Nobody who cares deeply about prog rock thinks it needs saving, but Houston's own Scale the Summit has stepped up with a calibrated take on art rock for the rest of us.
Their new album, The Migration (Prosthetic), is simply "shredtastic" (credit for that coinage: Brian Lion), bringing plenty of metallurgic heaviness but also a bouquet of airy phrasing and licks. With guitarist Chris Letchford leading the way, Scale the Summit once again conjures various inspired sonic themes without help from a single human voice.
Of course, jazz and classical perform stirring instrumentals all the time, but in the vernacular of rock, and metal-derived math-rock to boot, it takes a Texas-size audacity to go without vocals. The only other contemporary band I can name that shares this taste for colossal compositions are Austin's soundtrackers Explosions in the Sky (Friday Night Lights). Scale the Summit can take you there.
That said, if you missed the premise of The Migration as a title, the first song, "Odyssey", reiterates the message that this music is designed to take you far far away from the everyday. As with their 2009 label debut Carving Desert Canyons, Scale the Summit writes songs with a majestic, verily seismic, sense of geography.
After the stormy, head-bang riffage of opener "Odyssey," STS unveils the dreamy, atmospherics of "Altus Novus" and the peaceful, almost jammy vibe of "The Olive Tree." En route, Letchford and co-guitarist Travis Levrier devise lines that speak to a reverence for Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen, as well as John Zorn and Pat Metheny.
Headbangers may be impatient to get to "Narrow Salient" one of several striving tracks that allows drummer Pat Skeffington to show his impeccable timing and pummeling beats. But really the entire album bears up to multiple listens as the textures multiply. Meanwhile bassist Mark Michell, who last year replaced Jordan Eberhardt, keeps the rhythm cruising through to the closing track "The Traveler."
In an interview with Rocks Off on the eve of the album's release, Letchford credited producer Jamie King with helping the still-young band arrive at their destination. Across these 10 fresh tracks, the collaboration comes across most winningly in crisp production values that allow each song to breath. King also provides a modicum of steadiness on speedy thrashers including the galloping, balletic "The Dark Horse."
When "The Traveler" finally waltzes in, the song opens with a scratchy sample sound reminiscent of an old vinyl LP or distant radio signal. Given how prog-rock struggles with punchline status, this moment clues the listener into the fact that STS recognizes the pitfalls that attend self-indulgent pretense (late period Emerson Lake and Palmer, anyone?).
The sound also lets us know that this is a metal band willing to showcase a trope that has turned up on a thousand hip-hop samples. As "The Traveler" speeds up, its vaudeville echoes give way to Pythagorean shredding.
In the end, The Migration shapes up a genre-defying soundscape perfect for driving fast, chasing surf breaks or sparking a chillum in Middle Earth. STS knows the way.
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Scale the Summit performs with Intronaut and Mouth of the Architect tonight at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak. Doors open at 8 p.m.