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04. The Levitated
05. Secret Earth
07. Origin of Species
09. Black Hills
11. Drifing Figures
On Texas-based Scale the Summit's last release, Carving Desert Canyons, points of metallic shred thrust themselves up from a big chromatic Earth. Snares and toms were thwacked and nary was there a moment when the shredding did cease. And while seldom was a true heaviness found, the band railed through its virtuosic numbers and sometimes touched on progressive passages that one could have plucked from Between the Buried and Me's Alaska rather than straight from the Dream Theater catalog. Now, in The Collective, the band returns with a similar, sparsely down-tempo opus. They've strayed from their terraforming song titles to a collection that seem, at least at the level of nomenclature, uncollected --despite being, well, from The Collective.
It's difficult to fault Scale the Summit's talent or sheer bravado. They espouse an expectable confidence everywhere in their musicianship. At no point have they lost, after several releases, the ability to breeze through long windy passages of wholly snakelike, textbook progressive rock veering sometimes toward metal. Seemingly unattached guitar passages blend into harmonized passages that erupt and modulate over bridges where very clean walls of drum work dramatize every moment. Technically, it's a wonderful thing. There are epic moments in every song. But for a purist, for one interested in depth over technicality, this is the wrong place to be.
The Collective should begin as it does, where "Colossal" comes up from ambiance, rearing like Mastodon and simply trudging. Yet after a minute and once the palm-muting starts, a tonic bass passage runs into a soaring part of the high harmony -- and we're back where we were a few years ago. Scale the Summit are taking us for an endless forty minute ride. Okay, we can buy into that, right? We think: Some of this wizardry has got to stop repeating itself at some point. But it goes on repeating for some time. This wouldn't be a problem if it were all for a purpose.
If The Collective began with an opener like "Colossal" and it led into a second movement where a coda might emerge, where some semblance of cohesion (other than endless tasteful riffing) existed, there would be a real journey at hand. The album instead considers each of its songs to be self-contained movement. A liquid pace is kept through each section, and the right amount of dynamic tension keeps it all from flooding out of control. Somewhere toward the middle, at the start of "Gallows," the band heats up and we reach a shifting core. They march hard, tapping double-bass pedals. It's as if we're moving into a story. What sort of story? One cannot tell. Later, in "Alpenglow" their energy affects their mood and the band becomes introspective, returning to a kind of angst.
By the time we reach the end of The Collective in "Drifting Figures" we've figured out that this album is definitely not a journey but a very safe place where one can hear a band play anything pretty and complicated or slightly difficult and angry but truly ireful. We learn that this is all just for kicks, because there's no message and no purpose to serve. It's an instrumental album, and we get that already, but we know that instrumental albums have every story-telling ability that lyrical albums have.
Bottom Line: Past all of their scalar ventures, right now, there is no ingenuity in Scale the Summit's technical prowess -- only interesting and sometimes palpable moments of experts rocking out in their safe place. It isn't a place to run toward, The Collective; but it's certainly not one to fear.