The Singularity Phase II – Xenotaph

Nuclear Blast
rating icon 8.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Chrononautilus
02. Scorched Quadrant
03. Overworld
04. Altergeist
05. Reichsfall
06. Digiphrenia Dawn
07. Hyperborean Plains
08. Gridworm
09. A Voyage With Tailed Meteors
10. Soulscanner
11. Xenotaph

When it comes to artful, intricate and progressive melodic death metal, well, SCAR SYMMETRY are really the only show in town. This is the long-awaited sequel to "The Singularity Phase I — Neohumanity" (2014),  an album that saw guitarist and creative mastermind Per Nilsson expand his band's sound into ever more adventurous realms, while still packing the same hooky punch that has been so fundamental to the Swedes' appeal.

Where that record was purposefully diverse and prog-inclined, "The Singularity Phase II – Xenotaph" is dominated by the more brutal and intense side of SCAR SYMMETRY's sound. It is, of course, immaculately produced, full of soaring melodies, courtesy of clean vocalist Lars Palmqvist, and executed with pitiless, virtuoso precision. But despite its futuristic sheen, rapacious brutality, Roberth Karlsson's weapons-grade growls take center stage more often than not. In fact, SCAR SYMMETRY haven't been this aggressive since their earliest albums, and it's genuinely thrilling.

As we all scratch our heads and wonder how this band haven't become vastly more successful, Nilsson has quietly pieced together the most involved and involving record in his band's history. As ever, there are countless moments of strident, bittersweet melody. Both "Overworld" and "Scorched Quadrant" have choruses of indecent size and sound like instant classics. More challenging are the likes of "Altergeist" and "Digiphrenia Dawn", wherein Nilsson's fiendishly sophisticated vision takes an unforgiving turn towards the savage dark, while simultaneously upping the theatricality of the whole enterprise. As grandiose and symphonic as it gets, "Altergeist" rides the hurricane into a swirling vortex of black metal fury and comes out at the other end, aglow with progressive fervor and smelling of laser-scorched roses. "Digiphrenia Dawn" is all mutant, machine-gun death metal, slick AOR melodies and shimmering prog indulgence, with at least two mind-bending guitar solos from Nilsson.

In truth, every last one of these songs takes at least one unexpected detour, moving beyond the realms of pristine tech-death and into territory that SCAR SYMMETRY might as well claim as their own at this point. On the grimly evocative "A Voyage With Tailed Meteors", they revert back to their primitive, death metal origins, but with the ornate menace of symphonic black metal and the confounding chord changes of arcane progressive rock. On the lethally catchy "Gridworm", they build riffs out of unfathomable acts of fret wizardry and squeeze giant, memorable refrains into a dense, disorientating storm of extremity.

Still, the most impressive thing about "The Singularity Phase II – Xenotaph" is how detailed, nuanced and complete it is, even taking a nine-year wait between albums into account. With Nilsson's immersive but slightly incomprehensible sci-fi narrative propelling it along, SCAR SYMMETRY's seventh symphony is the perfect follow-up to their tantalizing sixth. A band that have always prized the fine details, they sound as committed to shattering skulls as they do to weaving webs of melodic intrigue. On the closing "Xenotaph", they flex all their muscles at once for a startling, eight-minute grand finale that aches with shellshocked melancholy, ebbs and flows with classic prog abandon, and ends with star-kissed and gently disintegrating ripples of astral electronica. As it dissolves to nothing, a standing ovation would seem an appropriate response.

SCAR SYMMETRY's holistic melo-death explorations continue to dazzle with refinement and melodic audacity, but this one will smash your face in too. It's what the future sounds like. Get used to it.

Author: Dom Lawson
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