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Phase II


Album Review: SCAR SYMMETRY The Singularity (Phase II – Xenotaph)

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There are few melodic/progressive death metal bands that balance softness, harshness, and theatricality better than Sweden’s Scar Symmetry. Their sixth studio LP (and first in a planned trilogy), 2014’s The Singularity (Phase I – Neohumanity), demonstrated that exceptionally well; as such, it concurrently solidified that group’s stylistic mastery and made the nine-year wait for a follow-up particularly difficult. Now that the significantly lengthier The Singularity (Phase II − Xenotaph) is here, however, it’s clear that the wait was worth it, as it’s very much a fitting and enjoyable—if marginally safer and staler—sequel.

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Despite dealing with a few changes in members over the last decade, the lineup here is quite similar to that of its predecessor. In fact, the only difference is the absence of longtime bassist Kenneth Seil (who left in 2015) and the addition of guitarist Benjamin Ellis. Along the way, bassist/backing vocalist Andreas Holma came and went, too, so it’s not clear who—if anyone—plays bass on Xenotaph.

Regarding the extensive delay between Singularity records, guitarist Per Nilsson explained earlier this year:

"It's been a really, really drawn out process. I wrote the songs [for Phase II] back in 2016 – the main [parts] of the songs were written back then. We recorded drums also in 2016, and then we recorded the rest on and off for the next few years. Then, in 2017, I started playing with Meshuggah and I also started playing with Nocturnal Rites. . . . That sort of put the Scar Symmetry thing a little bit on the side. We never went on a real hiatus. We were in cryo-suspension or something for a bit.

"We've had the album release postponed almost a year longer than what we thought because we had a sad thing happen where the artwork artist that was working on the artwork for us, he disappeared. Then he let us know that his mom had passed. It's a really sad situation. We haven't really talked about [that situation] a lot, but that postponed things a lot because then we had to find a new artwork artist. Yes, we're currently still in a holding pattern waiting for the release date to be set."

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Luckily, their continued exploration of futuristic transhumanism offers just about everything fans of Neohumanity could want.

Admittedly, opener “Chrononautilus” doesn’t pack quite the epic punch as Neohumanity’s two-part starter (“The Shape of Things to Come”/”Neohuman”), but it comes damn close. In particular, it showcases the album’s arguably angrier tone, with belligerent instrumentation and demonic growls largely dominating cleanly sung power metal choruses and countermelodies. Throw in some flashy guitar work about halfway in and you have the quintessential sing-along erraticism of modern Scar Symmetry.

From there, the remaining compositions on Xenotaph basically follow an identical template until the end, which is both its biggest strength and biggest weakness. On one hand, the group relentlessly proves how capable they are at nailing this sound; on the other hand, though, the sequence feels too samey overall (and certainly less diverse and ambitious than its immediate precursor).

Sure, there’s the dramatic piano and symphonic respites of “Altergeist,” “Soulscanner,” and “Digiphrenia Dawn,” as well as the empowering choral accompaniments and tantalizingly enigmatic coda of closer “Xenotaph.” Nevertheless, it’s hard to deny that the LP as a whole is at least a little repetitive even if each individual piece of the puzzle is highly satisfying

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The Singularity (Phase II − Xenotaph) doesn’t match Neohumanity’s freshness, unity, and variety, but it’s far from a major letdown. Really, it’s just a noticeably more monotonous and less striving extension of the same musical and conceptual formulas. Either way, it’s still a damn fine album and a testament to Scar Symmetry’s dedicated and characteristic chemistry.

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