Review Summary: An exotic fusion of Darker Progressive Rock, Pakistani Sufi music, Jazz Fusion, and Psychedelia. MHB's finest hour.NOTE: This review is for the 2020 version with re-recorded vocals from the band’s original vocalist Javed Bashir, as opposed to the original album that had former female vocalist Sharmistha Chatterjee. Both albums are on Spotify and other online streaming platforms with slightly different album art.
Pakistani guitarist extraordinaire Mekaal Hasan has been active in Pakistan’s music scene for over two decades now. Whether it has been in the capacity of songwriter for his namesake Eastern jazz fusion band, solo work, or production/engineering work for some of the biggest musical talents in Pakistan; he has had his influence in not only Pakistan’s, but the Sub Continent’s, rock scene since the early 2000s.
The Mekaal Hasan Band (MHB) has been an outlet for Mekaal Hasan to explore his Western rock and jazz influences, as well his Pakistani classical and Qawwali inspirations, with Andholan
being the band’s third outing. With every successive album the band has indulged further into rock territory and Andholan
is no exception. It’s the band’s heaviest album to date, and sees an increase in the number of sections with faster tempos and more intricate arrangements. The Pakistani Folk and western jazz fusion influence are still intrinsic components of the compositions but have been fortified with the amalgamation of hard rock, progressive rock, and psychedelic elements to create a tantalising musical cocktail that requires multiple listens to reveal all of its layers.
The prime culprit behind the album’s heaviness is Mekaal’s guitar playing. His distorted guitar tones are richer and more sinister sounding than ever, which make the riffs and melodies more dense and enigmatic. He’s incorporated a diverse palette of tones ranging from crisp leads, to psychedelic and hypnotic cleans which add to the mystique of Andholan
. The musical complexity has increased from a musicianship standpoint, but more intriguingly from a layering and song structure perspective. At times there are three or more guitar tracks, while other sections contain multiple vocal, flute, and keyboard layers that provide a grandiose and immersive atmosphere to captivate the listener. There are some technical riffs and harmonies between instruments, most typically the guitar and flute, but they do no disservice to the melodiousness of the music. The musicianship is stellar, with the rhythm section providing a fluid foundation upon which Mekaal Hasan’s compositions flourish. Ahsan Papu’s effervescent flute playing, and Javed Bashir’s emotive and reflective vocals paint an ocean of emotions for the listener to dive into. The flute is an even more intrinsic part of the music than before, harmonising with the guitar riffs at times, while also sprinkling melodies and leads throughout. Examples of the tasteful instrumental interplay are present on tracks like "Bheem", "Maalkauns", "Champakalli", and "Ghungat". Honestly, there's potential for Ahsan's flutes to be incorporated even more, they can play more melodies underneath the vocals for example, supplementing keyboards since MHB has no keyboardist. There seems to be so much sonic territory for the band to potentially explore in the future.
The dark guitar tone and effects, hypnotic flute, and vocal performances on here enhance the sense of melancholy in the music. Yes this album is heavy in many ways, but most notably in terms of it's ominous atmosphere. The sonic depth of this album is achieved as a result of Mekaal’s extensive production and sound engineering experience, with all the instruments sounding rich and warm, and having been given ample space in the mix to leave an impact. At places some instruments could have been even higher in the mix, but it sounds like there were a lot of instrument tracks to incorporate, and with that in mind I can’t really fault the mixing work done since the spirit of the music is still relayed quite effectively. I feel the album would have been strengthened with the addition of another five to six minute track, but it’s better for an album to be shorter and leave you wanting more, versus being lengthy and tiresome. So again I can’t fault the band too much for the album length since it feels cohesive.
Vocalist Javed Bashir is still not an official member of MHB, however I wouldn’t mind the band re-recording every future album he’s not on with his vocals. No disrespect at all to previous vocalist Sharmistha, but this album feels rejuvenated with his performance. I’m a big fan of Mekaal Hasan and as such am more inclined to enjoying his music, however if you're open to listening to music which contains the flair and mystique of Sub Continental music meshed with the sensibilities of Western Hard Rock/Progressive Rock/Jazz fusion then I’m sure you'll find something on this album to enjoy. It requires some time and patience to unpack, but when it clicks its such a refreshing surprise. Best enjoyed with speakers. Looking forward to where they go from here.
Band's Spotify page: https://open.spotify.com/artist/2uU2C4SNKcHqBzPjRrBvVy
Both albums are on Spotify and other online streaming platforms with slightly different album art.
Update (29/04): Mekaal Hasan contacted me and informed me there were no keyboards on the record, so I've updated the review with this info