Lovers of modern metal and Amaranthe groupies, take heed! Rising from the ashes of Sonic Syndicate, The Unguided is the newish project by ex-Syndicate members Richard Sjunnesson and Roland Johansson which strives to answer the immortal question “just how cheesy, poppy and crappy can you make melodic death metal sound?” For fans of the Sonic Syndicate material, album number two, Fragile Immortality will be like homecoming weekend, as this is more of that super-ultra-mega melodic modern metal they made so infamous. I refuse to attach the term “death” to this stuff since it’s as far from it as you can get and still dubiously lump yourself into the genre, and in this case, doing so borders on outright fraud and a crime against nature. This is the musical equivalent of a cotton candy blob with a frowny face drawn on it. It wouldn’t scare small children and it’s all fluff and toothaches inside. A shiny platter full of overly polished, semi-heavy riffs buried under oodles and kaboodles of keyboards, the same tired, screamy vocals we’ve heard a million times and desperately poppy, radio-friendly choruses may have an audience, but I’m sure not a part of it.
This is one of those reviews where a song by song breakdown does no good. Suffice to say you get eleven tracks of cookie-cutter, focus-tested corporate metal composed by a committee which studied trending popularity charts that were hopelessly out of date. Every song plies you with slightly djenty riffs, super melodic and overbearing keyboard fills and faux angry, screamy vocals that seque into cleans for the “big reveal” come chorus time. Mass produced music has rarely sounded more bland and processed than it does here.
Pick a tune and it’s exactly the same formula. The best of the bunch include “Enforce,” which reminds me ever so vaguely of Omnium Gatherum (though that might be my wishful thinking after several spins of this thing), and “Oblivion,” which feels a bit more sincere, sports a bigger gothic metal influence and the best chorus on the album. In a pinch, I could add “Granted” since it sounds like third-rate Scar Symmetry minus the talent.
Dishonorable mention goes to “Defector DCXVI” for a chorus I can almost imagine Asia or Toto toying with back in 1983 before wisely dumping it on the studio floor. Runner up goes to “Eye of the Thyla” for sounding so emo and weepy, but possessing as much real emotion as a Coke Zero® commercial. I find it amusing that as hard as they try to make the choruses sticky and memorable, they don’t even do as good a job as Christian Alvestam did on his Solution .45 project, which was in turn a far cry from the average Scar Symmetry output.
As much as I hate this stuff, I don’t dislike Roland Johansson’s singing. He could step into any goth rock band and be completely solid. His lead guitar work also has some legitimate merit. Bascially, he’s the only reason to stick around. Richard Sjunnesson’s screams are about as harsh as a game of Candyland and this style of vocals should have gone into extinction ten years ago. He adds nothing of value to the music and his attempts at death growls sound completely forced and weak.
The production is as glossy as modern metal gets and often sounds like rave music with a thumping and artificial bass/drum sound sure to fire up the plastic glowstick crowd. On the plus side, maybe if you play this loud enough, Paul Baloff will awake from his deathly slumber just when the world needs his poser killing prowess most.
Fragile Immortality is as extreme as a day at the petting zoo with your local kindergarten class, but at least there you can secretly hope for an outbreak of llama spitting, goat ramming or some other animal hijinks. Here, not so much. Utterly commercialized and soulless, avoid if you hope to keep your metal card in good standing.