SCALE THE SUMMIT - CARVING DESERT CANYONS - PROSTHETIC
Scale The Summit has made quite a name for itself over the Internet, with a hugely visited Myspace page and email updates and all sorts of things - they've even landed a spot in Guitar World magazine. Those things, plus recommendations from two different friends, prepared me for a listen to the Houston-based prog metal band's new album Carving Desert Canyons. And with that level of recommendations, I expected Carving Desert Canyons to fucking kick ass. I liked the song titles, I liked the cover, and my friends had said they were great, so when I hit play, I was ready for some seriously great metal. And I gotta say, Carving Desert Canyons didn't live up to that. This album is okay, but based on this, Scale The Summit (however young and tech-savvy) aren't the future of prog metal.
The main thing that stood out to me was the lack of things that really seemed to matter, to lodge in your mind and make you gasp, on this album. Although clearly inspired by Joe Satriani and Steve Vai (Eric Johnson too), Carving Desert Canyons didn't have much of the soaring, flying sounds I associate with that trio of masters. There are a few, like on the vaguely ballad-ish The Great Plains, but mostly the guitars (and this is an instrumental band, so the guitars handle a lot of this) never seemed to take flight the way Satch's and Johnson's did. Where their predecessors wrote great songs, Scale The Summit seem to be great believers in the art of noodling around. Where Satch's albums (and any other good band in this style) would have these songs that were well written, songs that had structure and were able to leave an impression, Scale The Summit's does a lot of kind of wandering around, always with the same tone, just kind of floating up and down. This doesn't leave much of an impression.
Of course, the similarities to Satch and Johnson are mostly in the guitars. Scale The Summit is a good deal proggier then Satch. This prog sensibility is largely through their drummer's penchant for odd time signatures and rapidly changing beats - he is quite technically skilled. But also, it shines through in the unconventional song structures, which also change rapidly and fluidly. The songs seem to be constructed of drum beats and guitar solos, taped together, sometimes repeating, sometimes branching off into nowhere. The best prog metal I've heard was able to stay unified. Stay together. Listen to Opeth. Or Dream Theater. They managed to have ten, eleven, nineteen-minute songs that sounded more together then this one. In trying to be interesting, Scale The Summit has succeeded in sounding like the most technically skilled four year olds in the world.
And Opeth and Dream Theater bring me back to the same point - this album lacked things that really made me want to sit up in my seat and be amazed, play over and over, things that had scope. Where Dream Theater were crushingly heavy, Scale The Summit aren't very heavy by metal standards at all - much heavier the Eric Johnson or Satch, but by prog metal standards, not heavy at all. And if you're not going to be heavy, or indeed have any riffs at all, then you're going to need to be able to consistently soar, fly, make sounds that really sound like desert canyons, great plains, cities in the sky, glacial planets (these are song titles from this album). To really sound like climbing to the top of a mountain, or scaling a summit. And they just don't. They don't have it. It just sounds like noodling, not like probing the farthest reaches of the mind. And that means that Carving Desert Canyons ends up not being very memorable at all.
Granted, there's some good stuff here. I liked City In The Sky, which had a nice bass solo. Bloom, the opener is good. And one thing I will say is that the band is extremely technically proficient, particularly the drummer, so if that's your boat you might want to pick this up. Most of all, I respect Scale The Summit for trying to be original. I feel bad rating this lower then a fifty because that means 'below average,' and this album is different then the norm. But I can't bring myself to give them anything more then that, because that means this is worth paying for, and unless you really, really like technical, instrumental, prog-guitar rock and Eric Johnson, I wouldn't pay for this. Scale The Summit have the potential to make some really good music, and I look forward to seeing how their future goes. Good luck with that. - Max V.