Scar Symmetry: ‘The Singularity (Phase II – Xenotaph)’ Review
The 100-meter sprint is traditionally considered to be the supreme discipline at the Olympic Games. If we were to consider the supreme discipline in metal, I’d define it as “succeeding to make something that should be incredibly cheesy, not cheesy at all”. Scar Symmetry’s newest outing neatly fits into that category for me.
Let’s take a look at the face values: Aliens? Check. Pseudo-scientific song titles? Check. Heavy Power Metal influences? Double check. By all accounts, this album screams nerdy sci-fi. And yet… I’m writing a review on a website for progressive music. You might be surprised, but that observation is important.
One step at a time though. The Swedish Melodeathers Scar Symmetry finally return with the long-awaited sequel to 2014’s prologue The Singularity (Phase I – Neohumanity). Announced back then as a trilogy of albums, I had honestly given up hope to ever see this saga being continued and accepted that it will probably go down a path similar to Wintersun’s Time II. Yet here we are, some nine years later, with this beast finally let loose. With so many years of waiting for any sequel, hype tends to steadily rise until it reaches expectations that couldn’t possibly be met.
So, was the wait worth it? Spoiler alert: oh my lord, yes! Let’s dive into the tracks.
Where the first part of the trilogy started off with a short intro song, Phase II wastes zero time to get blasting with the first two songs, Chronolautilus and Scorched Quadrant, both of which were lead singles. Fast and aggressive, taking turns with melodious choruses. Both tracks are standout pieces by themselves and work very well detached from the context of the album too. Personally, these two songs take the spot of the intro song from the previous album and set the stage for what’s musically to come in a much more direct manner.
(Fun fact: The cover art for this song as a single release was AI-generated. With how rampant the growth in that area has been, the band has fully embraced the concept of merging the themes of the album with the real world.)
Overworld to me is when the album really gets going with its storytelling, and it’s also from here on out that the songs get a lot more complex. As the shortest song on the whole album, starting with a little melodic lick that could almost be mistaken for Helloween, it mainly serves as a transition from the leading singles into the great plate of songs ahead. This is backed up by being mostly written in major.
This leads right into one of the most brutal openings with Altergeist. Story-wise, this song marks the overtake by the “superior” species, going so far as to aggressively infiltrate and replace existing biology. Furthermore, this song also really goes all-in on progressive songwriting, telling an entire story through a ton of different moods. Some are brutal and fast, some are very slow and somber, ending in gigantic bombast and a long melodious that transitions directly into Reichsfall. As both songs are vaguely German-titled, this song can be considered the second part. It’s much less direct and offers a much more optimistic feeling compared to the first part. This duality is one of the strongest skills the band shows.
Digiphrenia Dawn could be described as Scar Symmetry’s take on writing a Fear Factory song. The verses sound like high-attack machinery, which is then contrasted with the almost ethereal choruses, culminating in a sonic fusion that encapsulates both the relentless aggression of industrial metal and the haunting beauty of melodic harmonies.
By that measure, Hyperborean Plains almost feels like a soft-rock song. For the most part at least, as the middle part (seemingly coming out of nowhere) will remind you without hesitation that you’re listening to a metal record, only to return to the chill harmonies.
It is at this point in the record that the malware is being installed. Gridworm takes the cliché of Hollywood hacking scenes to the logical extreme by fully embellishing this progressive MDM piece with all sorts of ridiculously over-brutalized computer buzzwords (“Toward the matrix core”, “Ride the code of the gridworm”, “As the syntax mutates”). As a programmer myself, I couldn’t help but smirk throughout studying the lyrics.
We’re now down to the last few songs, and A Voyage With Tailed Meteors takes us there like an actual journey. Yes, “voyage” is already in the name, but I’d lie if didn’t perfectly encapsulate the feeling of embarking on a spaceship and soaring through the endless vacuum. As with all sci-fi stories though, this odyssey isn’t without its ups and downs either, and that dynamic nature is perfectly underlined with the various changes in valence and energy.
Then we got a DragonForce song with ‘Soulscanner’. Okay, that’s a bit too short-sighted, but do me a favour: just listen to the first few seconds of the song and tell me it doesn’t immediately remind you of that. However, the majority of the song treads on a much different, much slower path. It almost sounds victorious at times, which is hilarious because the lyrics paint the picture of complete surrender. The last few seconds then once again give us a small glimpse of DragonForce, leading us to the finale.
Xenotaph clocks in at almost 8 minutes, making it the longest song on the album and naturally serves as the climax of this story’s arc. I have to confess something to you at this point: I’m actually on this record. Years ago, Scar Symmetry asked their fans to provide some vocals to this very track (specifically the “Xenotaph, unbound” part) and yours truly joined. I highly doubt you’ll manage to discern my voice from the roughly 2000 other fans on here, though. Musically, the song serves mostly as a way to finish this arc and even tosses in a few callbacks to previous leitmotifs from the saga. We’re left with about two minutes of what could be described as the credit music for the album and reach the end.
So, was the wait worth it? The answer is a resounding YES. Scar Symmetry’s long-awaited sequel to Phase I defies expectations and delivers a captivating musical experience that leaves no stone unturned. Power Metal, Melodic Death Metal, Progressive Metal; it’s all here. Each track takes the listener on a journey, all the while tiptoeing around incredible cheesiness, but never crossing the line. I especially applaud the fully fat-free experience Phase II serves, as Phase I had some spoken word passages that could be tiresome on repeated listens.
Scar Symmetry’s newest offering is a must-listen for Metal enthusiasts seeking an extraordinary and immersive musical adventure. So, set aside any doubts and give this album a listen—it’s a journey you won’t regret taking.