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Scale The Summit - The Collective CD (album) cover

THE COLLECTIVE

Scale The Summit

 

Progressive Metal

3.86 | 97 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
4 stars 'The Collective' - Scale the Summit (74/100)

Scale the Summit is a perfectly chosen name for the now-renowned progressive metallers. Not only does their music evoke a triumphant sense akin to 'scaling a summit' or overcoming adversity; many of the band's best ideas revolve around ascending and descending scales. Five years since its release, and I'd still likely peg The Collective as the best album they've done so far. A couple of years prior to the album's release, I had the opportunity of seeing them open for Dream Theater and Zappa Plays Zappa in Las Vegas. Much like the opener Three from the prior year's ProgNation tour, they stole the show. Scale the Summit demonstrated technical proficiency and tasteful moderation far beyond their years. The Collective is a solid summation of the band's character, placing songwriting and atmosphere before technical flash at every opportunity. I cannot help but feel there is (and always has) been something vital missing from Scale the Summit's formula, but they manage to achieve a sense of purpose and emotional resonance with the tech metal on The Collective. Even though it's now been several years since they first took the stage, that quality virtually puts them in a league of their own.

There isn't a great deal that distinguishes one Scale the Summit from another; they're one of those bands that knew what they wanted to do from the beginning, and since then they've stuck with it. The Collective is cut from the same cloth as Monument and Carving Desert Canyons, but it's clear by this point the band had the time to figure out what they wanted the fine print of their style to look like. In comparison, The Collective puts greater emphasis on jazz fusion embellishments. The songwriting is generally more focused. I might argue Carving Desert Canyons had some higher highpoints, but the growing maturity they're demonstrating with The Collective has generally worked in their favour.

Scale the Summit's collision of jazz fusion and progressive metal plant them firmly within the technical school, to the point where it wouldn't seem out of place to discuss them alongside Animals as Leaders or any one of a thousand tech-y 'djent' bands that have been popping up nowadays. With those and a large proportion of modern so-called progressive bands, technique is virtually a given, and by the point where an acknowledged mastery of sweep-picking appears to be the minimum entrance requirement for this sort of thing, flashy technical abilities aren't usually as interesting as they're probably intended to be. That's what makes Scale the Summit such a distinctive and engaging band for me; it's altogether clear they can play as fast or as flashy as the rest of them, but they don't. Instead, most of their songwriting feels oddly relaxed and moderated. Almost as were they a post-rock band with an added technical twist, Scale the Summit seem solely interested in performing within the context of the composition. A welcome exception to that often comes in the form of guitarist Chris Letchford's virtuosic-tier solos, which pop up pretty frequently and, once again, express a moderation you'd be hard-pressed to find an abundance of within this genre.

The climbing motion of Scale the Summit's riffs gives the music a permanent sense of kinetic movement- call it 'driving' on the heavy moments or 'soaring' on the lighter ones, the atmosphere is strong and omnipresent throughout the album. While Scale the Summit have carved out a style I daresay is unique to themselves, they still fall into soft/heavy dynamics, long since done to death by every progressive metal band out there. It doesn't take long listening to The Collective to notice a pattern: if Scale the Summit are playing a djenty rhythm section or lead guitar showcase, a moment of mandatory fusion atmosphere or clean finger-tapping is soon to follow. For all of their technical proficiency and thoughtfulness, Scale the Summit fail to surprise me as a listener, and that may be what I feel is ultimately missing from The Collective. The beauty and warmth is there (particularly in the cleaner moments- check out "The Levitated" if you want a perfect example and are crunched for time), but more often than not, I'm left feeling like I should be having more of a gut reaction from what Scale the Summit are doing here. The purely instrumental approach in rock or metal often risks losing that feeling of human spontaneity, and The Collective is no exception to that. Do I think Scale the Summit might have benefited from a vocalist on this album? Absolutely not, but it would have probably done wonders for the album's enjoyment and replayability to have heard a few sonic surprises, outside of their jazz and post-rock infused metal niche.

In spite of the album's shortcomings (which unfortunately plague everything the band have done to date, including 2013's The Great Migration) The Collective feels fresh and polished. It's one thing to have skill, but quite another to find an exciting and intelligent way to use that skill. Scale the Summit are one of the rare bands in tech metal that strike a balance between flash and restraint. Their unique, but ultimately limited range of sound empowers yet simultaneously hinders their ability to excite and impress me. Time will tell whether Scale the Summit ever broaden their horizons, but for the present, The Collective stands as the most enduring album they have ever recorded.

Conor Fynes | 4/5 |

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