Album Reviews, Music

Album Review: Scale the Summit – The Migration

Artist: Scale the Summit
Album: The Migration
Label: Prosthetic Records
Release Date: June 11, 2013

By Jack Evans

Most people who know me well know that North Carolina prog-metal outfit Between the Buried and Me has been near the top of my “favorite bands” list for the last couple of years. When I first saw them live in 2010, though, I knew hardly anything about them, having only heard a few songs from Colors, Alaska, and the album they were touring on, The Great Misdirect. I wasn’t too familiar with their supporting acts, Cynic and Devin Townsend, either, but I’d yet to hear even a note of music by Texas instrumentalists Scale the Summit; all I’d heard was that they “kind of sound like BTBAM’s soft parts.” What I found was a young band that stunned me with their virtuosic musicianship and soaring melodies.

During that tour, Scale the Summit was still riding the career-building but rather niche wave that came with the release of their second full-length, 2009’s gorgeous Carving Desert Canyons. That album still holds a good chunk of the band’s most memorable moments, but The Migration is a step up from it and 2011’s The Collective in many ways. It’s an album of mosts, firsts, and bests for STS: most immediately noticeable is the fact that The Migration is the best-sounding of their four albums, largely in part because it’s their first album with producer Jamie King (BTBAM, The Human Abstract, He Is Legend) at the helm. The guitars are crisper, the drums flow more naturally, and the bass is more prominent than ever before – all of which play part in making this the heaviest album that Scale the Summit has ever released. It’s also the first album to feature former Tetrafusion bassist Mark Michell, who commands the low end on the heaviest tracks (“Evergreen,” “The Dark Horse”) and steals the show with an impressive solo and furious riffing on “Narrow Salient.”

More importantly, though, Scale the Summit have grown substantially as songwriters, and The Migration features the most expanded and varied writing of their career. Chris Letchford and Travis LeVrier’s incredible guitar playing has been front-and-center on all of their releases, but they’ve never fused with each other quite as beautifully as they do on the melodic “Atlas Novus” or traded as many great riffs as on “Odyssey.” But while Scale the Summit have always been a “guitar band,” The Migration is the first release where the members sound so constantly in-sync that it’s easier to hear all the way through as a whole body of music than as two guitars simply dealing licks atop a formidable rhythm section.

The greatest strides made on The Migration come in the variety that the band displays. They’ve shifted from writing almost strictly soaring, major key songs to branching out enough to become undeniably interesting for an entire record. They hinted at the use of intensified heaviness and atmospheric effects on The Collective songs like “Gallows” and “Whales,” respectively, but those things are brought out full force here, as there’s plenty on The Migration that would be out of place on any other Scale the Summit album. “The Dark Horse” makes unprecedented (for them) use of dissonance; “Sabrosa” is built off an open minor chord progression; closer “The Traveler” starts with a sunny riff that sounds like it’s flowing from a crackling 1920’s radio; and airy effects fit into “Odyssey” and temper the interlude “Willow.”

As a result of all this, The Migration isn’t Scale the Summit’s most immediate album, nor is it their catchiest. But whereas Carving Desert Canyons and The Collective offer ear candy for guitar nerds, this is their most fully-realized and progressive album, as well as their most mature. Even though they’ve been a go-to example of top-level musicianship for the past few years, The Migration is the first time it feels like Scale the Summit is truly firing on all cylinders. [8.3]

Editor’s Note: Thanks to Prosthetic Records for being the first label to take a liking to our blog! We’ll have more about recent Prosthetic releases in our next Album Roundup.

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