Scale the Summit – Subjects (Album Review)

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Several years ago on Dream Theater’s Progressive Nation tour, I saw Scale the Summit for the first time. Despite their youth at the time, I was impressed with their guitar-based instrumentals that were more focused on the song than shred. They eschewed the standard cliches of prog metal guitar that typically featured dark, minor slug fests filled with wild, aimless shredding. Instead, they built their brand on adventurous, melodic leads as if their strings were their voices (a popular mantra of the band). Through the years and despite many lineup changes, they have established themselves as an absolute juggernaut in the prog metal guitar world.

While they have released several stellar albums since then, they always struggled with other instrumental music in that each release sounded very similar to the prior. That changed somewhat with their prior release, “In a World of Fear,” that featured guest soloists on each track. It allowed them to add some different colors to their readily identifiable sound.

With their new release, “Subjects,” they follow a similar approach with guest artists but take a dramatic new direction by incorporating a guest vocalist on each track. The concern with this approach is you may end up with a collection of songs that have no cohesion due to the different singers on each track, almost like a movie soundtrack with ‘Various Artists’ that have no relation to each other. Thankfully, that’s not the case with ‘Subjects’. The underlying music is so strong and bears the Scale the Summit trademark so well that it binds the eight tracks here together to create a singular new vision from the band.

Scale the Summit guitarist and front man, Chris Letchford, foreshadowed this marriage with vocals a few years ago with his highly underrated solo project, Islnds. The album, “History of Robots”, included two songs with vocals that worked really well. One of which, coincidentally, featured Joey Secchiaroli of Reign of Kindo who also makes an appearance here on the sublime ‘Jackhammer Ballet’. The busy guitar work pairs nicely with the vocals.  That same chemistry is present with “Subjects.” And, for those who are still unbelievers, there is an all-instrumental version of the album as well.  But, trust me, this new approach really works great with the combination of creative guitar music and outstanding performances from each vocalist.

The album opens with the banger, ‘Form and Finite’ featuring Mike Semesky (Raunchy, ex-Intervals). The prog metal onslaught of the guitar can (and does) certainly stand alone, but the addition of the vocals just adds an additional spice to the dish. To cap things off, Andy James provides a scorching guest solo that has Scale the Summit firing on all cylinders in their new venture.

Each vocalist brings their own unique style to the party and certainly applies their stamp to the music. However, it bears repeating, the distinctive style of Scale the Summit always holds it together and makes it feel like a cohesive whole.

Ross Jennings (Haken) is featured on the track ‘Daggers and Cloak’. It certainly would fit right into Hakenverse canon.  Imagine a riff oriented Haken track with Scale the Summit leads playing off of Jenning’s vocals.

The standout track is ‘Don’t Mind Me’ featuring Garrett Garfield. Musically, the mid tempo track features some trademark clean tapping from Chris. It’s almost like a duet between Garret and his soulful voice and Chris’s guitar. A real moment in the Scale the Summit catalog.

Sadly, Garrett lost his battle to depression in November of last year.  This track was my first exposure to him and it could likely be the first Scale the Summit song to bring tears to your eyes. Garrett sings of heartache and loss and one can just feel the emotion in his voice. Such a loss. If there is anyone out there struggling with depression, please reach out to someone. A friend, a loved one, me, anyone. 

Another highlight from the album is the track, ‘The Land of Nod’ featuring female vocalist Courtney LaPlante of Spiritbox.  It’s not only one of the heaviest tracks on the album, but also one of the most melodic. It has a chorus that will stick in your head long after the disc finishes spinning.

Production wise, everything sounds amazing. The mix between vocals and music is perfect with neither outshining the other. This is best illustrated in the closing track, “Space Cadet” featuring vocalist Eli Cutting. It features some tasty, melodic lead work with a touch of delay provided by Chris. The interplay between the lead work and Eli’s vocals just works so well. 

Also of note is the wonderful playing from bassist Kilian Duarte and drummer Charlie Engen. Their playing is so in the groove yet sprints when needed. It’s hard to find space in the music with Chris playing all over the place. Yet, they really drive the songs and inject plenty of fireworks and technicality via their playing as well.

The instrumental tracks certainly stand alone and capture that classic Scale the Summit sound that fans are used to. It’s almost like getting two albums here. Hopefully, Chris and the band continue this approach going forward and even recruit some additional voices next time.

Released by: Independent
Released on: July 4th, 2020
Genre: Progressive Rock

Musicians: 

  • Chris Letchford / guitars
  • Kilian Duarte / bass 
  • Charlie Engen / drum

Subjects” Track-listing:

  1. Form & Finite feat. Mike Semesky
  2. Don’t Mind Me feat. Garrett Garfield
  3. Daggers & Cloak feat. Ross Jennings
  4. Dissemble feat. Eric Emery
  5. Jackhammer Ballet feat. Joey Secchiaroli
  6. The Land Of Nod feat. Courtney LaPlante
  7. A New Way feat. Renny Carroll
  8. Space Cadet feat. Eli Cutting

8.8 Excellent

Instrumental prog-metal giants, Scale the Summit, return in a huge way with the vocal infused 'Subjects'. The diverse collection of vocalists provides additional fireworks to the trademark Scale the Summit sound

  • Songwriting 8
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 9
  • Production 9
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