Scar Symmetry - The Unseen Empire (Nuclear Blast/Riot)

When they released Dark Matter Dimensions in 2009 I was underwhelmed. But, being a fan of the band and really wanting to like the new line-up, I persevered. I'm glad I did because Dark Matter Dimensions really started to grow on me. It's no Holographic Universe, but it's good. So now they've settled into the new line-up, what's the latest offering like?
Release Date: 
14 Apr 2011 - 11:30pm

I've been a fan of Scar Symmetry for a while. Their first albums didn't totally grab me, but then they released Holographic Universe in 2008 and I was hooked. The previous albums were good, but Holographic Universe was where the band came of age for me. They'd nailed just what it was they were trying to do and their sound and songwriting had really matured.

So of course, I was gutted along with everyone else when Christian Älvestam and Scar Symmetry parted ways. Älvestam's ability to sing through such a huge clean range and death growl with the best of them was the thing that gave the band its edge. Solid though the whole band were, it was Älvestam's vocal gymnastics that really sealed it. I figured that would be it for the band, but then they announced that they'd replaced their front man with two people, Roberth Karlsson on death vocals (plus some backing clean vocals) and Lars Palmqvist on clean vocals (plus some backing death vocals). I was dubious as to whether or not it would work.

When they released Dark Matter Dimensions in 2009 I was underwhelmed. But, being a fan of the band and really wanting to like the new line-up, I persevered. I'm glad I did because Dark Matter Dimensions really started to grow on me. It's no Holographic Universe, but it's good.

So now they've settled into the new line-up, what's the latest offering like? The Unseen Empire, according to Drummer Henrik Ohlsson,  "seeks to expose the hidden hand of the elite that pull the strings of mankind in order to fullfill their agenda of global domination. The album concept goes from theories of shadow governments to secret ancient bloodlines and even further into speculations of malevolent influence from metaphysical reptilian-based intelligences.

Mankind's only hope to survive seems to be an internal awakening where the influence of the the unseen empire that rules in secrecy is washed away from the minds of the masses. They want us to stay within the framework of their agenda, hypnotizing us with things that draw attention but have no value. It's time to step outside the framework and make The Unseen Empire visible!"

So yeah, it's a David Icke lizard conspiracy Illuminati Skull and Bones concept album. Get your tin foil hats on and listen for the secrets of how to survive the takeover. With song titles like Extinction Mantra, Domination Agenda, Rise of the Reptilian Regime and The Draconian Arrival the concept is clearly established. On the one hand this risks being a ridiculous thing to base an entire album on, but the idea of elite groups and secret governments covertly controlling global finance and policy is not new and just as good a theme for an album as any. The test lies in whether the tracks end up sounding like parodies or not. Fortunately, they don't.

The album is instantly more accessible than Dark Matter Dimensions and it does have a solid, established sound from the outset. I would have liked to hear a bit more variety in the songwriting, both musically and lyrically, as the album starts to sound a bit samey around the middle. Track 7, The Rise Of The Reptilian Regime, does move things around a bit, but not a huge amount. It's always difficult for a band to remain within their sound, yet have a depth and variety to an album. Scar Symmetry are mature enough now, I would think, to do that, but this album comes across a little bit flat. The second half of the album is stronger than the first, so it ends better than it starts.

Don't get me wrong, it's a good album. But it could have been better. It's solidly produced, with a good sound and mix. It's well constructed, all the band members are on form. If you're a Scar Symmetry fan you'll find a lot to like here. If you're new to the band it's not a bad place to start. But it's no Holographic Universe. I know I'm sounding bitter and biased. Bands must hate it when people keep harping on about a previous album when you're trying to sell your new thing. Roger Waters spitting on the crowd at a Pink Floyd gig when they were screaming for Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here during the Animals tour springs to mind. But I suppose that's the danger of releasing one kick arse album or song that people remember. Motorhead can't play a gig without finishing the set with Ace Of Spades. At least, not without getting lynched they can't.

The Unseen Empire is a good record. It's a great addition to the Scar Symmetry catalogue and it'll be getting more air time in my house and car. Give it a go.

The Unseen Empire is released on 15th April 2011 through Nuclear Blast.