Artist: Scale the Summit
Album: The Collective
Genre: Instrumental Rock, Progressive Metal
It's hard not to be excited about 2011. This year is bursting at the seams with new releases. While 2010 was pretty gaunt when it came to releases, 2011 looks like each month is going to have several great albums to talk about. For me the musical year is really starting in March, with at least 5 or 6 releases I'm looking forward to. Scale the Summit's The Collective is the first album of the year that I have been anticipating. So what did I think of this young Texan band's third studio release? Read on...
Carving Desert Canyons was one of my favourite albums of 2009. Much like 2011, 2009 was a year full of great music, and to have such a previously unknown band make such an impression on me was pretty remarkable. Since then, I've kept my eye on the instrumental foursome, and have been eagerly awaiting their 3rd album, The Collective.
The album opens with Colossal, a track not dissimilar to the opening track to Carving Desert Canyons, Bloom. However, while Bloom exploded from the gate, Colossal teases a little before it inserts, letting a slow buildup attract the listeners ear. Sure enough, it breaks out of the gate, and welcomes the listener with 3 minutes of traditional Scale the Summit musicality. The track keeps building on itself, and by the time the second track, Whales, began I was beyond excited.
When Whales was released as the pre-album promo track, I first noticed the improved production quality. The debut album, Monument, was pretty rad, but it was heavily marred by shoddy production. Carving Desert Canyons was a colossal step forward, and they achieved the sound they wanted with that release. The production on The Collective sounds even better, but a bit thicker I would say. The bass is mixed nice and high, and the white noise from the cymbals and the held notes on Chris and Travis' guitars reverberate much longer. The album sounds a bit darker and moodier because of it, which I'm very pleased about. Whales is a great example of this used effectively. The intro is muffled, which lets the string sound creep through the speakers. Whales is one of the longer tracks on the album, and one of the stronger ones as well.
The lighter-sounding Emersion follows suite, and while I was impressed with Pat Skeffington's drumming throughout the whole piece, it felt like a weaker song. Much like past songs Rode in on Horseback and Dunes, Emersion feels like one of the lesser inspired songs. Although, again, great drumming at the end. The 4th track, The Levitated, is one of the cooler sounding songs on The Collective. A great tension-and-release song, The Levitated sounds other-worldly at times, especially the intro, with it's minor crawls down the fretboard. I sense a great deal influence was drawn from Devin Townsend's Ki, whom Scale the Summit toured with in 2009/10. The somewhat forgettable Secret Earth follows. Much like Emersion, this song feels less inspired and less necessary than the rest of the album, and overall it just doesn't go anywhere.
One of the few complaints I had about Monument and Carving Desert Canyons, was the tendency for the songs to drag on longer than they needed to and to have riffs repeat too many times, to the point where it became drone-like at times (see: Dunes). When I saw that The Collective was going to be a longer album, I was concerned that this would be an extra 7 minutes of filler riffage. Instead, Scale the Summit opted to have more short tracks, with only 3 tracks that surpass 4 minutes. This was one of the best decisions they could have made. While there are a few tracks that still feel padded, it allowed for some shorter tracks to be a little more experimental, like The Levitated, and giving each song a more unique voice.
One of the songs that does surpass the 4-minute mark is a song called Gallows. It has the heaviest opening on the album; a surge of tom rolls and heavy scales. Much like The Levitated, this song has great moments of release before it bursts back into a cool lick. Another somewhat heavy track is the shorter song Origin of Species. Jordan's bass line dominates this song, and Pat's drumming really gives the song a great driving force. While there is not much remarkable about it, I found the short length really helped keep the song from overstaying its welcome.
Alpenglow is great example of Scale the Summit using the shorter song lengths to allows for some experimentation. Alpenglow jumps all over the place. At one moment it's playing a quiet guitar piece, and it suddenly bursts into a really dirty riff. Alpenglow was certainly one of the highlights of the album. The album's (and the band's) longest song is Black Hills, clocking in at just under 8 minutes. This song hearkens back to the feel of the songs from Carving Desert Canyons, where the songs were more about taking you on a journey, which The Collective is not as much about. Black Hills, however, has those old repeating riffs, the musical ups and downs, and a real sense of musical wonder as you let your mind wander and imagine incredible landscapes. In particular, at several parts in the song, the music pulls back and almost catches you off guard. Moments like these, I feel, really reward the listener and are the highlight moments of The Collective.
The album caps off with two songs, Balken and Drifting Figures. The first half of Balkan is pretty unremarkable, but halfway through, the band cuts out, and jumps back in with a arpeggio riff that sounds a little bit off. This gives the second half of the song a really cool off-kilter feel, and the band rides this riff to the end. Drifting Figures is the album's closer. The song reminds me of their song Glacial Planet. The guitar tones are lighter, and song is bookended by a serene opening and close, while putting a bit more rock in the center. Its a fantastic song, although I would still argue that Black Hills would have been a more effective way of ending the album.
I feel like a common complaint with Scale the Summit is "their songs all song the same/I can't tell the difference between any of their songs." I suppose this is a fair point, although, I would argue that while their songs may sound similar to one another, they sound nothing like any other band I know, which gives them a very unique sound. I hope The Collective eliminates these complaints because, more than ever, Scale the Summit has given each song a unique voice. Yes, there are some less remarkable tracks on The Collective, but I really feel like the band broadened themselves this time around. Not too much; this is still the same old Scale the Summit doing what they do best. But the shorter song lengths, and greater push for experimentation has made this album less niche than their previous two, and hopefully people will begin to understand that these guys are the real deal.
The Collective is great. It's hard to rank it next to Carving Desert Canyons, though. That album was, and still is such an experience. The Collective lacks some of that feeling. I can't tell at this point which one is the better album. I miss the sense of wonder and the journeys the band took you on with Carving Desert Canyons. However, The Collective is more accessible, the songs all have unique voices, the production is better, the pacing is better, and the band really feels like it's pushing itself now. But, I suppose it doesn't matter all that much. The Collective is an easy recommendation. Don't overlook this one.
Whales - Perfect song to do the pre-release. The atmosphere is this song is killer.
The Levitated - I feel like this song will be overlooked because of it's short length, but this is one of my favourites. The most unique sounding song on the album.
Alpenglow - Lots of layers to Alpenglow. Plently of twists and turns, too.
Black Hills - Best track. Akin to songs from Carving Desert Canyons, but better. This song is unreal. It has it all: brilliant musicianship, an amazing buildup in the middle. I can't describe it. There's so much to love here.
Drifting Figures - A very cool track. The middle rocks out, while the intro and outro chill out. Black Hills should have closed the album, though.
Emersion - Great drumming by Pat Skeffington. The rest of the song lacks a killer idea.
Secret Earth - Nothing noteworthy. An uninspired song in a Scale the Summit album is never a good thing.
Colossal - Not quite the same explosive opening as Bloom was, but a wicked opener nonetheless.
Gallows - Great to see Scale the Summit doing a proper heavy song.
Origin of Species - A great bass/drum line. Having it short was a good call. Any longer, and the song would have been overstaying it's welcome.
Balken - An average first half is saved by a really bizarre and cool-sounding second half.