Scale The Summit, The Collective
Listening to Scale The Summit’s latest full-length, The Collective, is less like hearing a band play, honestly, and more like watching some insanely-skilled team of weavers create a tapestry out of laser beams or quantum strings or something. The twin guitars shift in and out, dancing ’round one another without ever quite touching (I mean, c’mon — you can’t cross the streams, after all, or bad things happen), while the rhythm section rumbles and rolls around beneath them. It’s intricate, it’s brainy, it’s (sometimes, anyway) heartstring-tuggingly beautiful, and most of all, it’s utterly mesmerizing.
It helps, of course, that the four guys who make up Scale The Summit are insanely talented musicians, every single one of ’em. Listening to The Collective, my jaw drops anew with every twist and turn the band takes, shifting effortlessly from crunching, stomping, Mastodon-ian metal to Joe Satriani-esque melody to Mahavishnu Orchestra-like jazz-prog.
I honestly have no idea how guitarists Chris Letchford and Travis LeVrier freaking make some of those sounds; just hearing them play, I’m left reeling, feeling like a guitar newbie once again reading Guitar Player for the first time.
I’ll admit that I was a little bit nervous going in, especially since I loved (and still love) 2009’s Carving Desert Canyons so damn much; I figured hitting that same bar a second time would be a difficult thing to pull off. And when I first heard The Collective, well, I felt a little underwhelmed. At first blush, it seemed far less metal that Canyons, diving much deeper into the jazzier, more prog-rock end of the pool, and I was somewhat disappointed.
After a few more listens, however, the album’s really unfolded in ways I wasn’t expecting, and now I can’t stop listening. Sure, it’s not quite as metallic as the band’s earlier stuff, but that heaviness is still there — it’s just used sparingly, only where it’s really, truly necessary to create some thoughtful, complex, sublimely-crafted instro-metal.
The amazing thing, though, is the way the Scale The Summit guys are able to mesh the two sides of their collective musical personality: the noodlier, twistier, more skull-bending lines that sound like the product of some madman jazzbo collaboration and the simultaneously heavy and melodic, aim-for-the-sky riffage. Take “Alpenglow,” for instance, where the band swings between noodly, intensely prog-like passages and more epic, echoing-off-the-mountaintops guitar melodies (okay, some of that’s definitely stemming from the song title, but still) without missing a step. They manage to integrate those disparate sounds so perfectly that they flow naturally from one to the other.
The best tracks on The Collective, in fact, are the ones that do the most shifting. My favorite is “Whales,” which starts off low-key and contemplative, but then the back-and-forth buzzsawing guitars come in, and the whole thing jumps upwards into the stratosphere (er, down into the ocean depths?).
Even in the middle of its most meditative passages, though, the track’s pretty awe-inspiring; I haven’t heard guitar melodies this crystalline and gorgeous since, say, Joe Satriani’s Flying In A Blue Dream. And I could listen to those aforementioned back-and-forth guitars all damn afternoon. I mean, I knew whales were badass, but who knew they were this cool?
Now, at 6:30, the song is actually the second-longest track on here, but it doesn’t feel like it — it feels less like one guitar-heavy song and more like a bona-fide series of “movements” that work into one another. “Black Hills,” the longest track (at 8:01), goes a similar route, starting off like a sharp-edged chunk of emo-melodic post-rock at first — until the guitar line comes in at the spot where some ironic t-shirt-wearing guy would normally start singing. It’s easily one of the most dramatic, dynamic compositions on the album.
Not that the rest of ’em are bad, mind you — far from it. Opener “Colossal” is nicely epic and thundering but still surprisingly thoughtful and delicate when necessary, with a cool break bit that reminds me of an instrumental version of Priestess’s “Murphy’s Law,” while “Emersion” and “Gallows” are more ferocious than most of the rest, with the former bright like a sun suddenly gone nova and the latter galloping along at a breakneck pace for a good long while.
“Secret Earth” is crunching and deliberate, yet gorgeously melodic at the same time, and “Drifting Figures” is appropriately gentle and wispy, but I find myself coming back more often to “The Levitated,” probably the highlight of the album for me after “Whales.” The song rides an awesomely mysterious, tick-tock-ing guitar line that keeps things tense and furtive all at once and makes me think of some sci-fi-tinged TV detective show, like Fringe or The X-Files, where the main characters have to carefully unravel some deeply-buried mystery before time runs out.
Then, towards the end of the album, there’s “Balkan”… I’ll grant that it’s been a very long time since I cracked open an issue of Guitar Player, and I was never real clear on what the different “exotic” scales actually sounded like even when I was learning how to play guitar, but whatever mode they’re using, “Balkan” is appropriately Eastern European-sounding, more like a System Of A Down instrumental interlude than anything else. The only bad thing about it is that it’s gone too soon — it feels like it’s building towards something, but then…poof, it’s gone.
I never thought I’d say it, but I want more of these long “songs” from the Scale The Summit crew; the shorter ones are great, but they sometimes feel like they never fully materialize. Going the long-form route allows the band to really, truly capitalize on what they do best, which is these alternately crunchy, melodic, and proggy little movements within each separate song, movements that they stitch together to form little mini-soundtracks for some movie you’re never, ever going to see. As I said back at the beginning, it’s witnessing the way these guys weave everything in that’s the best part.