The Greek three-piece Naxatras is putting out their third full length album, aptly titled III, this week. The band pulls heavily from the American acid rock wave that crested in 1969, but they don’t go as far as the screechingly rebellious solos filled with feedback. They settle instead for the more mellow and mature influences of 70s psychedelic bands like Pink Floyd and Hawkwind. Most of the songs are rather subdued and edge toward fusion. Naxatras sounds like a funk bassist recruited a jazz drummer and a psychedelic guitarist. The combination works really well, which is probably not surprising given that all three styles hearken to similar roots.
There is a lot of space in the soundscape, with the band foregoing massive fuzz or building a wall of sound until late in the record. Guitarist John Delias uses a lot of reverb, especially in solo sections, and this aids the band in attaining the psychedelic feel they aspire to. What I like most about the compositions is that the bass and guitar trade the melody back and forth and cooperate in evolving ideas. Bassist John Vagenas (who also provides vocals) easily carries the melody through long solo sections, adds fills, and suggests new motifs. Drummer Kostas Harizanis has a knack for subtlety and timing, tapping the high hat for surprising and light-hearted fills, assisting builds, and swinging easily along with more fervent sections of the songs.
The only thing I feel III is missing is drama. The guitar and bass cooperate so beautifully that it seems they’re always agreeing with and encouraging each other. Introducing solo sections that battle, argue, and compete could make future releases more dynamic. The band uses sudden stops to introduce suspense — you can never predict whether the band is building to a breakout, a breakdown, or even if the song has ended. This keeps the listener engaged, but adding conflict between the musicians would further develop the songs, give their sound an edge, and bring them more squarely into the heavy side of the psychedelic genre.
While the style is largely improvisational, it never swings fully into either free-form jazz nor skirts that of a jam band. The songs have structure, and with their reliance in some songs on a loop pedal, planning their compositions is absolutely necessary. The vocals and lyrics on this album are scarce — it’s largely instrumental. Where there are vocals, on tracks one, five, six, and seven, the styles are divergent; for example, on the first song, the words feel strained and bring to mind John Garcia, and on the sixth track they are sweetly crooning over a melancholy love ballad. The variety of styles on this album is one of the things I enjoyed most, and it has invited repeated listens. Fans of All Them Witches and Earthless will surely enjoy Naxatras.
“You Won’t Be Left Alone” starts with jangly, sweet guitar, and transitions to a heavy riff for underneath the verses, which are presented in two voices and are reminiscent of the strained style used by Kyuss.There is a lot of space in the soundscape, as the band neglects to fill out a wall of sound with fuzz and uses only light distortion. The heavy reverb on the guitar accentuates the space, and invites a UFO landing halfway through the composition. Space sounds make a second appearance in the fourth track, “Machine,” and the second time they hover more closely as if they had been hanging back to observe the band’s set before deciding that it was worthwhile to make contact. The space noise section features Filon Geropoulos on bowed cymbals, and the amelodic interlude breaks up not only the song but the album as a whole, and it is well-placed in the middle of it.
The second track, “On the Silver Line” enlists a loop pedal to add 16th notes under a rising and falling two-measure riff, producing a long, hypnotic instrumental excursion. “Land of Infinite Time” is the longest song on the album at just over 12 minutes, and breaks away from stoner rock riffs in favor of quickly developing a simple idea into several derivatives. The effect invites a post-rock psychedelic experience. “Prophet” is one of the four songs with lyrics, and the mournful vocals have a lot of reverb on them, making them warble and echo. The fifth track also holds a Sabbath-esque riff, introduced by the bass, the heaviest section of any song on the album, and a screeching solo — the kind I had secretly hoped would break out all record long.
The closing two tracks, “White Morning” and “Spring Song” are soft and melancholy. The bass adds most of the movement in “White Morning” underneath two sparse guitar parts (the second part is played by guest musician Filon Geropoulos, who also plays acoustic guitar on the following track) and two contrasting vocal tracks. “Spring Song” has the sound of a love ballad from the outset, but it is a bittersweet song of loving someone who is broken. “Do you see the beauty in me? / Do you feel life’s more than a dream? … I’ll carry the sun for you. / I’ll carry a light for you.”
Naxatras have succeeded in creating a lovely throwback to 70s psychedelia that is well-rounded and playful. III was recorded live at Magnetic Fidelity with the exclusion of vocals, which were overdubbed. The self-released effort will be available on Friday, February 16th in three formats: CD, LP, and digital.