Metal-core must be a harsh mistress; otherwise, you'd think that more bands in the genre would at least try to inject a shred of originality or imagination into their music. If Orange County's Scars of Tomorrow don't necessarily succeed in escaping from the thud-chunk-growl straitjacket, at least they try -- and end up standing hairdo and shoulders above most of their contemporaries. Led by the clearly tortured soul of singer Mike Milford -- who, to his credit, isn't above swiping a line or two from Black Flag -- the quintet ties the raw meat of its riffs together with atmospheric washes and echoing interludes that hint at melody without ever curdling into cheese. The group has enlisted Isis/Mastodon producer (and Minus the Bear member) Matt Bayles to oversee its fourth and latest disc, The Horror of Realization, and the effect is heavy, progressive and anthemic. Earth-shattering? No. Ear-shattering? Yes -- but not without a restless spirit and experimental bent that might just save the Scars from the metal-core scrap heap.