Released: 2006, Nuclear Blast Records
Ah yes, the all too quick follow-up. Usually metal bands do these as attempts to capitalize on good publicity and the strong reaction from the previous album, the problem is they almost always fail because the band spends too little time on the music and we end up with a rather half-assed album that, in turn, backfires on the band. Here we have PITCH BLACK PROGRESS, the sophomore album from Sweden’s Scar Symmetry who are a moderate super group comprised of members from Unmoored, Centinex, Altered Aeon, and just about 20 other bands (most of whom I have enjoyed on some level previously). PITCH BLACK PROGRESS is the band’s quick follow up to the debut, SYMMETRIC IN DESIGN, which saw a Euro release just over a year ago yet was only released in North America during the fourth quarter of 2005.
The big question coming from me before the initial listen was, is this really a half-assed follow up to what was an extremely enjoyable debut in SYMMETRIC IN DESIGN (made my top 20)? The answer for me is most definitely not. In fact, after enough listens this is an even stronger release than the debut. Where as SYMMETRIC IN DESIGN was pretty straightforward in taking cues from the later Gothenburg scene, most specifically the more “experimental” (re: more accessible) bands like Soilwork circa A PREDATOR’S PORTRAIT/NATURAL BORN CHAOS this new album sees the band expand on that sound somewhat. The band may not have been a carbon copy on the debut, but the similarities were pretty strong and while there’s no doubt they’re still there this time, the band does find themselves experimenting with melodies, with the vocals, and with their dynamics.
Opening with “The Illusionist”, which is coincidentally the song the band has shot a video for, most fans will initially find little progress in Scar Symmetry’s sound in comparing this song to the anything off the debut but the progression is to be found in subsequent tracks. This not to in any way say “The Illusionist” isn’t a great track, it’s one of the many standout tracks on the album but it’s definitely a song to ease into the transitions that come later. Using a pretty straight heavy/clean dynamic to transition from verse to chorus the band give a very convincing take on the modern Gothenburg style, especially with Christian Älvestam’s clean vocals; he’s still a dead ringer for Dan Swanö throughout a lot of the clean vocals here. One instant change one will find though is later on in the track when the vocals start diverging, and there’s a second vocal “taking it home” so to speak, the vocals sound disturbingly like Roy Khan of Kamelot. “Mind Machinery” sees some nice diversions in that it has little of what has become the “typical” dynamics as there is a greater reliance on clean vocals overtop of the heavy, mid-paced riffing. This could actually be a song many will cry “sell outs” for, assuming nobody was calling it on the first album, considering how accessible the band’s sound is.
“Pitch Black Progress”, which follows “Mind Machinery” is in direct opposition of the previous song’s clean sound and takes a decidedly heavier edge, especially with that slow chorus and Christian Älvestam’s brutally low voice, which is mixed amongst many other different harsh vocals. “Abstracted” sees my favourite songwriting trick put into play; the band takes one riff and plays it at two different speeds (the drums kicking in double time) to create two completely different feels. Taking the same riff the band creates a straight up Swedish thrash section and in the other the song is taken a notch down and hits a little bit of a jog. “Retaliator” has the catchiest chorus of any song on this album for the simple fact that the main melody isn’t as drawn out as most on the album (many songs see the vocals slow and Christian drawing out every syllable), it’s very compact and even incorporates the heavy/clean vocals within it.
Scar Symmetry’s sophomore effort honestly took a few listens to really grow on me, initially I was thinking it was more of the same and of less quality than the debut but I was proven wrong on repeated listens. This album shows that the band is the real deal and even with a short lapse of time from the debut to PITCH BLACK PROGRESS they are already a force to be reckoned with.