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
A 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.
On 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.