Sound — 9
Since their debut album "Monument", Scale The Summit's has maintained a rather prominent position among the elite of the current crop of modern progressive instrumental music. Their sound has remained fairly constant through the whole of their career, choosing a path of slow evolution over drastic changes. Over the course of several albums, their music has become less exercise-like, more dynamic, and more progressive.
Last year presented the band a fairly major shake-up with the departures of all members besides guitarist Chris Letchford (guitarist Travis Levrier is now playing in Entheos, while bassist Mark Michell and drummer JC Bryant left the band citing money issues). Rather than disbanding Scale The Summit, Letchford decided to carry on as the sole guitarist, bringing in drummer Charlie Engen and bassist Kilian Duarte.
For the first time on a Scale The Summit album, a number of guest performers bring a number of solos and riffs to "In a World of Fear", each imparting their own style to the already immense pool of talent that's usually in the STS camp. Yvette Young (Covet) performs acoustic guitars on the dynamic opener "Mass", marking probably the first time acoustic guitars have made an appearance on a STS album. Jeff Loomis (Nevermore, Jag Panzer, Arch Enemy) and solo guitarist James Ivanyi appear on "Cosmic Crown", a thumpy performance that is reminiscent of Tosin Abasi's work in Animals As Leaders. "Witch House" features the immense talent and charisma of Angel Vivaldi, and also starts with one of the album's heaviest riffs. Per Nilsson (Scar Symmetry, Kaipa) and Nick Johnston bring the terror on the slinky "Goddess Gate", though Chris Letchford is no slouch himself, performing a rather inventive riff with lots of extended slides. Finally, album closer "The Warden" features three guest performances, from John Browne (Monuments), Scott Carstairs (Fallujah) and bassist Nathan Navarro.
Though, as is the case with all Scale The Summit albums, the band's own performances are to be applauded throughout the record, guest performers aside. While the compositions on the album are basically what one would expect from STS, with no real major changes to the band's style, the slow evolution of their sound has meant that each passing record has sounded better and better. Chris Letchford's playing has gotten looser and more dynamic, the song structures and time signatures have become more progressive, and the diversity on their records has increased. While the album is mostly cut from the same kind of progressive metal cloth, you can hear shades of different genres pop in from time to time, like an almost "pop" influence on "Cosmic Crown", djent on "Witch House", some loose, almost reggae-esque rhythms on "Royal Orphan", a track which also features the closest thing to the Tosin "thumping" technique you'll hear in Chris Letchford's discography.
Despite the album being more focused on Chris, at least in terms of the guitar playing seeing as he is now the band's sole guitarist, the performances of the two new members cannot be understated. Kilian's bass playing is a bit more understated than JC Bryant's and Jordan Eberhardt's, but glues the drums and guitars together in a very complementary way, and he does get chances throughout the record to flex his skills, such as on the harmonics in the bass line for "Cosmic Crown". Charlie Engen's drumming is also perfectly complementary to Letchford's guitar playing, and quite dynamic, with his ability to lay back when needed, but also bring in some very alive-sounding chaos during heavier parts.
The production is pretty much spot-on throughout the release, though personally, some of the guitar tones are not quite as pleasing to my ears, but that's more of a personal preference issue than something scientific or tangible. And as far as writing goes, the loss of the band's second most credited songwriter, Travis Levrier, has done little to diminish the band's writing capabilities. Though some (myself included) may miss some of the particular idiosyncrasies of his guitar playing, Chris is a more than capable enough writer to handle all of the writing duties himself and still turn out a very diverse record.
Lyrics — 9
Scale The Summit has always maintained that they wish to remain an instrumental band, and has never had any plans on incorporating vocals into their style. For those who wonder what Chris Letchford's guitar style would sound like with vocals, Volumes' "Serenity" features him on a solo and has some chord progressions that are similar enough to Scale The Summit's to pass. His work with the band islnds, a more ambient and electronic project, also features vocal contributions from Ashe O'Hara (ex-TesseracT) and Joseph Secchiaroli (The Reign of Kindo).
As for Scale The Summit, as the point of their music has always been to remain instrumental (emphasized by one of their tag lines: "Our Strings Are Voices"), the lack of inclusion of lyrics or vocals is of no bother to me. The closest thing we get to lyrics on this record, of course, are song titles, and most of them seem to do a decent job of encapsulating the moods of the record, though "Dream12" seems a bit strange and may require a bit of explanation.
Overall Impression — 9
Overall, Scale The Summit has done quite well to weather the changes of the past year, and while certainly there will be opinions one way or another on the lineup changes, the main thing we can take from "In a World of Fear" is that as far as the band's music goes, they're still more than capable of putting out some of the best quality instrumental progressive metal out there. For me, the key to this band's success has always been that they've stuck to playing to their strengths, and experimented only where they needed to. Perhaps an odd thing for a prog-metal band to do, but comparing this record to their first two, "Monument" and "Carving Desert Canyons", there does seem to be a lot of fat trimmed from the music, yet seemingly something added. The variety of sounds on this record is something the band hasn't played with on this level yet, and this is definitely a good thing.
It really does seem as every subsequent Scale The Summit record is always "their best", and this one is no exception. So far, this is their best record. The fact that this is their first self-released record, independent of a record label, only heightens this, and I'm certain we can expect more exciting things from the band in the future.