Album Review: The Singularity Phase II – Xenotaph by Scar Symmetry (Nuclear Blast)

Scar Symmetry are back, at last, with the second part of their The Singularity trilogy, Xenotaph, due for release via Nuclear Blast on the 9th of June.

The Swedish melodic death metal, technical, progressive and more band last released studio music way back in 2014 with the first part of this trilogy, The Singularity Phase I – Neohumanity. An album I absolutely love and the reason why I moan about the 9 year gap so much. Imagine knowing there is a trilogy of music coming, adoring the first part and then nothing, silence for 9 years. Well, I can finally shut up about it and just hope it is worth the wait. It does worry me about leaving such a large gap. A large part of the magic of Neohumanity is the science and science fiction edge which comes through massively in the production and tones used on the instruments.

How do you capture that again with technology leaping so much in 9 years? Weirdly, in order to continue their futuristic concept, they may need to tap into the past.

I guess if anyone can pull it off, it’s as likely to be Scar Symmetry as anyone else. A band that seem to hold onto their audience even with such Metallica sized gaps and a band that are never short on ideas and ingenuity.

Here on Xenotaph, Scar Symmetry in 2023 are of course, the one and only, Per Nilsson on lead guitar, keyboards, backing and clean vocals with Henrik Ohlsson on drums, Roberth Karlsson on harsh vocals, Lars Palmqvist on clean vocals and the most recent addition, Benjamin Ellis on rhythm guitar, backing and clean vocals.

Scar Symmetry - The Singularity Phase II Xenotaph band artwork

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The Singularity Phase II – Xenotaph, or Xenotaph, as I will refer to it from now on comes with 11 tracks and nearly an hour of music on it starting with the two lead singles, Chrononautilus and Scorched Earth. Scorched Earth was the first single dropped and is the second track on Xenotpah and it’s a decent track but I remember thinking, when it dropped, that it doesn’t quite capture the magic of my Neohumanity memories. Decent riffs, strong vocals but cleans that are really faded in the mix which then in turn impacts on the quality of those famed back and forths. So weirdly, I felt a track released 9 years later had worse production quality than the previous album.

Despite that it is a good song with a strong chorus and rhythm to it, just not jaw dropping and it turned my excitement for the new album to concern. Then came Chrononautilus, the second single, to blow all my worries away with an absolute ripper of  a track and an aggressive way to open a release. Exploding into life with a huge roar, it turns into everything I love about this band. Wicked production with cleans seeming a bit further forward, a huge mix of vocal styles, explosive riffing, soaring melody and science fiction laden tones and quirks. It’s a prime example of how exciting Scar Symmetry are with an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to a song yet making it work wonderfully.

So the first two tracks are the first two singles and I am split on them – what are we going to get from here? Next up is Overworld, a shorter track that switches the vocals around to lead with the cleans and back them with the harsh. The video game like melody in the intro keeps the album concept firmly in your mind and, for the third track in a row, the chorus is just phenomenal. There is a real epic, imortant feeling to this song and the solo is fire.

Altergeist is a longer one. Yay! The guitar melodies in the opening verse are just perfect. There is an interesting hook/melody that sounds really recognisable, like it is from a Disney movie, or a traditional song or something but I can’t pick out what it is reminding me of. Anway, enough about that, back to the top quality music on offer with the expected back and forths between vocals leading into a great chorus. The solo is on another level with multiple phases, the drums are phenomenal throughout, the slowed down section is magical – any earlier fears about Xenotaph living up to Neohumanity are firmly put away now.

Reichsfall has the most stunningly gorgeous guitar intro. Wow. And when it kicks in, all within 30 seconds, the hairs on my arms are firmly on end. It’s another clean vocal led track with plenty of harsh backing but the guitar melody drives this song brilliantly with that intro melody constantly reappearing to pierce heavier, slamming sections. This may be my favourite track so far, those guitars – damn!

