Saturday, January 9, 2010

Initial Impressions: Scar Symmetry and Raven

As I mentioned in a post last weekend, I went on a Scar Symmetry buying spree. I owned their second and third albums and I went to the local Hastings to look around with the idea that if I could not find anything else, I would pick up the band's 2009 album. Well I couldn't find anything other than Scar Symmetry albums and the store did have their debut album as well as the most recent one. The debut was cheap too. I couldn't decide between them so I picked them both up.

I first heard Scar Symmetry when I was cat-sitting for one of my friends from law school. She had digital cable at the time, which I did not have until I relocated for my first job. As part of the digital cable package, as many of you are aware, you get various music channels, including a metal channel. That's how I first heard the band and I was immediately impressed. I picked up their second album which I fell in love with. I have never felt as strongly about the rest of the band's material, but it is all pretty good.

This is Scar Symmetry's debut album. It has all of the elements that would make the band such an infectious listening experience. Scar Symmetry's sound is rooted in melodic death metal, with some keyboard flourishes which add a kind of science fiction touch. There are elements of power metal and progressive metal also present in the band's sound. The music is very strongly melodic. The death metal aspect mostly refers to some of the vocals.

The vocals are what really cause the band to shine. Their first vocalist Christian Alvestam (?) is a truly gifted metal singer. Able to alternate seemlessly between death metal growls and soaring clean vocals, Alvestam captures the listener's attention immediately and doesn't let go. Beneath the incredible vocals though are some powerful drumming, melodeath guitar riffs, and some incendiary solo work. The production is polished which brings the sounds out that much clearer.

Scar Symmetry emerged on their debut album fully formed. It's a bit cleaner than their sophomore effort which means I don't like it quite as much as I do the first album I heard. But it probably beats out their third album. It's just too bad this lineup could not stay together.
Scar Symmetry's fourth album is where things start to get a little sketchy. After their third album, the band released a statement that it was parting ways with Alvestam. The most identifiable member of the band was now gone. How would Scar Symmetry find someone to fill his shoes? The answer: they didn't. They found two people. Robert Karlsson steps in as the lead growler and Lars Palmqvist becomes the clean singer. Both guys do backing vocals in the other's specialty. Interesting.

The music basically sounds the same as earlier Scar Symmetry, with maybe a little more emphasis on the melodies. The vocals are the one thing that has really changed. But how much? The death metal growls are more brutal, for one thing. They are often backed Deicide-style with screams from Palmqvist. The screams and growls are layered giving an even more sinister feel. As implied, Deicide is well-known for doing this. The clean vocals sound very similar to Alvestam. So, for the most part, things have not really changed all that much. It's not as exciting knowing that the two disparate styles of vocals are being performed by two different people, but the end result is the same, basically.

It's a pretty good album and I will be interested to see where the band goes from here. Unfortunately, they're just another band at this point. The real impressive thing about them was their singer who could blend two styles of vocals without missing a beat. That's gone now. Oh well, we still have Into Eternity. Stu Block uses three different styles.
In my ongoing efforts to look into 1980's metal, I happened upon Raven, one of the leaders of the NWOBHM movement. This album was released in 1982 and is acclaimed by reviews I have seen as one of the best albums the NWOBHM had to offer.

This is of course a very early form of metal. The sound relies on combining Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and some punk influences. Therefore, we have slightly downtuned, distorted riffs played fairly quickly. This band and many others were heavily influential on Metallica and other early thrash metal bands. That influence on thrash is fairly clear here.

The music is very dirty, raw, and primal. The riffs are mostly traditional-sounding metal riffs, sped up. The guitar solos are competently played. The vocals are shouted in a style fairly typical for British hard rock of the 1960's and 1970's. There are a few slower songs on the album, again fairly typical for the time and genre.

I have not heard enough NWOBHM at this point to be able to state whether this is a great example of the genre or not. No matter, what I have heard is fairly compelling. I don't care much for the vocals, but the music is very interesting. I am still exploring the genre to find bands I really enjoy. I don't know if I will revisit this band or not. This album seems to be their most acclaimed so I may not.

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