Scale The Summit, The Migration
Frankly, reviewing The Migration, the new album from Houston-based instro-metal shredders Scale The Summit, has prove to be a little trickier than I’d thought, primarily because the album’s not so much a collection of “songs” as it is an interconnected suite of complex movements, each one having its own little bits and pieces within that move and evolve and explode all on their own.
Not that that’s bad, obviously — it’s awesome, actually, and it blows my mind to watch it all unfold. It’s like seeing the most virtuosic, tightly-integrated orchestra you can imagine, playing an hour-long that shifts and changes while you watch, with the instruments all playing perfectly in unison or against one another, switching places as they go. Except, of course, that in this case the members of the orchestra are playing guitars and drums through amps crackling with metal fury and speakers the size of mountains.
But that orchestral-suite nature makes it hard to say, “oh, Song X is awesome, and so is Song Y, but Song W isn’t that great because blah.” The songs are pieces of the overall whole, and while some pieces may not make my jaw drop quite as much as others (“Sabrosa,” in particular, kind of blows past me without making much of an impact), it all fits together in a very specific, very intentional way — or what sounds like an intentional way, at least. Viewing a specific song as its own beast feels a little wrong, somehow.
The album’s title makes wonderful, perfect sense to me, by the way, because on a certain level, every single Scale The Summit album I’ve heard so far, from 2009’s Carving Desert Canyons through 2011’s The Collective to this newest release, has had an epic, wide-scope, planet-sized feel, like watching one of those slow-motion HD documentary series on the Discovery Channel, like Planet Earth or Life.
You’re watching something truly grand happen, something that maybe you don’t even realize is going on all around you. It’s ecosystem-scale instrumental music, and the image of a massive migration of animals/insects/lifeforms across the landscape is absolutely dead-on.
Now, despite me saying that looking at the tracks on The Migration on their own merits feels wrong, well, I will admit that there are some definite high points. Opening track “Odyssey” comes thundering in without preamble with an awesome burst of jaw-dropping, juddering instro-metal, and it serves the guys in Scale The Summit well as a signifier that something monumental’s about to happen.
Even then, naturally, it downshifts into a more atmospheric mode briefly before those heavy guitars come crashing in, and then returns to that quieter sound towards the end; each track is like its own mini-symphony, with different movements and changes and crescendoes. That’s kind of what I meant about each “song” having its own coherent structure, where there are movements within the overall track.
In fact, that motion is possibly the most impressive thing about this band: they’re always, always moving; the music is constantly shifting, never staying in one place for long before moving on to the next motif or dynamic shift, which puts them somewhat at odds with a lot of the more post-rock bands to which they could be compared, like Tortoise.
Other high points include “The Olive Tree,” which is loud, almost-“heroic”-sounding, grimly triumphant at points — while this song plays, you can picture some brawny warrior scaling a forbidding crag with his bare hands — and quiet little track “Oracle,” which is built entirely of delicately-picked harmonics and which reminds me of spacerock instrumentalists Co-Pilot more than anything else.
Then there’s “Atlas Novus,” where the band’s guitarists, Chris Letchford and Travis LeVrier, produce these fluid, watery tones that are wavering and thoughtful and sublime and always seemingly in flux, if that makes any sense. These guys somehow manage to make guitars sound not like guitars, but like the sounds made by some infernal computer that can produce notes and tones faster than your ears and brain can truly comprehend them.
The latter track is probably my favorite moment on The Migration, nearing the grandiose majesty of “Whales,” from previous album The Collective, but it’s got close competition with closing track “The Traveler,” which begins slow and not all that promising but moves into these gorgeous, rain-like, cascading notes before it transmutes into crushing, stomping metal. “Narrow Salient,” all fiery and thundering, comes close, too, especially when it speeds up into its blurred-pick, double-bass crescendo. Holy crap, y’all.
By the time The Migration rolls to a close, you feel exhausted, worn-out from the eponymous trek you’ve just been pulled along on, but at the same time, you’re grateful for the journey, still savoring the sounds and the sense of awe and majesty of it all. And hey, the thing about migrations is that they never truly end; you just keep on moving in a new direction.