The word hashasin is linked to the popular emergence of the term assassin, and this group of killers is believed to have been formed during the Crusades. While the group’s convoluted history is beyond the scope of an album review, the takeaway is that the sect’s secretive leader is believed to have drugged potential followers with hashish before convincing them to kill. In addition to being pretty damn metal, these two elements provide something of a metaphor for the sound of Hashshashin, a self-described “psychedelic droneprog” outfit from Australia. It’s helpful that the band described themselves, as this is not the easiest music to characterize.
Hashshasin have released their debut, nihsahshsaH. It’s a record which features highly proficient, technical playing that also manages to be trippy as fuck. Hashshashin features guitarist Lachlan Dale, also of twisted progressive noisemakers Serious Beak. In this group he shows his proficiency on the bouzouki, an instrument of Greek origin from which Dale extracts melodies with an Eastern flair, not dissimilar from a sitar. He brings his distinctive style of playing on Hashshasin as well, though it is utilized in a different fashion, as the peaks of the music rather than the entirety of the mountain. Serious Beak, to a certain extent, draws its power from crash cuts and surprise turns, leaving the listener vaguely uneasy, with the feeling of being surrounded by sinister tentacles. Their first album, Huxwhukh, had more individual songs, while their second album, Ankaa, was more of an extended piece, despite the aforementioned crash cuts. Hashshashin is a totally different beast, however, as this band makes use of long droning builds decorated with tasteful bouzouki licks which explode occasionally into the labyrinth dissonance as a release, before settling back into the more sedate, proggy drones. nihsahshsaH is best listened to from start to finish, as it relies on the sequencing of the tracks for the listener to get the full effect. They narcotize you with the drones before the metal orders you to kill.
Purely metaphorically, of course.
The album has a basic psychedelic framework, which is to say that it settles into long trippy sections that take you “out there” gradually before punching a hole in your consciousness. This structure is evident from the beginning of the album, which kicks off the brief bouzouki-led drone “Prostration,” followed quickly by “The Ascetic.” The second song maintains the feel of sitar phrasing, but somehow manages to add distorted guitar and the occasional flurry of blast beats. “Immolation” builds on the style of “The Ascetic,” but ups the ante slightly with a bit riffier content. “Ascension” mellows things out again, as Dale’s bouzouki playing takes on a style not dissimilar from that of a banjo. Bassist Cam McDonald shines on this track, which is propelled by an ascending bass riff. Things mellow out further for “Leviation,” an album highlight, which brings drone elements to the forefront and invites the listener to relax, before gradually building up to a brief climax of swirling electricity. The track does not drop all the way back down, but instead takes the sound of the climax but keeps the pace and phrasing of the introductory drone. Drummer Evan McGregor, who also brings didgeridoo stylings, adds some tasty cymbal splashes as well.
The album continues with “Disintegration,” which features the sounds of chanting and a slow drums and bass drone as well as dripping, reverb-soaked guitar. The song serves as a brief interlude before “Moksha,” one of the quicker pieces on the record, which again features the bouzouki licks juxtaposed with electric parts set to blast beats. “Derge” is a heavier piece, and emphasizes a sped-up post-metal sound implied, rather than emphasized, on other parts of the albums, though does drop into bouzouki-style licks played on guitar, before finishing with a coda that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on a 90s post-hardcore album. “Rebirth” starts off with a tightly wound riff that doesn’t play around. The song maintains the intensity throughout, save a brief outro, and in contrast with the previous tracks. It’s fitting as the final song on the album, finishing the story with an exclamation point.
If adventurous instrumental music with a world flare is your thing, nihsahshsaH is well worth a listen.
Hashshashin’s nihsahshsaH is available now through Art As Catharsis and can be purchased at this location.