For those of you that aren’t familiar with the band, Hashshashin is the creative outlet of Art As Catharsis founder Lachlan Dale alongside percussionist Evan McGregor and bassist Cameron Macdonald. Hashshashin approach music with an exemplary sense of open-mindedness and a flexibility. Fusing together the raw energy and dynamic technical proficiency of progressive rock with the mythical timbre of Middle Eastern music offers a result that is second to none. Other influences ooze through the cracks as well, as we’ll come to see.
Badakhshan is a worthy successor to nihsahshsah, providing more than just an apt follow-up. It expands on this sonic realm that is far beyond what we could conceive from mere words. As its title implies, Badakshan transports us to the Far East, to the easternmost region of Afghanistan. This used to be one of the main corridors of the ancient Silk Road; part of this ancestral heritage reverberates heavily throughout the record.
Right after a brief intro sequence, “Crossing the Panj” sets us on our journey, conjuring the majestic mountainous vistas of the Badakhshan region, as if we’re actually just now crossing the Panj river and heading into the wilderness. The elegant sound of progressive fusion draws shade and contour onto the path that unwinds before us with subtle Middle Eastern accents and textures. “Death in Langar” eases things up a little, sending our way a more loose, mellow, and meditative stream of sound, advancing slowly further to the east at the next stop on this journey.
“Shrines of the Wakhan” continues roving deeper, evoking the lush and raw beauty of the Wakhan Corridor Nature Refuge, which lies right at the border to China. This is done with a more energetic, dynamic, and psychedelic tinge that adds a certain sound to the natural grandeur of this place. The range of emotions in the song, crossing over from blunt and lively to smooth and serene, perfectly encapsulates the diversity of the scenery in question.
“Sarhadd” is named after a village in the Wakhan Corridor which lies close to the Panj, where the river broadens into a wide plain. The relaxed, contemplative demeanor of the song’s first half lets us take a deep breath after this expansive trip. Things then start to liven up again, rushing us across the hills, ever urging us to move on, but not before oddly slowing down to a nearly droned-out pace. It’s almost like the scarcity of sounds implies an actual real life scarcity.
Well, that scarcity is the bareness of the desert, as the upcoming song will tell us. “The Taklamakan” fully immerses us in the final place we will be visiting on our journey. Opening up with vast and amorphous textures, it creates a vivid image of the emptiness and might of the desert, as well as the people of the past who sought to travel to the west across these barren lands. Along with the already established blend of sounds, we hear a more prominent post-rock influence that lends some extra mythos to bring out that nice ethereal flavor.
Closing on a subdued drone, we are led into “Then He Hid Himself In The Refining Fire” which serves as the bookend to our voyage. We hear some slight Indian influences spread throughout that seem to unravel from inside the Middle Eastern elements. This, along with the laid back instrumental delivery, prompts us to take it easy and enjoy what little is left of the ride. As it all ends, the echoes and images linger on, leaving a bitter-sweet taste, for it is a shame that such beauty would not last longer.
In Badakhshan, Hashshashin created an uncompromising masterpiece. It isn’t only the swift elegance with which the vastly different elements and influences are blended that lends authenticity and power to the album – it became a compelling work of art because of the band’s clear narrative vision, along with the music’s real life roots that add to all its crisp nuances. Badakhshan isn’t just an album; it is a dense and uplifting experience that has to be approached with no expectations and an adventurous mindset. The reward is out there to find for all those who revel in a good journey.