Greek heavy psych trio Naxatras issued their second album with little by way of fanfare — just posting II on their Bandcamp page as a quick follow-up to the Thessaloniki outfit’s well-received 2015 self-titled full-length debut — and that method suits the stripped back nature of their musical approach as well. Comprised of six tracks that, if they’re not solely jams, certainly feel built out from them, II is a flowing exercise in organic execution, vinyl-ready at 37 minutes but even better taken as a front-to-back whole, an entire work the parts of which make each other stronger for the different sides of the band’s sound they represent. At their core, Naxatras are an instrumental band, and that remains true despite the vocals on “Sisters of the Sun” (perhaps a companion to the also-vocalized “Sun is Burning” from the debut).
A central running theme here is the chemistry between guitarist John Delias, bassist/vocalist John Vagenas and drummer Kostas Harizanis, the language they’ve learned to speak together since forming in 2012, and the fluidity they’re able to harness across these songs, which maintain the raw, live, analog feel of the debut, but feel more laid back in the consciousness of what they’re doing. The album was recorded live to reel-to-reel tape by Jesus I. Agnew at Magnetic Fidelity Studio, and particularly in Harizanis‘ drums, I think that comes through, but the tone in Delias‘ guitar and the ’60s garage psych-pop echo on Vagenas‘ vocals on “Sisters of the Sun” complement this natural feel with a lush vibe, so that there’s depth to the mix as well as movement in what Naxatras are playing, however fast, slow, active or still it might be.
In terms of bare influences, Colour Haze are an automatic touchstone for just about anything warm-toned and jammy in heavy psych, definitely out of Europe if not the world over, but Naxatras also indulge an experimental aspect — see the drum-led beginning of “The Great Attractor” — that makes II feel even more kin to Causa Sui in concept if not actual sound. Either way, their second offering would fall flat if they didn’t bring their own sonic identity to the proceedings, and fortunately they do. A quiet intro, “Oort Cloud,” begins with a faded-in drone and some minimal note plucking, a wash of cymbals, and a backwards guitar loop cuts to drums to start “Proxima Centauri,” which teases tension at its start but soon unfolds a languid spaciousness, delving into thicker tones and more driving rhythm as it moves toward its midsection, but ultimately defined by the serenity of its just-under-eight-minute expanse; not to take anything away from the nod at the end.
The aforementioned “Sisters of the Sun” picks up from there with appropriate luster in the guitar and shimmy on a tambourine, and as the only song with sung verses and choruses is of course a standout. Even more so for its classic psychedelic spirit than the simple fact that Vagenas put vocals on it, though. It wouldn’t be right to call Naxatras a retro band, but “Sisters of the Sun” is speaking to a tradition of psychedelic pop rock that feels drawn directly from 1967, and they do it remarkably well, Harizanis holding together an effective, simple swing as Delias takes a solo out to wander for a while in the back end of the track. In terms of chemistry, “Sisters of the Sun” is no less reliant on it than was “Proxima Centauri” or than is “The Great Attractor,” which follows, but even the fact that Naxatras would so purposefully switch up method of craft here proves a commitment to progressing their sound and continuing to push themselves to create in different ways.
With a more space rock-derived sense of thrust, “The Great Attractor” represents still another side of the band’s sound, and between the 10-minute jam “Garden of the Senses,” which follows as the penultimate cut, and the sax-laden “Evening Star,” which closes with a guest appearance from John‘s father, Alexis Vagenas, Naxatras have by no means told the full story stylistically. Their breadth is drawn together by the resonance of their tones and the chemistry underneath, but while the formula appears simple, that doesn’t necessarily mean nothing went into making it work. “Garden of the Senses” is a defining moment for side B of II in a similar way that “Sisters of the Sun” was for side A, though what it’s defining is much different. With the earlier track, it was about setting up the varied course to follow — with the later one, it’s getting lost in the exploration. Which is easy to do. Even the drums at the start are hypnotic, and what unfurls from there as the guitar and bass build in is only more entrancing.
They build and release tension through heavy psych nod and wind up in a peaceful psych jazz — something Jim Morrison might’ve seen fit to ruin with poetry — which works as well as a lead-in for “Evening Star,” which starts quiet only to be led by the saxophone, less constructed than anything Hypnos 69 ever did with a sax, but still with a memorable guitar line beneath leading a subdued march. As it makes its way toward the finish, “Evening Star” sort of falls apart, and a last blow of the horn is drawn into a pool of effects that fades out as the close. It’s as natural a finish as one might expect for II, which if the debut didn’t should most definitely mark the arrival of Naxatras within the European heavy psych community and possibly beyond. The subtle variety and sense of purpose they bring to this material is pivotal to absorbing (and being absorbed by) the flow between and within the tracks, and while they seem to be on a progressive course moving forward, I wouldn’t speculate where their journey might lead them their next time out. At the rate they’re working, we might find out soon anyhow.