Scar Symmetry // The Unseen Empire
Rating: 3.0/5.0 —Good, but uh, what the hell happened?
Label: Nuclear Blast [EU | US]
Websites: scarsymmetry.com | myspace.com/scarsymmetry
Release Dates: EU: 2011.04.15 | US: 05.17.2011

Scar Symmetry - The Unseen EmpireA couple years ago I reviewed Scar Symmetry‘s Dark Matter Dimensions and to my surprise I thoroughly enjoyed it. While I gave it a very good score at the time (4.5/5.0), I made the comment that the band was a little formulaic. It seemed to me that the Scar Symmetry could have worked harder to break out of the mold that they seemed to be trying (very hard) to fit into. That mold, otherwise known as “tech-meets-Soilwork” is basically techy death metal with big, catchy choruses. And, while I admit that Scar Symmetry is an much better band than Soilwork as far as writing catchy melodies, there are times when the music feels like it’s just built around this structure. I suggested that the band try to break out of that mold and build on the techy side.

Turns out the guys from Scar Symmetry don’t read my blog. This is hard to believe, as I certainly am the most important person in my universe. But in any case, if they do read my blog they’re very bad at taking my excellent advice, because The Unseen Empire actually has taken steps away from the techy and is moving far more towards the Melodifestivalen side of the spectrum. This isn’t unrestrained pop-bullshit like Amaranthe, but this is certainly not as technical, heavy and smart as Dark Matter Dimensions and I found that to be a pretty major letdown. So let’s just get that out of the way.

That said, the result is basically a lot more like Scar Symmetry meets To/Die/For and I enjoy this quite a bit. The melodies are excellent and catchy, and when the band does break into the technical side of things the death metal vocals are amazing and the riffs are stellar. As a whole, the guitar work from axemen Jonas Kjellgren and Per Nilsson is still remarkable on this album. Those cats can, as they say, play. And when the band does choose to show off their technical muscles like on “Illuminoid Dream Sequence,” “Astronomicon,” and “The Draconian Arrival” it is put to excellent effect. And almost every song features a guitar solo that would make most bitter among us sigh with contentment.

Scar Symmetry 2011On the other hand, this record features a hell of a lot more of a blend Goth rock  la To/Die/For and 80s anthem rock. The opener “The Anomaly” as well as the closer “Alpha and Omega” and “Domination Agenda” in between all feature what feels like a distinctly “Eye of the Tiger” kind of feel to it, while mixing it with the mid-ranged vocals of singer Lars Palmqvist. And there’s a hell of a lot more “chug” on this record than I remember from previous albums, as well… though, that might just be something I’m noticing now as the record feels a lot more chuggy and lacks the kind of off-time craziness that were to be found on “The Consciousness Eaters” and the chuggy but techy “Mechanical Soul Cybernetics” and “Nonhuman Era.”

Now, I don’t know what happened in the Scar Symmetry camp during the two years they were away, but I can tell you that while I enjoy this record it leaves me feeling a bit off or empty when it’s done. I guess, it’s like the difference between having sex with a hot woman you meet at a bar and having sex with a hot prostitute. They both leave you satisfied, but only one of them leaves you feeling a bit dirty and used afterward. Unfortunately, at this stage anyway, The Unseen Empire sorta falls into that latter category. It’s possible that like its predecessor it will grow on me, it certainly is a good record and I like it a lot better now than I did at first blush. But it’s hard to imagine it landing on my top 10 like its predecessor did.

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  • Steel Druhm

    It’s a grower.

  • http://adamarmour.wordpress.com Adam Armour

    I’m a pretty big Scar Symmetry fan, even after the vocalist switch up that seems to have sent their older fans into a spiral of misplaced hatred. That said, I’m really looking forward to hearing this record. Are their lyrics still focused on nonsensical science fiction? Because I really need more of that in metal music.

    Great review, even if it isn’t necessarily glowing.

    • http://hahah Master

      Its not nonsensical science fiction its just science.

  • Barry Neilson

    Followed this band since Pitch Black Progress, which I still think is their best. I don’t have the same attatchment to the vocalists as I did to Christian Alvestam; as I think he is one of the best vocalists in metal today. That being said I did enjoy Dark Matter Dimmensions and have already pre-ordered this one. I always have Alvestam’s ‘Miseration’ to rely on for some tech-death!

  • kauftin

    I love this Album 5,0/5,0 better than Holographic..

  • johan

    People are going to judge this band harshly after Christian left, because they’re Christian fanboys. Here’s the thing, all of his side projects just sound like less superior versions of Scar Symmetry while they still sound great. If you see any live videos you see he couldn’t pull that stuff off live anyway so why is he held is such high regard?

  • Within Darkness

    Might be just me but every time I listen to “The Unseen Empire”, the good impressions seem to fade away one by one. Feels like stripping what seemed to be rather good down to its very bones and the result is not always that present. Will give it more time to grow on me but I doubt we’ll have much progress. The chemistry is somewhat missing.

  • Ciaran

    Great review, but it actually made me want to go check out Dark Matter Dimensions more than the one you reviewed. What’s your hate for Soilwork, btw? You’d think they got to be doing something right if they’ve invented their own mold that other bands can “fall into.”

    ???

  • Zadion

    I actually expected a worse rating for this review. I can see from your reviews you tend to really love the progressive side of metal and have less love for anything not so complex. Fine for some, but I can say DMD is definitely Scar’s only album that focuses on complex rhythms like that. Henrik even said that album turned out “too brutal.” I guess the catchy melodies are more important than the techy stuff to them, though to say their music is void of that progressive sound would be nonsense.

  • Jon

    Angry Metal Bro, since you didn’t care much for this album but seemed to love DMD, I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy The Unseen Empire. From what you described in your review, it seems as if the album sounds more like Scar Symmetry’s older work — the two tracks I’ve heard also seem to confirm that. Alvestam may be gone, but if SS ditches the DMD sound, I’ll be happy.

    Time to actually listen to the album now. Hopefully I won’t be disappointed. :P

    • http://www.angrymetalguy.com Angry Metal Guy

      Yeah, that seems to be everyone else’s line, too. I dunno. I just think that DMD was fucking excellent and the band should’ve continued in that direction.

  • http://twitter.com/brandonsadkins Brandon

    Actually surprised by the rating. Just recently picked this up and loving it. Of course, I don’t mind the huge Goth/anthem rock influence…

  • Junior

    Totally agree with the review. The album is not bad at all, but is a step back from DMD.