Scale The Summit’s latest release, The Collective, is eleven tracks of instrumental rock which pretty much dares you to try and fit it to a genre you’ve heard of. For the most part, each track delivers its own compact blend of metal and math rock, seasoned with a post-rock aesthetic. The songs are always changing, shifting between ideas and themes, tempos and time signatures. One element contributing to their unique sound is the quartet’s incorporation of seven and eight string guitars into the instrumentation. It may be hard to identify at first, but it may explain why some of the chord voicing sounds fuller.
Each track is tight and interesting in its own way, but there’s a lot to take in on this album and by the halfway point I feel kind of burned out on their sound. It doesn’t feel like there’s much rhyme or reason behind the order of songs on the album; there doesn’t seem to be a wave they’re riding or a mood they’re trying to create. The Collective has been described by others as “symphonic,” but I’d say that descriptor applies more to individual tracks than to the album as a whole. In multiple sittings, it’s quite enjoyable, but if you try to take it all at once, it’s a pretty tough pill to swallow.
The guitar tones are bright, and despite the lack of lyrics, I’m tempted to describe a lot of these songs as ballads, for how melodic they can be. Most of the time, their sound could be vaguely characterized as sounding like a cross between Joe Satriani and Minus the Bear. But while there are tons of riffs, it lacks groove. Eight-tenths of The Collective is a guitar stroke-fest, but the bass refuses to let itself be left out. It’s just as much a part of the arrangement as the leads, at times taking on that role as well.
One of the most interesting things is how it begins so slow and ends so abruptly. “Colossal,” the first track, is a slow rocker, starting off low and distant and building to a sound which is exactly what its name describes: colossal. It begins by creating a thick, heavy atmosphere. Halfway through, the clouds part (so to speak), and we are introduced to some of the bright guitar tones which we will become more familiar with as the album progresses. In contrast, “Drifting Figures,” the album closer, rocks right up until the last second letting a sustained chord voicing be its soft kiss goodbye.
Most of the tracks stand up fine on their own, but a few of the tracks feel like they’re there to support something else, something unseen, like the soundtrack to a film that isn’t playing. “Whales” is like this. It’s interesting and dynamic, but it sounds as if the song is being driven by some external force. Some of the guitar work on “Whales” is a little too much, too over the top, mostly into the fourth minute. When there are too many notes, I tend to stop listening. To me this feels like a throw away track, like a bunch of leftover ideas got condensed into one long(er) jam and it doesn’t quite come off right. This is immediately followed by “Emersion,” which is as tight as they come. A strong lead riff and percussion which is alternately aggressive and restrained make this short track (“Emersion”) even sweeter.
“The Levitated” gets the gold star for this album. The sound they achieve by utilizing hammer-ons, pull-offs, sliding into notes and fret tapping is one that I enjoy very much. This one’s the pick of the litter. Similar compliments could be given to “Gallows.” Also “Drifting Figures.”
The Collective is a fun listen, and there are certainly gems worth returning to (specifically, “The Levitated”), but after a few listens, say maybe three or four, you may feel yourself getting bored with soaring guitar lick after soaring guitar lick. But it’s not good to take too much of anything in one sitting. It just means that “The Collective” is a stronger, more concentrated tonic. Give it a rest, shelve it for a while, come back to it in a month, or a year, and I predict it’ll still hold up.
Key Tracks: The Levitated, Gallows, Origin of Species
February 12, 2012