Every Friday, The Metal Examiner delves metal’s endless depths to present the genre’s most important and exciting albums.
Scale the Summit: “Gallows”[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/06-Gallows.mp3|titles=Scale the Summit, “Gallows”]
For reasons unknown, aspiring metal-leaning instrumental outfits once found themselves stuck with a forced, false choice between ambience and technicality. To get any kind of notice, it was assumed that a band had to either destroy its listeners with audio acrobatics or surrender all such pretense and hope that its atmospherics were heavy enough on their own.
But as metal circles are wont to do, styles eventually overlapped, and as bands figured out that it was okay to employ both (or, in some cases, neither), pyrotechnics developed a working alliance with atmospherics. A new wave of more flexible instrumental outfits was born, and with it came Texas quartet Scale The Summit.
Though its first two releases sounded more like the work of a classical prog-metal band learning to live without a singer, The Collective finds the foursome more at ease with its sound and crafting true instrumental rock, rather than merely writing songs without words. Those previous releases often let the arrangements merely imply melodies with the band’s impeccable musicianship providing the momentum; this third time around, Scale The Summit has adopted an almost jazz-like approach to its songs, with each instrument taking turns in the spotlight as often as the band as a whole plays a musical follow-the-leader.
The key here is that The Collective shows the band not just understanding but fully realizing the potential of letting the lead guitar (or lead bass or, even if briefly, the occasional lead drums) run wild, reining it all in, or simply letting the songs speak for themselves. This is how the multi-part, equally heavy and minimalist quasi-epic “Black Hills” can sit so comfortably alongside the hints of Al DiMeola on “The Levitated” or the majestically layered ocean of delay fueling “Secret Earth.” Scale The Summit could always execute these things, but here it has turned a corner, coming across not just with expertise but true authority.
“Gallows,” in turn, can open with a veritable death march of percussion and end in soaring, near-anthemic guitar lines, and the semi-playful “Emersion” is free to drop everything halfway through in favor of odd-time double bass. As with past releases, the band still isn’t afraid of showing its influences (most clearly in the guitar leads nodding not-so-subtly to the John Petruccis and Allan Holdsworths of the world), but at this point the foursome has clearly figured out how do so in conversation, rather than in awkward tribute.
On The Collective, Scale The Summit (with commendable assistance from Mark Lewis’ production) flexes its chops only where chops are needed and yields when it knows it should, resulting in 45 minutes of prog metal that many other bands, even armed with all the 128th-note runs in the world, couldn’t dream of creating.