Sound — 6
If you want the best hotdog in the world, you go to New York City; if you want the best scotch in the world, you go to Scotland; and if you want the best melodic death metal in the world, you go to Sweden. Just like the myriad of melody-centric death metal bands that have hailed from Scandinavia's center, Scar Symmetry came out of the gate running since their inception in 2004. With only one song recorded for a demo, they scored a deal with Cold Records to produce their debut album, "Symmetric in Design," then promptly parlayed that into a long-standing record deal with the ubiquitous label Nuclear Blast. Though the band would have to replace their original screamer/singer Christian Alvestam and replace the vocal duties with two vocalists, Roberth Karlsson for the harsh vocals and Lars Palmqvist for the clean vocals, Scar Symmetry have continued a consistent course throughout their career. After their remarkable fifth album, "The Unseen Empire," the band announced earlier this year that their next big step in their music would be a three-part concept album series with a cyberpunk storyline, entitled "The Singularity." Without wasting much time, Scar Symmetry now present the first installment of the trilogy, "The Singularity (Phase I: Neohumanity)."
Based on the direction their previous album, "The Unseen Empire," was going, it's not surprising that Scar Symmetry would continue to travel towards progressive metal, and "The Singularity Phase I" shows that they traveled real deep into that territory. With all but the interstitial tracks being nearly five minutes or longer, the post-introductory track "Neohuman" and the cheesy-named ending track "Technocalyptic Cybergeddon" show off the most elaboration, clocking in at around eight and ten minutes respectively, and boasting the largest compositional repertoires. Further following in the vein of progressive-influenced death metal, synthesizers play a very important role throughout the album, serving as the backbone of melody on top of the chugging metal power of the organic instrumentation, as well as the spastic arpeggiated synths that sweep throughout "Neohuman" stealing the spotlight; though the lead synth line in "Limits to Infinity" treads a bit too close to Dream Theater territory and feels like a knockoff.
Though the tight and orderly composition of verses and choruses come off as par for the course and not particularly remarkable (even rendering "Limits to Infinity" and "The Spiral Timeshift" the least captivating songs on the album), the instruments still reach some notable highs in the album. Drummer Henrik Ohlsson breaks into his best fits of percussion fury in "Cryonic Harvest," "Neuromancers" and "Technocalyptic Cybergeddon," guitarist Per Nilsson gets his shred on most admirably in "Neohuman," "Neuromancers" and "Technocalyptic Cybergeddon," and even bassist Kenneth Seil matches Nilsson's sweeps in "Cryonic Harvest." But with the handful of moments of exceptional instrumental finesse expected from Scar Symmetry, one can't shake the feeling that the band is playing relatively conservative in comparison to their past works. A microcosm of this is the interlude track "Children of the Integrated Circuit," which banks only on synth-generated atmosphere and Nilsson's piercing lead guitar, and while the spotlight is clearly on the lead guitar working its way up to a face-melting apex, it never really comes; which is odd, seeing as Nilsson can and has pulled off that awe-inspiring degree of guitar-work before. And with the highest capabilities of Scar Symmetry's instrumental talent being fully showcased in the previous albums "Dark Matter Dimensions" and "The Unseen Empire," "The Singularity Phase I" unfortunately feels somewhat lackluster in comparison.
Lyrics — 9
With Scar Symmetry's lyrics always having distinct themes to them, from sci-fi inspired narratives of great technological advancements to the post-modern fantasies of shadow governments and dystopian futures, it was more than obvious that the band would eventually merge the two for a full-on concept album, and "The Singularity Phase" series is based on the dichotomy between natural humanity and synthetically-enhanced humanity. "The Singularity Phase I" first sets the table for the trilogy by introducing the first cybernetically-augmented people that are tasked with converting the entire population to the ideal human-machine hybrid. Of course, while they talk about the limitless possibilities that this new form of consciousness can experience, they're leaving everybody no choice to decline - either convert or be exterminated.
Along with depicting vivid imagery, like humans being held captive in cryo-pods awaiting their fate in "Cryonic Harvest" and the mass manufacturing of neohumans in "Neuromancers," Scar Symmetry also wield a good amount of narrative themes: first comparing the advancements of neohumanity to the Icarus complex in "The Spiral Timeshift," then after the main character undergoes the conversion himself in "Technocalyptic Cybergeddon," he perversely compares it to a Phoenixian rebirth, which bears a witty thematic adjacency to the prior comparison. Also, in a show of props, Scar Symmetry's usage of the term "neuromancer" is a hat tip to the iconic William Gibson novel, "Neuromancer," a cardinal piece of work for contemporary sci-fi. Though Scar Symmetry's lyrics have always been a strong suit of their music, they've stepped their game up to an awesome degree with the first part of this concept series, and it really makes you anticipate the next installment for the story alone.
Overall Impression — 7
As a concept album, "The Singularity Phase I" does a great job bringing forth an elaborate and articulate story that not only stands well on its own, but also shows promise for satisfying expansion. However, as a metal album - and more specifically, a Scar Symmetry album - it doesn't reach the highest bar the band have set for themselves in their prior albums. Especially in direct comparison to the no-holds-barred overdrive of the band's previous album, "The Unseen Empire," "The Singularity Phase I" is a step down in terms of instrumental force, but perhaps that's just the unwitting fate of the album that would have to follow such a powerhouse. Nonetheless, it ultimately doesn't pose as a dealbreaker, and with the story being just as important of an element for the album as the music, "The Singularity Phase I" is definitely worthwhile.