Most of the time, when I hear about a Houston band that’s got some promise or already sounds pretty cool, it starts small. I’ll hear a song or two online somewhere, or see their set at a festival or something, and maybe they’ll have a handmade CDR I can snag, and it’ll build from there as they get better and find their footing.
With H-town-based instro-metallers Scale The Summit, however, it didn’t work like that. I’d never even heard of the band ’til up-and-coming metal label Prosthetic Records sent SCR a copy of the band’s second full-length, Carving Desert Canyons. It was as if they’d appeared, fully-formed, out of nowhere, a nimble-fingered prog-metal Athena climbing out of a crack in, say, John Petrucci’s skull.
Of course, they didn’t really appear out of nowhere — they’d been around since 2004 or so, apparently, but hadn’t really meshed with the usual “scene” crowd, instead forging out on their own. At this point, seven years on, I think they’ve played far more shows outside of Houston than they have within the city limits, and that’s a rare thing to be able to say about a band from here. They put out a self-titled debut (which I have yet to hear, sadly) on their own in 2007, and on the strength of that were signed by Prosthetic.
Their 2009 Prosthetic debut, Carving Desert Canyons, pretty much sealed the deal, and before long the youngsters were being written up in big-ass metal mags and — possibly more crucially — in guitar mags, to boot. Which, if you’ve heard ’em play, should come as no surprise, since in a lot of ways these guys are throwbacks to the fast-fingered shredders that were popular back when I was a kid. These guys are fucking incredible, seriously.
They play their instruments (guitars and drums alike, actually) like freaking wizards, effortlessly ripping through fiery metallic passages and more subtle, delicate, jazzy parts with equal ease. Scale The Summit are definitely an instro-metal band, to be sure, but they drift far further into the jazz/prog side of the spectrum than, say, Pelican or Red Sparowes ever do, and that makes their sound fairly unique, these days. Plus, I can’t get over that weirdly chunky/”round” sound Chris Letchford and Travis LeVrier pull from their guitars — it’s like the signature riff from Eric Johnson’s “Cliffs of Dover,” only as it might be played by thoughtful, gently-smiling giants.
And despite the sheer skill displayed, the guys in the band never fall into that trap that earlier generations of guitar heroes seemed to hit all the time (looking at you, Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen), where they let the gimmicks overwhelm the music. On Canyons and their 2011 followup, The Collective, the members of STS definitely show they can do just about anything, but they also show they know how to use that skill to evoke something beyond, “whoa, that’s a neat trick.”
I swear, every time I hear “The Great Plains” or “Whales,” I feel like I’m flying over the ground, witnessing some epic piece of Earth’s majesty from above; the music has that expansive, massive sense of wonder to it. Hell, it’d probably make a perfect soundtrack to the next one of those Planet Earth/LIFE shows, rumbling and roaring as a thousand-strong herd of wildebeest charge across the Zambezi (or, um, something).
- Scale The Summit, The Migration
- WE LIKE THINGS 2011: A ridiculously-late look at what was cool last year.
- Animals as Leaders, Weightless
- Junius, Reports From the Threshold of Death
- Yr. Weekend, Pt. 1: Scale The Summit + Quiet Company + Buxton + Art Institute + The Shadow + Liberty Fest + More
- The Wild Moccasins
- The Literary Greats
- Muhammad Ali
- Scale The Summit, The Collective
- Tonight: Canned Acoustica II + Linkin Park + The Walkmen + Jucifer + Fair To Midland Rescheduled + More
- Antagonist, World In Decline
- Dew-Scented, Invocation
- Holy Grail, Crisis In Utopia
- Get Ghoulish, This Weekend: Houston’s Newest Music Festival Kicks Off