Proving that voiceless instruments can sometimes carry more emotional impact than songs, while teleporting the mind of the listener to a vast, dry Middle Eastern wilderness of high mountains and endless desert, these are all experiences to be enjoyed in listening to the official second album by Sydney trio Hashshashin.
A rich, sprawling and diverse collection of seven powerful tracks, Badakhshan is a purely instrumental affair, blending the effects, ambience and presence of post-rock and the sonic impact of hard rock into the adventurous, unpredictable structures of jazz. That being said, the only conventional Western instruments to be heard on this album are guitar, drums, bass and violin. The rest of the aural environments are layered with an eclectic palette of Afghan rabab, Moroccan krakebs, Persian setar, Pamiri setor, Irish bouzouki, percussion, frame drum, harmonium, and even didgeridoo. Even while writing this review, I have no idea what most of these instruments are, but we can understand why there would have been no room for vocals in the making of this album! Although, in the case of other minimalistic, hypnotic bands like Earth, the possibility of sung vocal additions may come into play in the future. The 13 instruments used here greatly double from the seven heard on the group’s debut self titled effort three years ago, also an instrumental body of work, where the only unconventional instruments were bouzouki and didgeridoo, along with a handful of esoteric field recordings. One might even go so far as to say Badakhshan is Hashshashin’s defining achievement, so far. It’s important to note that the Afghan rabab, a lute-like object, was used in the recording, and carries the main riffs and melodic ideas in some of the pieces here, as the album’s namesake derives from an Afghan-bordering, mountainous region of Tajikistan.
Setting the mood with their ambient, droning opener ‘Qom’, lead single track ‘Crossing The Panj’ introduces the ideas of East meeting West with frequent instrumental climaxes, dramatic pauses, and thrilling, brain-straining polyrhythms underpinned by the equally impressive, hard-hitting drumming of Evan McGregor. Leading on to gracefully play with subtle intros and generously gradual outros, Hashshashin then take us through ‘Death in Langar’ and ‘Shrines of the Wakhan’, where we hear beautiful classical violin and dramatic gongs amongst a more conventional meandering groove in the former piece, to one of the heaviest guitar parts in the latter, along with a sublimely gentle outro of crystal clear guitar chords expanding like the icy blue sky of morning. Fifth track ‘Sarhadd’ contains some of the most exciting drumming on the album, with the closest thing we get to a hard rock riff in 4/4 time, played in multicultural fashion on the Afghan rabab. After 12-minute epic ‘The Taklamakan’, one of Badakhshan’s best tracks is left til last, entitled, ‘Then He Hid Himself in the Refining Fire’. With a slow, mesmerising groove and dry ethnic chords, this piece is also one of the most psychedelic to be heard, with a strangely clanging cymbal and warped electronic sound effects towards the end, leading to a long ambient outro of spacious guitar panning.
Employing a superb sense of creative licence, Evan McGregor, Lachlan R. Dale and Cameron MacDonald proceed through these trance-laden performances to dedicate seven romanticised conceptual soundscapes to a place that’s rarely been seen by Australian eyes. Along with contributing violinist Natalya Bing on ‘Crossing The Panj’, ‘Death In Langar’, ‘Sarhadd’ and ‘The Taklamakan’, Hashshashin act like snake-charmers to hypnotise their audience into the deeply pulsing grooves of their music. Running just short of an hour, the complete work unfolds as adventurous instrumental pieces for strolling, meditating, and re-discovering your surroundings to, demanding many repeat listens. If listening to the whole thing, one can undertake an intense subconscious journey, or you can savour individual tracks as you please. But be warned, over-intoxication on Hashshashin may lead to you thinking that a handful of Western rock bands sound quite bland in comparison. Either way, you’ll have a memorable time.
- Crossing the Panj
- Death in Langar
- Shrines of the Wakhan
- The Taklamakan
- Then He Hid Himself in the Refining Fire