the mixture of clean and harsh vocals is becoming pretty cliché in metal these days, I love it and it shows there is room for both brutality and melody in the genre.

Kicking things off is the short introduction The Shape of Things to Come which sees Palmqvist singing over some big keyboards and muted guitars, but it soon morphs into the first 'proper' song on the album Neohuman with a traditional melodic death metal-type riff and speedy drumming from Ohlsson. Palmqvist's vocals dominate the early part of the song, but Karlsson gets chance to show off too when the heaviness kicks in later. The song is over eight minutes long, but it really races by because it is so enjoyable. There is a massive chorus with some perfect AOR vocal melodies, and the whole song has a rather theatrical, over-the-top feel about it. Nilsson is a really excellent guitarist, and mid-way through the song unleashes a fluid solo before Karlsson takes over with his deep, growled vocals. The progressive nature of the band comes to the fore in the latter parts of the song as different sections fit seamlessly together, and the song transitions between heavy and melodic many times. The song that persuaded me to get this album, Limits to Infinity, is up next. It is more instantly accessible than the previous song because of the heavy power metal feel it has. The verses have a rather 1980s swagger to them as the two vocalists trade off sections. While Palmqvist's vocals are always catchier, I feel that Karlsson actually stands out more here. The pre-chorus section where he sings over some really fluid keyboard runs is stunning, and he competes with Palmqvist during the chorus for a real melodeath treat. The latter part of the song is much heavier with Ohlsson laying down some real death metal grooves with Karlsson's brutal delivery. However, the following guitar solo, and effects-drenched vocals from Palmqvist make me think of Amaranthe, and the melody is back in full force. Cryonic Harvest follows and it begins with a more mellow keyboard run but it is not long before the song gets heavy with Karlsson's dominance during the verses. The riffs here are very thrashy with little progressive flourishes to keep things interesting. This song has the best chorus of the album so far which sees Palmqvist really take hold of the melodies and make them soar with his pure delivery. The outro of the song sees plenty of fast drumming and a wall of keyboards, before it all drops out to be replaced by a rather stock sci-fi voice over. Sure it is cheesy, but it fits the mood of the album well!

The Spiral Timeshift is a much simpler song. There are big, catchy guitar riffs that Karlsson revels in growling over. Again, the vocalists trade off vocal sections - their contrasting vocal styles mixing well together. The band's music is very versatile and fits either vocal style, as both styles seem to fit well over the same riffs well. This song's chorus is a prime example of this, as Palmqvist's vocals (which remind me a lot of UK band NeonFly here) soar, while Karlsson - over the same riffs - manages to make the whole thing sound hugely heavier. A shorter instrumental piece Children of the Integrated Circuit follows, and it is basically a chance for Nilsson to show off his guitar playing abilities. Moody synths and distant drums form the backdrop of the piece while he shreds and sweeps over the top of it all. There is something of Yngwie Malmsteen's early work about sections of this piece, which other parts remind me of the more atmospheric side of John Petrucci's playing. Neuromancers follows and this is another simple, melodic piece. The chorus here is probably the best on the whole album, with Palmqvist's clean vocals really taking hold of the song and forcing it down your throat. This is not as heavy as some of the rest of the songs on the album, but it makes up for it with plenty of lush melodies that are instantly memorable. I am sure this song will become a live staple, just for the fact that the vocals are so catchy and singable! The album's final song is the ten minute plus Technocalyptic Cybergeddon which is a real progressive metal treat. It is heavy, complex, and highly enjoyable that mixes lots of different distinct sections together well to create a song that makes sure the album ends on a high. Nilsson really shines throughout this song. Whether it is a fast guitar solo, a section of melodic keyboards, or a grand soundscape - his work is always highly polished and sonically pleasing. This song is not as catchy, but it still manages to work it's way into your brain after a few listens. The guitar solo towards the end of the song is one of the highlights of the album for me as Nilsson slowly builds up the pace, and it climaxes with a repeat of the song's chorus which sees Palmqvist and big keyboards mix well together to bring the album to a melodic end. Overall, this is a really great piece of work from a band that I knew very little about before hearing this collection of songs. I shall now have to go back and explore the rest of the their work, and I look forward to the rest of the trilogy!

The album was released on 6th October 2014 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional lyric video for Limits to Infinity.

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