Spiralling Through The Void - Scar Symmetry on Machines, Moons and Metal

Science, technology and heavy metal are welded together for Scar Symmetry, exploring the universe with their guitars in their new album, Dark Matter Dimensions. Talking to drummer and lyricist Henrik Ohlsson, we get a glimpse into the vast inner workings of this cosmic progressive death metal outfit.

Calling Sweden from Australia feels a bit weird when your subject is dressed to the nines in blankets and jumpers and you’re sweating from places on your body you never thought existed. Luckily for Henrik Ohlsson his chosen instrument gives him plenty of time to heat up over the bitter Swedish winters, blasting away on the drums tirelessly in Scar Symmetry, one of Swedish melodic death metal’s prize exports in recent times.

“Well, it just started to get cold,” Ohlsson says, sounding clouded under a fog of a cold. “The water started freezing over yesterday. So yeah. You can tell that it’s winter.”

Scar Symmetry has been on the ascent in terms of popularity over the past few years having toured with luminaries such as Dark Tranquillity, Katatonia and The Haunted. Understandably, they’re still riding that wave with their new release, Dark Matter Dimensions.

While some have noted the broadening of the twin guitar attack from Jonas Kjellgren and Per Nilsson, building on previous albums, Henrik insists that wasn’t really the case.

“We wanted to make it sound more ‘in your face’ and organic and that was the same idea behind the new album.”

Their following has increased to such a point that their videos are a staple on YouTube and the like. Their new video for Ascension Chamber, despite some tripped-out visuals, wasn’t even professionally produced, the band taking a gamble on whether to release it or not.

“Well, I think it came out better than the previous video,” Henrik says proudly. “It was basically a friend of ours [Ronny Bengtsson, former vocalist for power metal band Steel Attack] who shot us playing in front of a green screen and then added all the effects you see in the video. It was pretty simple, but it came out pretty cool.”

They didn’t even utilise a studio or the ubiquitous warehouse.

“We shot it in a cellar,” Henrik confesses. “Yeah, it wasn’t a huge special deal at all. Our friend offered to do it and said he could do a better job than our previous video [for Noumenon and Phenomenon] and it only took one or two days to do. He did such a good job with it and we were really pleased with the result.”

The band even release singles, a throwback to the “old 80s” as Ohlsson describes it, even though it’s more of a promotional device than an outlet for B-sides or other material.

“That’s more of a label decision than our own. We even have a game online that you can play called Dark Matter Asteroids. If you get a high score you get to meet the band. You can spend all day playing and lose your job over it to focus on the band instead; that’s how we would do it,” he laughs.

Prior to the recording of the album, founding member and vocalist Christian Alvestam parted ways with the band, citing touring conflicts and creative disagreements as the reason. After a brief search, Roberth Karlsson (growls) and Lars Palmqvist (clean vocals) were found to fill the yawning void Alvestam created with his departure, fans aghast at what may become of the band after losing such a distinctive and talented member. Apart from the obvious sharing of the microphone, Ohlsson says that there wasn’t really any different approach in recording than previous sessions.

“Basically we wanted to make another Scar Symmetry album and prove that we can be an amazing band, because some people doubted that. There weren’t any real changes apart from the line-up.”

Scar Symmetry’s songs seem to almost always draw on rich themes of science-fiction in the same way power metal acts such as Hammerfall or Blind Guardian reach for fantasy novels to inspire their music. With album titles like Holographic Universe and Symmetric In Design or songs such as Non-Human Era and Mechanical Soul Cybernetics, the band definitely owes more to Issac Asimov than J.R.R Tolkien. Despite the interest in the genre, Scar Symmetry doesn’t consider themselves to be a through-and-through “science fiction” band.

“Well, I think our music has some science fiction vibes and I can see why people draw parallels between certain TV series and Star Wars and whatever, but it’s not really about that. It’s more about new technology and science. A couple of members and me are into that kind of thing but I’m the one who’s really into it.

“I write the lyrics [with those themes.] I’ve always loved writing lyrics for bands and it just came naturally from that. [As for] the whole science thing? It just fit with the music. I write for another band called Altered Aeon too; a progressive thrash metal band. There’s even more science based lyrics with that band.”

Now with two vocalists on board with two individual voices, one might think there’d be a whole lot of trouble dividing who gets what line to sing. But for the first time, Per and Jonas handled the vocal lines exclusively as Henrik explains.

“That was a new situation for us, Per and Jonas handling the vocal lines. Christian used to always be involved with creating the vocal lines with Per and Jonas who wrote the songs.

“[In] all [it] went pretty smooth, they went really fast with it. It wasn’t really a problem for them, finding inspiration and stuff like that."

Playing a blend of power, progressive and death metal, Scar Symmetry is sometimes mistaken for a American band playing in an European style and vice versa. As metal trends toward a globalised sound, Henrik doesn’t really think location should be a determinant in how a band sounds.

“It’s really hard to be objective about,” he says with a chuckle. “We just write the songs and then people afterwards tell us what it sounds like; what kind of genre it belongs to and blah blah blah. It’s hard to say whether it sounds European or American or whatever because we’re so close to the songs and to our own sound. Some people call us American sounding or European sounding or a mixture but opinions vary so much. It’s really hard for us to tell where we fit.”

Coming up to the end of the decade, metal publications and websites – Metal As Fuck included – are the best of the best in metal, which, in his view, has exploded to cater to a diverse range of tastes.

“Well,” Henrik recalls, “there’s a whole lot of bands now and the whole metal genre is so vibrant now. There’s so much kinds of stuff in the scene; it doesn’t matter what you like – keyboards or no keyboards, operatic vocals or death metal vocals  - it doesn’t matter, metal has become such a wide genre, everyone can find something that they like.

“There’s a lot of new bands that I enjoy; like progressive death metal bands such as Arsis for example, whom we toured with recently. There’s another new thrash band called F.K.Ü which released an album called “Where Moshers Dwell” that’s like fun, horror-based thrash metal. It’s really cool so [people] should check them out.

“Then there’s all the old heroes like Judas Priest and KISS who have come back. I think it’s done a lot for smaller bands because it’s given a definite interest in them. I think it’s cool that they’re still doing it. It gives hope to the rest of us musicians, you can still be 60 or 70 years old and be a rock star,” he laughs.

Hopefully the band will still be on the right side of young when they tour Down Under, having been promised a berth in 2006 that unfortunately never materialised.

“We’ve had offers every now and then to go to Australia but in the end it doesn’t happen,” he says. “I personally thought we’d already have toured by now, and since 2006 we’ve been promised to go there but it never really happens. I’m not sure why; maybe we’re in contact with the wrong people or something.

“With certain countries it’s pretty hard to actually get there. Same with South America. Japan has been problematic for us to get a real tour together. 

“As for Australia, as soon as we get a real offer, we’ll definitely go there.”

Scar Symmetry's Dark Matter Dimensions is out now on Nuclear Blast/Riot. Get your copy here.