Carving Desert Canyons review by Scale the Summit

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  • Released: Feb 17, 2009
  • Sound: 7
  • Lyrics: 7
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 7.3 Good
  • Users' score: 9.4 (15 votes)
Scale the Summit: Carving Desert Canyons
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Sound — 7
Scale The Summit are a pretty perfect example of both everything that's right and wrong with prog metal today. Released in early 2009, "Carving Desert Canyons" is an album brimming with joyful noise, and right from the opening strains of "Bloom", you sense that this is an album meant to be played through headphones on a brisk forest hike in the mountains. The playing is about as tight as it gets. In fact, I'd say the instrumental quartet is probably the tightest crew this side of Dream Theater, and they flaunt it endlessly. The album's only "quiet" moments come in "Sargasso Sea", which has some fairly Tool-esque rhythm guitar strains, and "The Great Plains", which wouldn't sound out of place in just about any post-rock band's canon. Other than that, the band's sound is full of relentless guitar, drum, and bass parts, often sticking with rhythms of straight eighth notes. Because of this, the guitars sound like musical exercises at times, as in the tracks "Dunes" and "Age Of The Tide", and while it's obvious that the band is attempting to be "tasteful" by playing tightly composed parts rather than shredding with reckless abandon, the album's best moments come when the band ditches their usual strictly composed eighth-note waltz rhythms and plays with a bit more attention to phrasing and flow, like in the solo of "Age Of The Tide", and the slower lead guitar sounds in "Glacial Planet", the former of which also contains the best tightly-composed melody on the album, in the fade-out of the song. The latter half of "City In The Sky" also features a dual (or duelling) guitar solo from both Chris Letchford and Travis Levrier which is among one of the more life-affirming moments on the record. Sadly, things turn for the tepid in "Giants", which features none of the playful joy of the rest of the record and instead comes off as nothing more than an assemblage of scales and stock arpeggios. So while the playing style is brilliant on this record, and the band has obviously decided to abandon the "reckless shredding" of most technical instrumental progressive metal bands, the moments of brilliance and playful invention on this album seem somewhat overshadowed by the kind of overabundance of caution this album displays. The production is crisp and clear, and while the bass isn't very prominent for most of the album, when it is, it's among one of the most musically interesting sounds on the album, and bassist Jordan Eberhardt gets the coolest solo on the album during "City In The Sky". But I can't say enough about their drummer, Pat Skeffington, who, despite having a very loud sound with a bit much reverb for my tastes, plays with the kind of abandon needed in this band, and could give Mike Portnoy a run for his money. It honestly feels weird to say this, but this is a band that might actually benefit from showing a bit of reckless abandon more often. I rate this album as a 7 out of 10. Definitely promising, but still lacking in a few key areas, in my opinion.

Lyrics — 7
There are no lyrics to judge on this record, as Scale The Summit are an instrumental band with no vocalist. The closest thing to lyrics are the song titles, which seem to fit the moods of the music quite well. "Bloom" is an appropriate title for the introductory song, as it does sound like the "blooming" of this album, busting out of the gate with a really joyous major arpeggio. "The Great Plains" does feel very much like a walk through a field at night with a cool breeze at your back. In many ways, as well, not having a vocalist is a bit of a boon and a bane for this band. While not having a vocalist definitely fits into the style of the songs, and the band themselves feel that having a vocalist would take away from the songs, one would have to wonder how the band would sound if there were a singer present to temper the band's tendencies to write a lot of tepid arpeggios and rhythms, as there's a lot of potential "verses" and "choruses" on this record that kind of sound a lot like Cynic or Between The Buried And Me (appropriately they toured with both bands recently). Since I feel that holding back on having vocals in their music has possibly contributed a bit to their instrumental sound being somewhat uninteresting at times, I'm going to give this a 7 out of 10.

Overall Impression — 8
Overall, this album compares pretty well to some of my favourite instrumental and technical metal bands like Behold... The Arctopus, An Endless Sporadic, Cynic, and Between The Buried And Me. They definitely wear their influences on their sleeves quite well, as Cynic's trademark guitar sound makes many an appearance through the proceedings, and Between The Buried And Me's straight-eighth patterns also seem to have left a mark on the band. Again, while there are so many promising moments of brilliance on this album and, strangely for an instrumental metal band, a few bona-fide earworms that will refuse to leave your head for a while, I can't help but think that the band's insistence on remaining tasteful could have been ironically less tasteful on the part of the musicians than simply releasing another "shred-y" album would have been. When this band rocks, it ROCKS. And it's a definite improvement over their debut, "Monument", in that there are recognizable riffs and melodies that even border on being outright catchy at times, so I can only imagine that with more time, the band could easily grow into one of the more highly-esteemed instrumental rock bands of our time, possibly being revered as the new Steve Vais or Joe Satrianis of our generation, but they need to put a lot more work into it in order to truly succeed at making a great instrumental record. The best songs on here are "The Great Plains", with its rolling guitars that provide a totally different tone to anything else on the album, and "City In The Sky", where even the more "tepid" moments outshine some of the good moments in other songs (the chug riff at 1:37 is pretty boss). One thing I should mention is that if you decide to make an effort to buy this album, do yourself a favour and buy the official tab book from their website as well, since it works pretty well as a learning resource for techniques, as not many of the song's parts are too terribly fast, and this could be a great resource for anyone wanting to learn sweep arpeggios and more creative uses of guitar tapping. You also get a bunch of stickers and a bottle opener with it (and I got a handwritten card from Chris Letchford telling me to "keep practicing and good luck", which I thought was ADORABLE) I'm going to give the overall impression an 8 out of 10. I bump up the score one because the potential in this band is so obvious that they feel they have to ram it down your throat, and one can only hope that as the band releases more albums, they'll gradually mature into probably one of the best instrumental prog bands of our era.

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