Xenotpah has just set a damn high bar with Reichsfall for the rest of this albnum to live up to. First to try is Digiphrenia Dawn. I really think Scar Symmetry are playing a blinder here in how they have laid out this album, switching the leading style on tracks so it never feels anywhere near samey. This time, the harsh vocals, vicious drum and bass and crunchy riffs kick us off in extreme metal fashion. Cleans come in and back the harsh vocals while still depending on the heavier music before a seamless transition into an epic slowdown. The beat, the rhythm to this one is so perfect with huge headbanging opportunities to go with the plentiful clean singing, arms in the air parts.

Hyperborean Plains brings us down into a slightly slower grooving rhyhtm that will have you vibing along. The intro is extended on this one, switching pace and power occasionally before eventually transforming into everything you love about Scar Symmetry and Xenotaph so far. Clean vocals take the lead, it feels like a softer song then bang, here comes the aggression and force. The sections are shorter so the back and forth is more constant and that is perfect. The chorus is great, the slowdown perfect and just when you think you know where they are going, clearly into a slow solo, they don’t and instead hit us with extreme metal viciousness for an unexpected verse.

Gridworm and A Voyage With Tailed Meteors are next up on Xenotaph. Both songs are bangers with the former showcasing some of the most impressive rhythm section material on the album. That comes in the intro, through the verses but especially in the mini solo section in the middle of the track. The latter, really ramps up the attack with a fiery start and layered harsh vocals. It’s fast and heavy, relentless in it’s energy with the back and forth between two different harsh vocal tones and occasional lead guitar melody adding the light to the darkness. We do slow down into a gorgeous melody and cleans half way through before the solo take sover and kicks the pace and power back up to hyperdrive.

The penultimate track on this stunning album is Soulscanner, a shorter track that continues bringing the many different styles of Scar Symmetry into a single track. Many different vocal tones, powerful drums and riffs then switches into cleans backed by harsh vocals with added melody. The solo is great and the chorus is absolutely epic, again. And so we reach the close of this album and the second chapter of The Singularity trilogy with the title track, Xenotaph.

At nearly 8 minutes in length, it is the longest track on the album. I guess that gives them more time to add more elements, just what they need. It has a grand and epic feel to it, especially in the intro effects and keys before it transforms into a frenetic release of blasting drums and guitars. This song is everything I love about Scar Symmetry but turned up to 11. Intesne harsh vocals in the verses lead into a cleaner chorus that sees the music drop down in energy but adds a gang vocal style element that works wonderfully. The solos are fire, the song flies by – it’s a strong closer that actually ends properly with a minute and a half left, leaving just a single keys melody to gently fade us out.

Scar Symmetry are back and it feels like they never went away. This second chapter of The Singularity trilogy lives up to the first and despite the long gap, still makes sense in terms of leading the concept on from Neohumanity. Scar Symmetry are well known for their genre bending and that is of course a prominent feature here. I find Xenotaph to be exciting, exhilirating, fresh and interesting to listen to. It doesn’t stop, constantly changes direction and for me, that’s great. The concept is awesome, the musicianship, the album artwork, the way the tracks are laid out – everything works here and, even if you don’t care for all this science fiction stuff, don’t fear because at it’s heart, Xenotaph is also just a damn good metal album. I can’t wait for Phase III. I just really hope and pray that it wont be as long a wait.

Don’t sleep on this genuine album of the year contender, presave, preorder Xenotaph from this Scar Symmetry Linktree, here.

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  • Brendan Fisher

    Owner/Editor/Writer/YouTuber - Heavy Metal and reading, two things I have always loved so they are the two areas you will find most of my reviews. Post apocalyptic is my jam and I always have a book on the go and have for decades now. From a metal perspective, age has softened my inadequacies and I now operate with an open mind, loving many bands from many sub genres but having a particular admiration for the UK underground scene. In my other time, when not focused on Dad duties and work, I try to support the craft beer movement by drinking as much of it as I can and you will also find me out on the streets, walking. I love walking, I love exploring new places and snapping nature photos as I go.

The Singularity Phase II - Xenotaph by Scar Symmetry (Nuclear Blast)
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