Scaphoid, Absent Passages review (Shunu Records 2020)

The first full-length album from Scaphoid is a straight-forward exposition of instrumental guitar fervor.

Scaphoid is Matt Hobart, an Austin, Texas musician who is a one man orchestra. In late 2016 he released a 25-minute EP (Dies Mercurii) under the Scaphoid name and since then has been quiet on that front. Absent Passages is a long awaited and very welcome return.

My earliest exposure to instrumental rock/metal guitar music was Frank Zappa and Shut Up ’N Play Your Guitar (1981). What an eye-opener that was. That album (3 LP set) was a collection of individual pieces Zappa had played from many different places, so it didn’t have a cohesiveness that a planned instrumental album would have. I heard that for the first time in Surfing with the Alien (1987) by Joe Satriani. Since then, for more than thirty years now, I have been constantly on the lookout for high quality instrumental rock guitar. I just found another one.

The single off the album is “Marauder,” and it leads off with a “let’s get acquainted” easiness. The Prog starts to pop at about the one minute mark, and the music takes off from there. When the lead appears, we know we are out of the parking lot and on the road. The style is matter-of-fact, the tone is establishing. Throughout the set ideas and emotions emerge and evolve, as with the very next song, “Shores of Ruin,” that moves the needle from the opener, then has some of its themes reëmerge later in songs like “Celestial Ego.” There is a direction, a trajectory that winds past many wonders but keeps heading for the destination. The closing number is “Infrastricken,” a fourteen minute mini-epic that might just be that destination we saw on the horizon or it could also be a launching pad for whatever comes next. The guitar work by this point has gone through many manifestations and takes, yet there is still more. The creativity and exploration of this final element of Absent Passages is an elegant summary and conclusion to the collection of songs, and could also easily be a stand-alone EP. High regards. Recommended.

On Friday, October 9th you can lay your head back and let the music seep in. Shunu Records and Bandcamp have the goods at the links below.

Links.

Scaphoid Bandcamp, https://scaphoid.bandcamp.com

Scaphoid Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/scaphoidmusic

Shunu Records, http://www.shunurecords.com

Scaphoid, Absent Passages review (Shunu Records 2020)

The Ocean, Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic, review (Metal Blade Records 2020)

German/Swiss/Swedish ensemble The Ocean (Collective) is back with the sequel to the renowned Phanerozoic (2018) album, part two of a paleontology concept work.

Robin Staps is the driving force in The Ocean ensemble/collective. As the principal guitarist and composer, Staps orders the ideas and molds them into the expression we hear. Of course, Staps did have an outline with for this long concept: the most recent 541 million years of the geologic history of the earth. It might seem like a big story, and it is, but The Ocean got their arms around it.

The album is broken into two parts, “Mesozoic,” which is covered in the first two tracks, and “Cenozoic,” the last six tracks. There is an extraordinarily detailed description available about the meaning of each passage, so you can check that out by doing a quick web search. In the context of this short review I will concentrate on what the music sounds like.

The first part is two long songs, together running about twenty two minutes. They begin with a solo, echoing acoustic guitar and ethereal synth passages. Very quickly the music turns upbeat, adding instruments and active assertions. At times like this, the music has a Tangerine Dream feel to it – that might be a good baseline to start thinking about this music. A melodic voice tells us part of the story, and for some time this is fairly quiet Prog Rock. Big guitar riffs crash in here and there, and coarse vocal instantiations now and then. There is a lot going on here and the musicians have 22 minutes to work with, so sit back and enjoy. As with much of the music in this lane, dramatic extremes are exhibited. The guitar leads are somewhat reminiscent of Camel on the Mirage album here and there, and that is very appealing. Excellent vision and execution.

The second part of the album is comprised of six shorter songs, each in the four minute range with the final two being a bit longer. This section seems more linear than the first, but that could be due to the deliberate segmenting of the musical passages into smaller bits. Indeed, the first song, “Palaeocene,” sounds almost like a radio cut, with fan-pleasing guitars and aggressive but digestible vocals, and the second track is almost a ballad. “Pleistocene” starts out humble but turns into an all-out Death Metal assault before it is over. The closer, “Holocene,” has a comfortable desert vibe to it and eases us out in a perfect cooldown. There is a lot to take in with the second part, too, so give yourself some headspace.

Look to Metal Blade Records for the CD and digital (through Bandcamp) and to Pelagic Records for the vinyl of Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic on September 25. The Bandcamp digital download has the complete album in an instrumental version included with it, which is an excellent alternate way to experience the music. If you are up for the challenge, Prog and Post-Metal live in this album. Recommended.

Links.

https://www.facebook.com/theoceancollective

https://www.indiemerch.com/metalbladerecords/b/the-ocean

https://theocean.bandcamp.com/

The Ocean, Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic, review (Metal Blade Records 2020)

Spellbook, Magick & Mischief review (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)

Spellbook is the new name for the band previously known as Witch Hazel (not Wytch Hazel from the UK), and they have a new album out: Magick & Mischief.

As Witch Hazel, the band released three albums. The style of those is similar to what you hear on the new one, but a little murkier in tone. Two of the earlier albums, Otherworldly (2018) and Forsaken Remedies (2012), are on Spotify and are definitely worth checking out. The band for the new release as Spellbook is Nate Tyson (vocals), Andy Craven (guitar), Selbert Lowe, Jr. (bass), and Nicholas Zinn (drums).

The music on Magick & Mischief has a foot planted firmly in the early 1980s. Back then I was listening to bands like Omen and their amazing Battle Cry album from 1984, and Fates Warning’s occult masterpiece Night on the Brocken (also from 1984). Demon, too, from 1981, with their poppier take on the subject, Night of the Demon. Memories of all these bands cascade over me listening to the new Spellbook. The 2020 take on this style of metal cast refreshing glances toward unlikely corners of music and combines creative ideas that make this music genuinely new even as it creates pristine nostalgic flashes.

The first song on the album is “Wands To The Sky,” the title leaving no question in the listener’s mind about the subject. A jazzy drum roll folds into a stabbing prog-like rock guitar set-up, followed by the distinctive retro vocals. Homage riffs can be heard here and in “Black Shadow” – that is part of the appeal. “Ominous Skies” leads in with a challenging bass line, and “Not Long For This World” presents a doom throng as its introduction. There is a magic theme here, an occult perspective, and yet also sprinkled in are songs like “Motorcade” and the big closer, “Dead Detectives,” which are surprises. The first three minutes of the latter has the same kind of feel as Side One of Alice Cooper’s Muscle of Love – if you don’t know what I am talking about, take twenty minutes and go listen to the first four songs of that old AC classic on Spotify. Spellbook shifts into a steady rock vamp in the second part of the 11+ minute opus, segue to a voiceover to further the narrative, some more rock, finally fading out on a rainy street. It is like going to a Broadway show, and it is a strange yet compelling way to tie up the threads of the album.

Out on September 25, digital, CD, and vinyl versions of Magick & Mischief can be had from Cruz Del Sur Music through Bandcamp and others. A heads up that the track “Amulet” appears to be different on the LP compared to the other versions. Completists take note.

Links.

https://spellbookband.bandcamp.com/releases

https://www.facebook.com/spellbookband/

https://www.cruzdelsurmusic.com/

https://www.facebook.com/cruzdelsurmusic/

https://cruzdelsurmusic.bandcamp.com/

Spellbook, Magick & Mischief review (Cruz Del Sur Music 2020)