Company: Prosthetic Records Release: 2009 Genre: Heavy Reviewer: Etiam
More a clinic than an adventure
If one thing can be said about Scale the Summit, let it be that they are exceptionally focused. After self-releasing a debut album in 2007, they signed to the launch-pad label Prosthetic Records, delivered a sophomore record entitled 'Carving Desert Canyons' in '09, and are poised to unleash a third. On this second record, across eight instrumental tracks their adherence to the script is relentless: triple-meter arpeggiations in the ballpark of 160 bpm; an immeasurable array of succinct riffs that (appropriately) scale upwards and repeat constantly; enough legato and sweep patterns to fill a textbook; riffs of a chugging 7th (or 8th) strings punctuated by a single treble note; and an overwhelming predilection for the major modes.
In theory this is all very good, and substantial passages on 'Carving Desert Canyons' are really quite compelling. The single 'The Great Plains' has a stirring, slippery theme (perhaps the album's epoch), though the finale of 'Age of the Tide' is stiff competition, and the coda to 'Sargossa Sea' hits a powerful, brooding stride. But where are the songs? With few exceptions, these forty minutes pass so seamlessly along that a wholesale flip-flop of the track listing would be practically unnoticeable. Unfortunately, those memorable passages are bracketed by, "sound and fury. Signifying nothing," and are more the exceptions in Scale the Summit's style than the rule. The rest of the time, Scale the Summit are too busy playing variations on their themes and reveling in polyphany.
Though the production is crisp, the bass guitar lacks punch and the mix overall is too compressed. This robs it of momentum and dynamics (which were supposed to be this album's major improvement over the debut 'Monument'). This imbalance is made particularly clear when the bass does poke out, mostly in its upper register while noodling along with the guitars. A more driving, fundamental presence would have helped give these songs more direction.
The band, or perhaps their press corps, is also too aggressive in selling their independence from the rest of the metal scene. It's true that their style is unusual, but not unique. 'Carving Desert Canyons' is constantly reminiscent of Cynic, Between the Buried and Me (during their happy denouements, in tone as well as composition), Intronaut, Animals as Leaders, and even genre outliers Guthrie Govan and Don Caballero. The list is a long one, and is growing longer as music colleges continue to churn out virtuosic young theorists.
Scale the Summit would still not struggle to distinguish themselves from the masses if they simply had more to say with all their chops. As matters stand, 'Carving Desert Canyons' is more a clinic than the "adventure" cited by the band. They were searching to invoke the mountainous plateaus of the Southwest, yet ultimately fall into the tedium of a trek across flat Nebraska's I-80. The members of this quartet have an enviable wealth of talent in their fingers and at a young age have proven themselves to be committed. But no amount of woodshedding can be substituted for inspired writing. Sometimes, we just have to wait for it.
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