Sound — 9
SS are probably the biggest Marmite band in the Swedish metal scene at the moment, their melodic death/power/progressive metal hybrid sound being one of constant change and scrutiny. Christian Alvestams leaving was indeed a new turning point for the band, dropping some of the accessibility of their previous albums in exchange for a more fitting power/death metal style vocal section. A lot of people didn't like DMD, although I myself fail to see why.. But what is The Unseen Empire like? Well first song off the bat 'The Anomaly' is most definitely a track they could have written during the 'Pitch Black Progress' days and immediately tears into a speedy gothenburg fist-in-the-air track, having a very typical Scar Symmetry sound to it, so far so good. Song 2, 'Illuminoid Dream Sequence' is a wonderfully composed showcase of Per Nilsson's fantastic guitar work, containing many of the 'cosmic' melodies that SS just love to use. 'Extinction Mantra' is a fairly original track for SS, alternating between extreme fist pounding slowness and catchy leads and using a middle-eastern influenced intro. And it does keep getting better. Henrik Ohlsson has never sounded tighter on this album and keeps the imagination flowing throughout with the amount of different rhythms the band can come up with. As always with the Nilsson/Kjellgren duo, there is some simply sublime guitar work. Although there's always the 'wanking off' stigma that comes with SS, all the leads are tasteful (for Scar Symmetry at least) and as I keep saying, highly imaginative, especially Nilssons ambient-ish bridge solo and Kjellgrens 80's funky thrash solo in 'Seers of the Eschaton' (Wah wah ftw).
Lyrics — 9
The 'new' vocalists of SS have always been scrutinised for not being as 'good' as Christian Alvestam, well obviously there's no question that Christian had more talent and could actually sing the material live, but everyone overlooks the fact that SS a more than just a melodic death metal band. Lars Palmqvist, like him or not, is one hell of a vocalist. If not quite having the clarity of Alvestam, he has a more dynamic power metal edge to it and fits SS more as a band because of their obvious melodic content and often break-neck speed. On the other end of the vocals is Roberth Karlsson. Keeping in line with the uber-low death growls and occasional black metal scream, he too has only improved since DMD. Dark Matter Dimensions had some fairly good interplay between the two vocalists but was often overshadowed by segments dedicated to guitars. Now though, both vocalists have ample room to perform and impress, the shoot-out style vocal exchange is sort of a new quality they've brought out in the last two albums. I wouldn't go so far to say Henrik Ohlsson is a philosophical genius (or he might be.. that's hard to decide) but he does indeed know how to write. The lyrics on The Unseen Empire are based around the ideas of the Illuminati, a race of lizard people who secretly control the world, dystopian society, a little bit of the apocalypse and (naturally) a dash of typical SS cosmicy spaceness. Always very interesting material and rather thought-provoking and always always well delivered (though you might want to skim through the lyrics booklet a few times).
Overall Impression — 9
Essentially, everything on The Unseen Empire is a refreshed and updated version of DMD, combined with many of the trademark sounds from Alvestam era SS and basically making the best sound they've had in years. Instead of trying the art of compromise (which is what most bands do to 'evolve' or 'mature') SS have instead added and built upon what they had before and made a new yard stick for themselves. Of course, its still very Marmite-y... Songs to look out for: 'The Anomaly', 'Illuminoid Dream Sequence', 'Extinction Mantra', 'Seers of the Eschaton' (perhaps the heaviest song on this album, progheads rejoice), 'Astronomicon', 'Rise of the Reptilian regime', 'The Draconian Arrival', 'Alpha and Omega'.