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Sans Electricity: Hashshashin’s New Song “Sarhadd” Glimmers in Psychedelic Light


Hailing from the heavily westernized urban setting of Sydney, the instrumental trio of percussionist Evan McGregor, guitar/strings player Lachlan R. Dale, and bassist Cameron McDonald — collectively known as Hashshashin — might seem like an unlikely set of candidates for a trance-inducing middle-eastern drone outfit named after an ancient sect of assassins.

But being as each of these individuals is a prolific member of Sydney’s vibrantly eclectic psych-rock scene, their stylistic connection is perhaps not so far-fetched; with a core musical approach rooted in middle-eastern tonalities, Hashshashin combine elements of trance-inducing drone, prog atmospherics, and passages of soaring psychedelia to create a sprawling mandala colored by virtuosic musicianship and fascinating cultural fusion. Now ending a three-year interval of studio silence (their 2018 live record notwithstanding), the outfit have now announced Badakhshan, their long-awaited sophomore full-length.

Named for a mystical mountainous region on Tajikistan’s Afghani border, Badakhshan’s journey-driven compositions are directly inspired by scenes of the towering Pamir Mountains and the dust-strewn Wakhan Corridor Situated on the border of Afghanistan, the Tajikistani region of Badakhshan. On this latest release, Hashshahin take a decided step forward into the authentic and spiritual aspects of their sound, opting to accompany six- and 12-string guitars with the Irish bouzouki, Persian setar, Pamiri setor, and Afghan rubab, along with extra instrumentation from McGregor on the Moroccan krabebs, harmonium, and digeridoo.

In this sense, the trio’s newly unveiled track “Sarhadd” represents perhaps the furthest departure yet from their original sound; a seven-minute odyssey across sweltering sands and majestic mountainsides, the piece represents a full immersion into the cultural experiment upon which their defining aesthetic is based. Stream it below.

Beginning in a subtly swelling wave of string overtones, “Sarhadd” soon blooms into a lilting riff animated by simmeringly crisp percussion. The track continues to crescendo as its rhythms diversify and break away into peripheral motifs before a frantic double-time jam hearkens back to the jagged metallic passages of Hashshashin’s previous record. “Sarhadd,” however, serves as clear evidence that the meticulously aggressive math-metal tactics of the group’s debut have evolved into something much more tribal and organic, something with an almost narrative approach.

Full of whimsical, almost sinister melodies, ever-shifting time signatures, and polyrhythms galore, “Sarhadd” makes no sudden left turns away from the theory and technique upon which Hashshashin based their earlier music, but rather interprets this approach through an entirely re-imagined perspective infused with archaic timbres and a timeless sense of adventure. A sprawling composition with an unusual yet clearly defined arc, the track’s most introspective and beautifully intricate moments come after its early climax, creating designs of harmonic beauty that increase as it settles into an ultimate stillness. As the song’s winding melodies dance away into the melting silhouettes of evening’s final rays, strings and percussion are joined by the gorgeous melancholy of flute and violin, all underlain by a dexterous bassline that creeps upward as each instrument in turn fades to silence.

It is important to note that Hashshashin have married these layers of frenzied intensity and bittersweet harmony without the use of electricity or distortion; unlike any of the group’s previous material, Sarhadd consists solely of acoustic instrumentation enhanced only by cavernous reverb spatially reminiscent of a vast canyon, conjuring a whimsical scene of a village amongst the thrilling wilderness of the Silk Road.

“The region is a melting pot of cultures and beliefs. That meeting of different influences holds in how we composed this album,” says guitarist Lachlan Dale about the inspiration behind the record’s progressive musical direction. “We tried to throw away the approach we used on our first album, and let in new elements to our music. As points, it was deeply disillusioning. It was at times a painful process, but something new came out of the destruction.”

With such a marked rejection of their old approach to songwriting, it is incredible how well Hashshashin’s brand of musical exploration has translated into their new material. Without abandoning the stylistic ingredients of their original recipe, they have combined essential concepts from drone, into something simultaneously traditional, naturalistic, and forward-thinking. With Badakhshan, this band has breathed the esoteric nature of their music into a figure of flesh and bone, a newly-formed hybrid between Earth and Aether.

Badakhshan releases September 27th via Art As Catharsis and Small Pond Records. Stream another track now via Bandcamp.

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