Wednesday 16 March 2022

Naxatras - IV (2022)

Country: Greece
Style: Hard/Psychedelic Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 25 Feb 2022
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | YouTube

It's appropriate that this album begins with an instrumental called Reflection (Birth), because the band appear to have started out as yet another jam band trio, merely one based in Thessaloniki in Greece, but they evolved into something deliciously more along the way. This is a decent opener, a pleasant intro featuring sitar-like guitar, tinkling piano and hand drums shifting into a stoner rock guitar for an instrumental workout. What it isn't is a complete guide to what's still to come within the next three quarters of an hour, just as I would guess the nascent Naxatras probably weren't a good guide to what they'd be getting up to a decade into their career.

There's a lot here to explore. Some of the songs do fall into the style I expected from the combo of genre and cover art. Omega Madness is clearly Hawkwind influenced, for instance, built as it is of strong riffs and spacy keyboards, though Journey to Narahmon escalates that approach up to the next level, ditching most of the space sounds but maintaining that incessant Hawkwind bassline as it navigates through a lively, more urgent sonic landscape. It's songs like this that prompted me to listen through this album a whole bunch of times because I kept getting lost in its flow. And after all, journeys aren't supposed to be about destinations, even when they're to Narahmon, wherever that is. They're about what's on the way.

Other songs are journeys too, like the closer, Shape of the Evening, which feels like it's more likely to be a journey through the desert to Tombstone than to Narahmon. It's glorious soundscape stuff, patient and western, with danger never overt but always lurking somewhere nearby. The shorter tracks in the middle of the album, like Ride with Time and Radiant Stars, are glimpses of journeys too, especially the latter, its delightfully melodious bookends enclosing some searing guitarwork from John Delias. There's a lot of that here, though nobody lets the side down.

While Naxatras are still primarily an instrumental band and the majority of the ten tracks on offer here are instrumentals, the line-up does include a couple of vocalists, even if they also play guitar and bass respectively. Their vocal work shows up within The Answer four tracks in, after a gorgeous intro, and continues on in Ride with Time and then, most notably, Horizon, which is a true gem of a track, easily my favourite on the album. The instrumentation is blissful, from the Jimmy Page-like guitarwork early on through a moment just before the four minute mark that steals my breath on every single listen to a magnificent climax, but it benefits greatly from a confident vocal too.

Just to keep us on the hop, The Battle of Crystal Fields takes us in a surprising direction, one that seems very reminiscent of a Scottish folk tune. It's a lively piece that's as different from Horizon as Horizon is from The Answer or The Answer is from Omega Madness. I did mention that there's a lot going on here but every moment of it is well worth your effort in seeking it out. This is an easy 8/10 for me, but I'm wondering if I should up that to a 9/10.

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