Latest release: The Unseen Empire (Nuclear Blast)

Swedish melodic death metallers Scar Symmetry are now one of the most popular acts in their field, steadily growing a fan base during the course of a five-album career since forming in 2004. With the impending release of new record The Unseen EmpireLoud spoke to drummer Henrik Ohlsson about the new album, the stability of their lineup, songwriting and any plans to tour Australia.

Q: Previous album Dark Matter Dimensions received almost universally positive reviews – with some writers ranking it among the best records of 2009. In what way(s) do you feel the new album is a step up from the previous one?
A: Oh yeah, there is always a certain progress going on as we travel forward in time. Generally we`ve received good reviews for all of our albums but it is nothing that we take for granted. It`s always very cool to get positive feedback from the media. It was especially nice to receive good reviews for Dark Matter Dimensions since we had gone through a lineup change and we were kind of feeling our way forward with the new situation and everything. With the new album I feel like we`ve found our form again, even though I really liked Dark Matter Dimensions since it`s a good album and monument of where we were at the time. But I do like The Unseen Empire better than the previous one; it is definitely a step up.

Q: The Unseen Empire is a concept record. While I’m sure every interviewer will ask you this, can you elaborate on the concept you incorporated into this album?
A: Sure! This question is by far the easiest one to answer, I`ve been practising a lot already (laughs). The concept seeks to expose the hidden hand of the elite that pull the strings of mankind in order to fulfil their agenda of global domination. The album concept goes from theories of shadow governments to ancient bloodlines and even further into speculations of malevolent influence from metaphysical reptilian-based intelligences. I kind of blend facts with speculations on the album, going from things like globalization and power-crazed corporations to abstract unearthly beings that influence certain types of personalities here on earth.

Q: Was there a line of thinking that after five albums, the band was ready to tackle such a complex project?
A: I think we`ve done similar things before, like concept albums and stuff like that – I`ve written about the Illuminati and the New World Order before. I just did it in a more obscure and hidden way. On this album it`s more up front and in your face. I also focused more on the people who rule this time rather than on the manipulated masses as was the case on (2006’s) Pitch Black Progress and (2008’s) Holographic Universe, for example.

Q: The new album expands on some of the themes explored on Dark Matter Dimensions. Was that always the intention, or something that occurred naturally?
A: It was a natural thing. We`re always floating around these subjects lyrically, it`s just the perspective that changes and I also find new discoveries within these specific areas from album to album. I was surprised to see that some people think that this is the first time we go into the subject of the Illuminati, etc, which is not the case. Some people told me that they think that this is something completely different lyrically than what we`ve done before but that is just not true. We`re still exploring the same worlds because there is a lot to find there and it`s very relevant and inspiring. What can be more important than human enlightenment anyway?

Q: Interesting. Given the musical and conceptual breadth of the new record, did the songwriting process differ at all when creating The Unseen Empire compared to previous albums?
A: We worked in the same manner as always but we were more spontaneous than before since we had a rough deadline to keep (to). We went on tour in the States when we were supposed to record the album and that made it impossible to over-analyse the material since we didn`t have time to do so. Once we entered the studio we just went with it and didn`t get all anal about it, which was a good thing if you ask me. So basically Jonas (Kjellgren) and Per (Nilsson), the guitarists, wrote the songs and arranged the vocals while I wrote the lyrics.

Q: Scar Symmetry are also one of extreme metal’s most prolific outfits in terms of recorded output. Have you grown comfortable with the “record-tour-short break-record again” cycle? Is this a work ethic that has been instilled within the entire band?
A: This, too, is a natural process for us. Every time we record an album we are all eager to do it, every time we enter the studio it feels like it is time to do so. I know that from an outside perspective it seems like we`re working in an extremely intense manner but to us it`s just natural to do it this way. When we`re not doing anything creative with the band it feels like we`re wasting time and since we`re pretty effective when it comes to writing material it doesn`t take more than two-three weeks to write songs for an entire album. The rest of the time we`re out playing shows or working with the band in some way. When we have time off we`re basically gathering inspiration and energy to play music and write new material.

Q: This is also your second album following the departure of former vocalist Christian Älvestam. Do you feel the band’s new lineup has been fully embraced now? Or do you still encounter a lot of fans who feel Scar Symmetry hasn’t quite been the same since he left the band?
A: When we`re out playing shows and meet fans it feels like the new lineup has been completely accepted and embraced. But when you read all the bullshit on the Internet you clearly see that some people waste a lot of energy expressing their nostalgia over the previous lineup. They weren`t there and they don`t even seem to realize that the band wouldn`t be here if we would have continued with that lineup. But they`re entitled to their opinions and we can`t do much about it except ignore it and focus on the now. Overall it`s nice to see that a lot of people still appreciate our music and it feels like we`re solidifying our status with this new album.

Q: What are the band’s touring plans for this record?
A: We just started working with a Swedish management that has booked us for a number of festivals and events here in Europe. We`ll be busy taking care of that during the summer and in the autumn we`ll do a European tour followed by a tour in the States and possibly some shows in South America.

Q: Have you road-tested any of the new songs live yet?
A: No, we haven`t played any of the songs from the new album live yet. We wanted to support Dark Matter Dimensions up until the new album was released and that`s what we`ve done. The next show we do, however, will feature a lot of the new songs. We`ll try the new material out on our release-party here in Sweden in April, (we’re) really excited by that. We`ve been playing basically the same songs live since late 2009 so it`ll be good to revitalize the setlist with some new tunes.

Q: Indeed. The band’s Australian fan base wants to know – will Scar Symmetry be making its first trek Down Under during this album’s touring cycle?
A: We`ve been on our way there a couple of times before but in the end the plans got scrapped for one reason or another. (It was) totally out of our hands of course because we want to play in Australia for sure. Whether we`ll be able to play there during this touring cycle…hard to answer. It depends on the opportunities we get, it`s more up to those who book the shows for us.

Q: On a more personal note, what new releases are you enjoying at the moment?
A: I mostly listen to older stuff but I liked Dimmu Borgir`s latest release Abrahadabra, it almost sounds like Scar Symmetry at times, and also Iron Maiden’s The Final Frontier. I look forward to the new releases by Morbid Angel, since David Vincent is back in the band, and KISS, who made a solid rock album last time around in Sonic Boom.

Q: Final question – any famous last words?
A: Well, I hope we`ll be able to play in Australia at one point or another so that we can meet the awesome Australian fans. In the meantime I hope you`ll like the new album, you can always check our MySpace/Facebook sites to get the latest info. See ya!