Scale The Summit, Carving Desert Canyons
With Carving Desert Canyons, Scale The Summit does something few other instro-metal bands have been able to do, at least for me — they’ve taken the long-reviled guitar-shredder motif, stripped it of all the jaded, post-ironic hipsterness, set it on fire, and aimed the burning ship straight at the heart of the sun. And that’s a good thing from where I sit, because these days honest-to-God guitar heroics-for-heroics’-sake have become nearly an auditory gag, a trick in a band’s repertoire that allows them to sit back and smirk while saying, “see, I can do this; I just choose not to ’cause I’m too cool.”
Hell, even in the heyday of guitar instrumentalism, when guitar-tab rags outnumbered hip-hop magazines and kids dreamed of being the next Nuno Bettencourt, there was a weird fakery to it all. The guitar gods of yore weren’t doing it for The Rock, despite what they’d have had you believe, but for all the blow and chicks that came with it. And they were shticky, too, with everybody trying to one-up one another, to come up with the next great guitar virtuoso trick that’d send the kids running back to their bedrooms to spend hours trying to figure out how the hell that guy did that.
Scale The Summit, though, they don’t fall into that trap — there’s no misplaced, over-the-top gimmickry going on here, but rather careful, meticulously thought-out and choreographed compositions that just happen to use guitars to do what the band wants to do. These aren’t songs; they’re orchestral set-pieces, as gorgeous and weighty and masterful as a symphony doing its thing. There’s a serenely calm, almost smiling vibe to the whole thing, where you can practically picture the band members on stage just weaving in and out of one another, layering guitar line upon guitar line. At the same time, the fervor with which the four guys in Scale The Summit attack their instruments makes it clear that they are in this for The Rock, whether or not it takes them anywhere.
As the album’s title implies, of course, this is considerably heavier than most symphonies you’re likely to hear, and that’s “heavy” in terms of plate tectonics; the guitars simultaneously grind and soar, sounding more like the soundtrack to natural upheavals than, say, star-crossed lovers or Vikings fighting hordes of zombies or something. Listening to tracks like “Age of the Tide,” with its soaring, touch-the-sky, Satriani riffs, or album high point “The Great Plains,” with its fucking brilliant pre-break motif and heavily prog-rock bass, makes me feel like I’m sitting in an IMAX theater somewhere, watching on a 6-story high screen as some time-lapsed glacier roars silently down a moraine. It’s utterly epic, but in a grandeur-of-nature sort of way.
Obviously, these guys owe a fair amount to modern instro-rock contemporaries like Pelican, The Fucking Champs, or Red Sparowes, but they grab tight to that torch and turn it incandescent, to the extent where if you gave me the choice of listening to only one of the three aforementioned bands or Scale The Summit ever again, I’d pick STS in a heartbeat. When you dig beneath the crust of thundering, Mastodon-heavy guitar rhythms, too, there’s a heavy prog-metal influence going on, with bright shards of Dream Theater or Fates Warning peeking out.
And yep, there’s also a lot of insanely nimble, nearly jazz-y Steve Vai-/Eric Johnson-esque guitar-god acrobatics, enough to launch a whole new generation of guitar magazines. The band brings to mind Johnson’s Ah Via Musicom, in particular, with their crazy “keyboard-or-guitar?” tone; as with Johnson, the guitars start to seem less like actual instruments and more like some kind of weird, beautiful, otherworldly sounds. Put it all together, and it’s majestic and crushing at once, perfectly envisioned and pulled off like it was crafted by a bunch of guitar-wielding savants. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard an instrumental guitar album — of any era — this start-to-finish fucking mind-blowingly cool.