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Tuesday 13 June 2023

Reviews: Scar Symmetry, Legion Of Damned, Stellar Circuits, Front Row Warriors (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Scar Symmetry – The Singularity (Phase II – Xenotaph) (Nuclear Blast)

Nine years is a long time…but it’s taken nine years to follow up the first part of the planned The Singularity Trilogy. Part one Neohumanity, was released in 2014, commemorating 10 years of Scar Symmetry, so now nearly 10 years later, the second part is with us. Led still by founders Per Nilsson (lead guitars/keys/vocals) and Henrik Ohlsson (drums), this seventh album is Scar Symmetry putting away almost a decade of studio stagnation, while also being able to expand on the themes of this trilogy much better than before. 

The Singularity Trilogy deals with a dystopian world where Artificial Intelligence, robotics, cryonics and cloning have brought about a singularity and Armageddon. It’s death metal so you don’t expect it to be fluffy clouds and rainbows, it was also supposed to be science fiction but as the near-decade gap wore on, the improvements in A.I has made things all too real, so it’s finally time for them to give us the second part which sits in fiction but is more of a fact than at any moment in our given history. 

Thankfully the dystopian world has not made the music boring, Scar Symmetry have long been some of the premier exponents of melodic death metal driven by the heavy use of synths and virtuoso guitar playing from Nilsson, he is also the producer and primary songwriter, and by adding more prog metal influences on the last album, they remain for Xenotaph, at times the album feeling like Devin Townsend, Dark Tranquilly and Dream Theater in one 6 minute song. 

Tracks such as Scorched Quadrant and Reichsfall see fluid, clean guitar solos ring out of the speakers before blast beats and thrash/death riffs peel off your skin or breakdown into grooves that will make you want to pit. With each album the vocal union of Lars Palmqvist (clean) and Roberth Karlsson (harsh) gets better and better, the deep aggressive harsh shouts counterpointed by the soaring cleans well on numbers like the power metal-like Hyborean Plains and grooving Gridworm. An album that will be worth the wait for fans of technically gifted metal music that assimilates many genres. 8/10

Legion Of The Damned - Poison Chalice (Napalm Records)

Veteran Dutch band Legion Of Damned have unleashed their new album Poison Chalice and it's an assault on the senses where thrash, death and black metal are a potent concoction. Having been known as Occult until 2005 where they became Legion Of The Damned, Poison Chalice is their first album recorded as a five piece, the additional guitars of Fabian Verweij important to making this a nasty record more bloodthirsty than previous ones. The guitar interplay is mind bending, both duelling with one another on every moment of this albums runtime. 

As with all Legion Of The Damned albums they pack plenty of biting riffs, scorched earth vocals and brutal blastbeats, in to keep the pace supersonic. Their fusion of styles has always reminded me of Kreator, who manage to use the same three genres in their own music. Harsh, extreme metal vocals too heavy to be considered straight thrash but too much groove to be black metal. Whipping up their storm with tracks such as Progressive Destructor has dive bombs, furious riffing and several shifts, similar to Slayer if they played faster. Poison Chalice is boiling over with hatred and bile as Behold The Beyond and Savage Intent, gets the thrash contingent going, as they both are old school ragers.

Retaliation and Beheading The Godhead bludgeon you with death as Skulls Adorn The Traitor’s Gate features icy flurries of black metal. Still laying waste to many bands in their wake, Legion Of The Damned will make sure you end this album with whiplash. 8/10

Stellar Circuits – Sight To Sound (Nuclear Blast)

Releasing their debut in 2018 (Ways We Haunt), Winston-Salem, North Carolina progressive metal band Stellar Circuits, have now signed to Nuclear Blast for their sophomore effort Sight To Sound. Recorded by Jamie King (BTBAM) it’s a conceptual offering that deals with the perception of our senses, a musical journey that is supposed to touch all the senses (though at prog shows not smell). The phenomenon of Synaesthesia something they felt they needed to explore with this album. The bands name coming from a theory called 'the eight-circuit model of consciousness', which attempts to understand the processes of the mind by breaking consciousness into 8 parts.

Stellar Circuits are a foursome of Ben Beddick (vocals), Jared Stamey (guitar), Jesse Olsen (bass) and Tyler Menon (drums) and they play modern progressive metal with influences of bands like Deftones, Tool, Periphery, Tesseract and The Contortionist, with technical proficiency, atmospheric ambience and visceral riffs all combined to make Sight To Sound a feast for the senses. The flowing ambience of Catch Your Death evolves into the volatile Witch House, Beddick shifting his vocals scarily between clean crooning and harsh screaming, the backing angular breakdown heavy djentisms. Skull Beneath The Smile is drumming clinic and a lesson in dynamics from Menon as the vocals move into those of Haken as the music takes on an off kilter style, the loud/quiet fluctuations in the music and the vocals, allowing freedom of artistic expression.

Jesse Olsen’s meaty palm muted bass the hook of Pleasure Cruise’s rhythm, the guitars of Jared Stamey are fluid melodic phrases at a counter point to the syrupy tech metal riffs. Sight To Sound is a record that grows on you, many songs like the title track, are instant but you really get hooked after a couple of spins. I’d not encountered Stellar Circuits before but they’d be a perfect addition to a Radar, ArcTanGent or TechFest bill with this excellent second album. 8/10

Front Row Warriors – Wheel Of Fortune (ROAR! Rock Of Angels Records)

Having lived in the country and also having a nerdy obsession with heavy metal history, I tend to be able to pinpoint what countries certain bands are from. Many are difficult to place but German bands…they sound German…especially hard rock bands, they’re always part Scorpions, part Accept, part Doro, especially if they fall into the hard rock category like Front Row Warriors. A lot of this is due to the country’s passion for hard rock and heavy metal, they let themselves go at heavy metal show and the metal/rock music from the 80’s/90’s as the wall fell being the most loved.

Front Row Warriors are a band who are part Scorpions, part Accept, part Doro, chorus driven hard rock to make you raise your fist and yell (perhaps from the front row). It’s so entrenched in the 80’s metal scene you’d expect your speakers to become encased in leather and studs, Hell Invaders having that definite Teutonic chug of Accept, Dystopian Time is more Helloween (and features Riot V singer Todd Michael Hall), Wheel Of Fortune like its namesake, can be hit-and-miss, as each track is influenced by another band or style which is odd but most stay in the 80’s/90’s/AOR bracket. It does however mean that for every rocker there’s a ballad that’s just a little too emotional and saccharine, usually with some duff lyrics, Love Is Not A Game and being an early contender.

These slight misses don’t detract too much from the overall quality of this album. Wheel Of Fortune is a positive debut from this German metal band, that sets them up to take a stage near you by storm. 7/10

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