Released: 2013, Prosthetic Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
The prospect of an all-instrument prog-metal band may conjure visions of “Jazz Odyssey” style Spinal Tap – an overblown, unstructured wank-abration with no vocal rudder to somehow steer the ship, or stop the madness. But Houston’s Scale The Summit have been proving that need not be the case.
For almost a decade, the quartet have been dishing out a captivating, often mesmerizing, but rarely masturbatory hard rock/metal/djent/prog mashup that nicely balances razzle-dazzle with restraint and keep things as “song-like” as possible, recalling Beat/Discipline/Three Of A Perfect Pair-era King Crimson – just without the vocals. The Migration, the band’s fourth album, offers an expansive soundscape of sweeping guitars; shuddering, meandering rhythms; mellow, opulent asides; and some occasional show-offy lead work that is added more for flavor than serving as the main ingredient.
Though The Migration opens on an dubious note with the perhaps regrettably titled “Odyssey,” the song itself is tidy, and at times concussive, big on punchy riffs and quick, fleet-fingered flourishes by guitarists Chris Letchford and Travis Levrier – and thankfully free of the pointless, meandering improvisation and reckless soloing of Spinal Tap’s epic albatross. And it bookends nicely with album closer “The Traveler,” carrying through a theme of sorts without getting lost in the high-falutin conceptualizing that has tripped up like-minded, but vocal/lyric-anchored bands like Between The Buried And Me.
“The Olive Tree,” too, boasts booming hooks played against melodic, even relaxed forays, with Letchford and Levrier seeming content to work in concert to bring feeling to the music instead of competing to see who can play the fastest or flashiest. And while “Narrow Salient” and “Oracle” deliver more of a djent jolt, with thicker, angrier guitars, tumultuous tempos and dramatic mood swings, the songs are engaging and at times elegant. New bassist Mark Michell gets his chance to shine on the pulsing “The Dark Horse,” but here too his booty-shaking licks fit within the confines of the overall song and are nowhere near indulgent.
Though the lack of vocals can make things drag a bit over the long haul as one song blends into the next, The Migration is still a rather economical work at just over 40 minutes with only one song, the aforementioned “The Traveler,” cracking the six-minute mark, and it just barely. And while it’s not quite the wild ride a more audacious band might have offered, it’s certainly more pleasant and satisfying.