Sound — 9
While the idea of having clean vocals thrown into Death Metal songs is far from an original idea in 2008, there are few bands that truly pull it off in an effective, let alone, interesting way. Outside of bands like In Flames, Fear Factory, and Opeth, you would be hard pressed to find an argument for the formula. Luckily, I've known to be wrong from time to time because the folks at Nuclear Blast Records just sent me the new album from Scar Symmetry and I've been rendered breathless by a case of complete shock! Where has this band been my whole life? Their new album, Holographic Universe, is packed to the rafters with an endless array of delicious twin-guitar melodies and the kind of rhythmic precision found in the catalogs of tech-heavy greats like Spiral Architect and Meshuggah. Henrik Ohlsson's drum work is a force to be reckon with on it's own with some of the flashiest footwork this side of Dream Theater's Mike Portnoy. The winning combination of Ohlsson and bassist, Kenneth Seil is a rhythm section most guitarists would give their left foot for! You can go on and on about the air-tight musical exactness in the band's performances but that wouldn't even be half of the story here. There are complete label rosters (Inside-Out Records, Shrapnel Records) with bands that play the hell out of their instruments but it's few and far between where you find a band of this caliber wrapping their technical muscle with such high-level songwriting. Riff refrains that Queensryche would have written at their prime, verses worthy of At The Gates-like worship, and the type of choruses that were made for stadium crowds to sing along to and this is just a description of the first song, Morphogenesis people! I know, you just read At The Gates and you're worried Scar Symmetry is just another clone band trying to ride their coattails, but you would be missing the mark completely! Sure these Swedes showcase their influences but they inject their material with so much personality and skill, you cannot deny their musical prowess.
Lyrics — 9
As out-of-control great as Scar Symmetry's songwriting and musicianship proves to be on Holographic Universe, the jewel in their crown is without question, vocalist, Christian Alvestam. His Death Metal vocal attack isn't to be ignored with it's deep tonality and razorblade-kissed harshness that drives the heavier sections with might force. But what really makes Alvestam's appearance a revelation are his cleaner vocals. It's the kind of powerhouse voice that is usually reserved for AOR bands like Survivor, Foreigner, and Journey; not in a Swedish Death Metal band. It definitely doesn't sound like a great idea in writing but when you hear the mixture of his melodic crooning and piercing guitars coming out of your speakers, you're doubts swiftly fall by the wayside. On Ghost Prototype II (Deus Ex Machina) and Artificial Sun Projection he shows off a more soulful side to his timbre reminiscent of Jeff Scott Soto (Yngwie Malmsteen, Talisman) and Graham Bonnet (Rainbow). His higher pitched stuff can be found on scorchers like Timewave Zero and Fear Catalyst. Alvestam's performance on the album is nothing less than a tour-de-force that should get praise from both the Heavy Metal and more mainstream Hard Rock communities.
Overall Impression — 9
Just when you start giving up on a certain type of Metal, an album like Holographic Universe appears from out of nowhere to remind you how momentous it can truly be. All the hallmarks of a classic album are abundant here. The guitar assault team of Per Nilsson and Jonas Kjellgren's whip up some devastating fret board workouts throughout the record. Their commanding melodies should be observed by young guitarists looking to improve their playing chops. The tornado swirl solos on the title track, and really, most of the songs, demand multiple listens with their rich character and memorable melodic themes. Just like Alvestam's hooky chorus runs, the guitar parts will be bouncing around inside your head for days! Kjellgren produced the collection and he selflessly lets the songs, instead of the flashy guitars, be the primary focus here. He understands how to frame the material and gives the performances enough lift to take them that extra notch above where they already were. All in all, Holographic Universe shows us that Scar Symmetry stands above most of the bands combining the guttural and clean vocals but even that is an understatement. It's the world-class songwriting and Alvestam's career-making vocal performance that makes everything here unquestionably unforgettable.