Review Summary: If "lush" were a genre, Scale the Summit would be its frontrunner.
I heard Scale the Summit’s music described as “adventure metal” the other day, and it-- despite being a pretty ridiculous phrase-- actually does make a bit of sense. The band has always set its goals high each record, and charted where exactly it wanted the journey to both begin and end. This is why each of the band's albums has begun as confidently as its conclusion, and also explains the insurgence of Scale the Summit fans in the last few years. After all, each style of music the group traverses has much to do with this idea of adventure. Metal is a journey into dynamics, rhythms and grooves; progressive is a voyage into irregular song structures and instrumental experimentation; jazz itself is an excursion into arranging particular combinations of notes in innovative ways. So upon looking at Scale the Summit in this manner, it’s no surprise the group has emerged from the instrumental progressive metal scene as the frontrunner lately-- it simply has all the right cards in its hand.
Contrary to the title of the group’s most recent release, The Migration
isn’t much of a deviation from what fans are expecting. Don’t get me wrong-- there are quite a few things here that Scale the Summit does differently-- but ultimately, it’s fairly obvious this is from the same band that made The Collective
. The album artwork tells a different story upon first glance, one consisting of the fact that all the other albums have focused on barren landscapes, but the lush hills of The Migration
’s cover are a more accurate depiction of what Scale the Summit accomplishes with its music.
The core of this album is its acute sense of melodic atmosphere. This particular style has been amped up tenfold from its emergence on The Collective
, even serving as the main focus of the album over the guitar riffs. What a pleasing change, too-- we now have multiple tracks that pick up where songs like “Black Hills” left off, like “The Olive Tree.” And I can’t say enough great things about “The Olive Tree”-- it’s a success because of how simple it is, from its straight-forward structure to the basic chord structure. Yet the layers are there, and they always add the sense of depth Scale the Summit’s music has always possessed. When Chris Letchford’s insane
guitar lead comes into the song’s true intro and adds a distinct edge to the song, it’s clear Scale the Summit knows exactly what it’s doing. The group plays simple in the most complex way, and creates catchy summer jams by meticulously planning out instrumental parts. And in this paradoxical way, all of The Migration
’s greatest moments showcase a band at the top of its game, quelling the anxiety fans possessed during the record’s inception.
One of the most thrilling aspects of this release is how each musician brings so much to the table without stealing the spotlight. Although each band member possesses a breadth of technical skill, it’s always for the song’s sake. See “Narrow Salient,’ a documented and carefully mapped out jam session where the entire group interlocks for a steady line of notes. The drummer focuses on bass and snare drum, the guitarist and bassist deftly move at the same pace, and we're reminded that Scale the Summit is still capable of absolutely shredding when necessary. Most of the time it isn’t, though, and that’s alright. Most of the album is spacious, and this gives each member the ability to flex his muscles when the song calls for it. The songs are also much more emotionally versatile than the group’s previous outings-- “Willows” plays off as the moody stepson of The Collective
’s “The Levitated,” while “The Traveler” is the most carefree track the band’s written yet. There’s a palette of emotion here, making the experience much more lasting.
And by the time “The Traveler” closes out, it all makes sense again. After all this time of Scale the Summit writing intimate, but disconnected, music about nature and what to make of it, the group decides to direct its music towards a different angle: that of the listener. Throughout the entirety of The Migration, Scale the Summit is carving this particular journey selflessly, giving back to the fans that have supported them and propelled them to the brink of success in the otherwise dwindling instrumental progressive scene. The group’s having a hell of a time doing what they do, and this much is clear on The Migration
. But never has Scale the Summit documented such a meaningful adventure for us, and we fans wouldn’t have it any other way.