Scaphoid’s Absent Passages, is an interesting and impressive album –even more so because it’s a solo project arranged for full band with creator Matt Hobart playing every note. 

Unfortunately, even though I know people who will really enjoy it, most of the observations I can make about Absent Passages are technical and critical, because as good as it is, and despite obviously being a labour of love, the album strikes me as more of a showcase: a piece of craft, rather than a piece of art. The songs don’t feel like an outpouring of emotion or expression; they feel like a love letter to songcraft and instrumental exhibition. The album sounds like compositions created by a computer that analysed all “prog metal”, then algorithmically generated original music. 

Ultimately, it doesn’t reach me on an emotional level – which, of course, is a personal thing. I feel the same lack of connection to Bach and Mozart and so much jazz, which obviously touch others deeply but just leave me cold.

The lack of vocals in Scaphoid’s arrangement are a big part of this. I really enjoy some instrumental bands, particularly Russian Circles, but the songs on Absent Passages often drop into what sounds like a verse with no vocals on it. In these moments, I miss a hook or melody line to move the music along and I keep wanting the gaps to be filled. 

As it’s a self-made album echoing the very best of prog metal, this album evokes Probot [Dave Grohl’s heavy metal solo project featuring the crème of metal singers] – it strikes me as a demo waiting for guest appearances from the vocalists of Opeth, Demons and Wizards, Oceansize and Tool.

From an engineering standpoint, there is a lot to admire, with character to most of the sounds and a well-balanced and separated mix. However, it sounds like the guitars were plugged directly into the computer and the drums were played on an electronic drumkit, along to a click track… it sounds like this album was made both on and for headphones. This leaves the sound flat and lacking, although one track in particular, Coldness of Clarity, has greater warmth because of the piano and the acoustic guitar underpinning the track. 

Absent Passages doesn’t breathe and I miss the sound of big speakers moving a lot of air and of drums being pummelled and smashed… it all seems distant, sober, detached and clinical; it doesn’t sound LOUD or physical or angry, which metal really, really should. 

I recently read a great retrospective of Eddie Van Halen by Michael Hann, whose by-line summed up what I see in great musicians: “Van Halen … didn’t use his skills to mindlessly shred – he wrote huge pop songs, and made a new generation fall in love with the electric guitar” – this really sums up everything I miss from Scaphoid – not so much the pop, but anything visceral to make a song grab, compel and excite me.

I don’t want to under-rate this album; I really enjoyed listening to it as a musician and found it technically excellent, admirable and stimulating from that point of view – but for me, that is as far as it goes.

Scaphoid; Absent Passages – Out 23rd October 2020

Chris Oliver

I've been playing bass guitar and guitar for over half my life. I last played bass in in a band called Electromotive and as a singer-songwriter I have written songs about cheese and vajazzles (separate songs!). I started out listening to 60s, 70s and 80s rock as a kid and I was in to grunge and U.S. punk and ska in the 90s. Since then, I've broadened my tastes and I like the best of all styles of music, even country. I've been writing for Silent Radio since it started.