Sound — 9
Scale The Summit may belong to the same scene as a lot of the current wave of "djent" artists like Animals As Leaders and Periphery, but as far as instrumental bands go, they're certainly carving their own desert canyons in the genre and forging a very recognizable style.
Opening with the metal factor cranked to ten on the opening track "The Winged Bull," the band dazzles us with duelling guitar solo runs, pummelling drums (from recent addition J.C. Bryant), syncopated odd-time riffing, locked-in bass riffs from Mark Michell. On second track, "Soria Moria," the band shows its more progressive, gentle side with waves of clean guitar sounds, before launching into another heavy wash of sus2 chords and majestic lead guitars.
Much of the album's style can really be summed up in these two songs, which means that a song-by-song review isn't a total necessity here, but there are many great highlights on the album, from the almost Yes-like bass/clean guitar break in the middle "Pontus Euxinus," the noisy opening of "Trapped in Ice," which also features some of the band's heaviest, most technical playing in quite some time, the epic groove riff in the middle of "Kestrel," the space-y ambiance of the appropriately-titled "Oort Cloud" (named for that lovely region of the Solar System where long-period comets come from), "Blue Sun"'s proggy chops, and the almost Vai-esque opening of "The Golden Bird."
While it's definitely easy to compare them to their contemporaries in the genre, I often find myself having a hard time putting them aside bands like Animals As Leaders, and find myself likening them more to classic progressive bands like Yes, Rush, and even sometimes, Dream Theater. Chris Letchford and Travis Levrier have certainly upped the ante on their playing with every record that they've put out, and when you compare this to songs from their back catalogue, this album almost makes some of their old pieces sound stiff and exercise-like. They've not only come into their own as players, but composers as well. There's hardly a wasted note on this album, the band almost never truly devolves into the kind of shred wankery that many other instrumental metal groups are routinely accused of. There are powerful riffs and soaring melodies like the one in "Stolas," a song which has a hilarious "Pop-Up Video" style music video featuring Chris Letchford as "La Flama Blanca" in full Bon Jovi circa 1986 getup, playing his Strandberg Boden which he's aptly named "Sparkle Bitch," as well as the rest of the band looking hilariously '80s-esque.
The production does get a little loud at times, the bass does drown out some of the higher frequencies (at least on my copy bought from iTunes, your mileage may vary depending on format). But this doesn't stop me from finding this to be a very fun, well-composed instrumental metal release.
Lyrics — 9
The band doesn't have a singer, and as such, there are no lyrics. Honestly, I'm only rating this a 9 so that a rating of 1 doesn't mess up the overall score I'd give the album.
However, the closest thing to lyrics that I can comment on here would be song titles. They seem to be fairly well-chosen, and evoke different atmospheres that seem to match the songs. Of special note to me are "Trapped in Ice" which to my mind kind of brings to mind Metallica's "Trapped Under Ice," and it's not all that big of a stretch to think of that as a potential point of reference because of how heavy and almost thrashy the main riffs of that song are. They sound nothing like Metallica, of course, but it's about as close as this band gets to thrash metal. And "Oort Cloud," as I mentioned, is named after the cloud of comets theorized to be at the outermost reaches of our Solar System, and it's a fairly fitting title considering the spaced-out nature of the music.
As well, it could be argued that their lack of a singer or lyrics is a good conscious choice on their part. They had stated in a Guitar World interview very, very early on in their careers that not having a singer meant not having endless debates on whether they'd want some effeminate-sounding clean vocalist or some kind of burly guy doing guttural growls over it.
But, if you are wondering what Scale The Summit might sound like with a vocalist, you could always check out The Contortionist's "Language" album. That one's pretty close, I find.
Overall Impression — 9
As mentioned, comparing it to past releases by Scale The Summit, "V" is certainly a good step forward for the band. Though their evolution has been slow and calculated, and they haven't really done anything incredibly different on this album, the small things really make a difference to their sound. More emotive guitar solos, more dramatic use of ambiance and better, tighter riffs make this a great record which can definitely be compared to the likes of Rush and Yes, while still maintaining an appeal to fans of modern progressive metal. This makes "V" one of the best instrumental albums to be released in a good long while.
If I had to pick standout tracks, I'm definitely saying "Stolas," "Kestrel" and "Oort Cloud" are tracks that will be in steady rotation. They each offer a different side of the band, but in the best ways.
The only real negative point I'll give this album is the production being somewhat loud. I'm no audiophile, and I'm listening to it on relatively inexpensive equipment, but it's enough to annoy me slightly at times.
Of special note is the promotion the band did for the record. For the months leading up to the release, the band had been posting videos on their Facebook page, usually consisting of either Chris or Travis performing some other band's riff (from artists as widely varied as Rush, Kansas, and even Limp Bizkit!), followed to a cut asking "Jeff" if he "got that," ending in a clip of Jeff doing something hilarious. And then there are the two music videos, a first for STS, including the aforementioned '80s-tinged "Stolas," and a BULGE-Y video for "Blue Sun" featuring the band playing in mustachioed pinstripe morphsuits in a white room. They're both unique and sometimes hilarious videos and showcase the fact that this band isn't only a serious shred band, but can make things that are light-hearted and fun as well.
May be a contender for Album Of The Year, in my books.