Scar Symmetry – “Holographic Universe” (retro review)

Scar Symmetry

“Holographic Universe” (2008)

Nuclear Blast

Rating: 7.5/10

Melodic death metal has become quite a curious beast. From its humble beginnings as an addition of melody to the extreme metal compositions it has developed to be inclusive of a variety of disparate genres such as hardcore, pop, gothic, and progressive. While some bands still ply their trade the old-fashioned way, Swedes Scar Symmetry are clearly one of the new breed of melodic death metal bands, whose main connection to the genre is the occasional use of extreme metal vocals, and who tend to borrow as much from progressive and melodic rock and metal as they do from the extreme side of their musical heritage.

“Holographic Universe” is Scar Symmetry’s third full-length album, and it represents both a progression from their past works, as well as the element of uncertainty pertaining to their musical future. For the uninitiated, the sound of Scar Symmetry can be described as melodic metal with frequent progressive touches, accentuated by prominent keyboard presence, and dual vocal approach. The vocals range from low-pitched classic death metal growl to clean, melodic voice that would not have been out of place on most prog or power metal records, while the guitarists alternate between a thousand-note-per-second shredding sessions, and hard-driving, aggressive rhythms. There is less in a way of clearly defined, simple melodies and Iron Maiden-like harmonies on “Holographic Universe” than with many classic examples of the genre; the emphasis here is clearly on the technical playing.

Herein lies the main problem with the album. It is definitely expertly played, with flawless performances from all band members. The production is clear and crisp, where every instrument could be heard. The melodies within the songs are often catchy and memorable, and the vocal performance is absolutely amazing (although the vocalist has since left the band, and has been replaced by no less than two singers). However, when all of these elements are taken together, the whole is somehow less than a sum of its parts.

“Holographic Universe” is a sound of a band in the middle of an identity crisis. They are clearly extremely proficient in crafting both progressive metal and death metal, but they appear to be undecided as to which they would like to move towards. There are many parts on the album where the extreme metal influence appears to be almost tacked on just to give a song some appropriate melodic death pedigree – “Timewave Zero” is a good example of it. When the band does hit on all cylinders, such as in an aggressive, quick “Quantumleaper” with its almost Meshuggah-ish verse riff, and melodic chorus, the mixture works, but more often than not, it appears as if they do not know which direction they would like to go in, and as a result, the complete album feels a bit disjointed and lacking in focus.

At this point, Scar Symmetry has clearly transcended what a melodic death metal band is supposed to be – however, they still have not figured the trick of mixing all these elements with their sound, and making it sound consistently cohesive. The album is far from bad, and definitely shows major progression in terms of playing and songwriting, but at this stage, it is not required listening. If they figure out how to incorporate all the progressive and the death metal elements together successfully, they may yet create a classic. As it stands, the final verdict is – good, but not great.

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