Scale the Summit

Carving Desert Canyons

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Instrumental music has made quite the comeback -- at least in indie rock circles -- during the third millennium's first decade; but while most of the bands responsible for lighting its torch arose from thoroughly post-Y2K (i.e. post-rock, post-metal, post-everything) musical aesthetics, Houston's Scale the Summit draw the bulk of their wordless sound endeavors from the good ol' 20th century. Just seconds into their 2009 sophomore effort, Carving Desert Canyons, the unashamed virtuosity and evocative lyricism of opener "Bloom" already harks back to the heyday of instrumental guitar heroes like Satriani and Vai, unearthing a pre-grunge production clarity that few listeners probably ever dreamt they'd hear again. Yet, here they are, and repeat samples proliferate throughout ensuing, fleet-fingered, mood-metal explorations like "Giants" and "The Great Plains" the latter also boasting a command bass guitar performance from Jordan Eberhardt. Other tracks like "Sargasso Sea," "Age of Tides," and "Glacial Planet" may initially seem to be cut from the same cloth, but quickly reveal entirely different inspirational touchstones ranging from progressive metal overlords Dream Theater to avant-death legends Cynic, through Dutch art-metallers Kong. All this being said, the long-term effects of doing without the convenient handholds normally afforded by lyrics and vocals may gradually begin to exhaust less technically oriented listeners, in whose defense it could be said that less imaginative cuts like "Dunes" and "City in the Sky" do start sounding like endlessly spinning, mathematical scales and finger exercises after a while. Still these are minor issues compared with the surprisingly fresh, sound-out-of-time experience that Scale the Summit have achieved on Carving Desert Canyons, as a whole, and it's sure to make this one of the year's most distinctive heavy metal releases -- with and without vocals.

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