The Unseen Empire
15 April 2011
by Tom Dare
Draw a line in the sand right here – The Unseen Empire marks the point at which Lars Palmqvist and Robert Karlsson step out from the not inconsiderable shadow of Christian Älvestam and take full, authoritative ownership of their roles in Scar Symmetry. If anything, the interplay between the impassioned, emotive but ballsy clean singing and the death growls is even more effective than the (admittedly brilliant) sole singer.
On top of that, the guitar work’s as belting as you would expect. For chin-stroking admirers of the proggy and intricate, The Unseen Empire is as rewarding as anything the band have done. That’s not to say that this is only for wearers of beards – Scar Symmetry play straight-up modern metal, they just do so in their own way. There’s plenty of beef, crunch and groove in the riffage. The band establish a balance between melody and heft, but do so without being derivative or formulaic.
The clean leads vary in character hugely – tempo, tone, pace and rhythm are all altered not only from song to song but within individual tracks. ‘Seer Of The Eschaton‘ starts off with galloping shred and jazz before breaking for the vocalists, only for the leads to return with wail and wah once more for sass and sleaze. It all serves the music, rather than the guitarists’ egos.
And as for fist-in-the-air, sing-your-guts-out, head-banging tunes, The Unseen Empire is the band’s crowning glory of an already glittering catalogue. From the opening swaggering optimism of ‘The Anomaly‘, the giant refrains begin to emerge and do not let up. And we’re not just talking about hanging around waiting for the chorus – whether it’s Palmqvist or Karlsson in action, some of the verses are just as fantastic.
Watch drummer Henrik Ohlsson’s track-by-track of The Unseen Empire:
That’s not down just the melodies, nor is it due to the force and rhythmically memorable attack of the growls. Over and above all of that is the sheer conviction with which the vocals are delivered. It never sounds like they’re just singing/screaming the words as part of a routine – for all the gigantic production, it sounds like they fucking mean it, and it’s a full-on performance rather than just the best take from the studio.
The subtleties of the vocal interplay and guitar work on The Unseen Empire mean that even after multiple listens you find something you missed the first time around. In an age where a few too many bands seem more than happy to sound like everyone else, they’re a shining beacon of individuality – not by being difficult and esoteric, but simply by writing fantastic heavy metal songs that no one else already has.
Sounds like: Dark Tranquillity meets Dream Theater
Top tracks: Extinction Mantra, Seer Of The Schaton, Alpha And Omega
Scar Symmetry – The Unseen Empire tracklisting:
Illuminoid Dream Sequence
Seer Of The Eschaton
Rise Of The Reptilian Regime
The Draconian Arrival
Alpha And Omega