Full Album Premiere & Review: Samavayo, Payan

Samavayo Payan

[Click play above to stream Samavayo’s new album, Pāyān, in its entirety. Album is out Friday, March 25, on Noisolution.]

Pāyān is the most expansive and engrossing Samavayo studio album to-date. Their second LP behind 2018’s Vatan (review here) to be released through Noisolution, it is their seventh full-length overall and their first since marking 20 years as a band in 2020, and it sees the Berlin-based three-piece of band founder and spearhead Behrang Alavi (guitar and vocals), bassist Andreas Voland (also organ and vocals) and drummer Stephan Voland (also vocals and other percussion) engage directly with a range of social issues lyrically and a corresponding instrumental scope, working in continued collaboration with producer Richard Behrens at Big Snuff Studio to create a style that is born of weighted-fuzz heavy rock as much as harder-edged prog, psychedelic flourish and underlying rhythmic influence from Middle Eastern styles, set to already-stuck-in-your-head hooks like “Afghan Sky” and the twice-exclamatory “Transcend! Exceed!,” “Prophecy” and closer “The Mission,” the vocals on which don’t so much recall Led Zeppelin‘s “Kashmir” as provide it a level of cultural accuracy otherwise neglected.

Granted, these patterns of aesthetic aren’t necessarily new for SamavayoVatan, the prior 2016 outing for Setalight Records, Dakota (review here), both also dug brazenly into their ambitiousness. With Pāyān, the difference is the sense of realization brought to bear across the album’s seven songs and 43 minutes, the clear communication of ideas and the purposefulness with which each song contributes to the listening experience of the surrounding entirety. “Afghan Sky” immediately puts the listener in a real place, and that proves pivotal to the atmosphere of Pāyān. Right away, Samavayo aren’t shying from their task.

There’s very little escapism from front to back here, whether it’s the Persian-language execution of the title-track — translating to ‘the end,’ which right away one hopes this isn’t when it comes to the band — or the venting-of-frustration in “The Mission,” which is what Metallica might’ve turned into had they been punk instead of thrash at the outset. Shades in “Pāyān” itself of post-Alice in Chains harmony in layers and the semi-aggro delivery of “Shot Shot Shot Shot” are likewise familiar ground for Samavayo to cover, but they do so with a greater attention to detail and dynamic than they have before, putting momentum side-by-side with exploration as “Transcend! Exceed!” emerges from the culmination of the title cut and careens into “Prophecy,” the latter both the longest and arguably the most progressive inclusion.

The guests beg mention. On the first three songs, and on “The Mission” at the end, Alavi and the Volands welcome outside contributors, with Elder/Delving‘s Nick DiSalvo adding to “Afghan Sky” ahead of Tommi Holappa of Dozer and Greenleaf sitting in for “Shot Shot Shot Shot” — the forward push of which finds him right at home — and Igor Sydorenko of would’ve-been-tourmates-but-for-that-Russian-invasion-of-Ukraine Stoned Jesus playing on “Pāyān” while Willi Paschen of Coogans Bluff rounds out on the closer. These are not minor names in the sphere of heavy rock and roll, and what they bring to Pāyān collectively is more than novelty, adding to the inherent personality of the pieces on which they feature through their own varied tones and playing styles.


Whatever the draw of these appearances might be on their face — and after more than two decades recording and touring, Samavayo are well entitled to such a draw — it’s greatly to the band’s own credit that none of the four guests overtake the songs on which they play. Part of that is a simple question of mixing — in no way does “Afghan Sky” punch the audience in the face with “here’s Nick!,” and the same applies to the others who follow — but it also stands as a testament to the quality of songwriting itself. That comes through as much in the jazzy punch of bass early in “Shot Shot Shot Shot” and the soul-informed vocal there as in Holappa‘s soloing, or DiSalvo‘s or Sydorenko‘s and Paschen‘s. Conclusively, Pāyān is about its songs more than anything else, as well as the album being built from them.

At the time, Dakota was the furthest along their progressive course that Samavayo had evolved. Same for Vatan those four tumultuous years ago. One of the ways in which Pāyān holds to that standard is in its plays back and forth of momentum, tempo and style. With a salvo in “Afghan Sky” (also one of the strongest and most memorable choruses) and “Shot Shot Shot Shot,” the album unfolds into the title-track, still plenty hooky but more expansive in style and requiring something of an adjustment of expectation on the part of the listener, with “Transcend! Exceed!” following to move directly into its first verse as both the shortest and most straight-ahead of the assembled material; mellow verse, rush of a chorus, careening riff in desert-reminiscent fashion.

“Prophecy” is almost too thoughtful to be as lost in itself as it tells you it is, but its later melody make it a high point both of Pāyān and of Samavayo‘s work more generally — yes that’s said in acknowledgement of how long they’ve been around — and it comes backed by the cover of Iranian pop singer Googoosh “Talagh,” which inventively combines aspects of Persian language and melody with Samavayo‘s arrangement context, bringing aspects of the band’s originals to bear in a way that is duly purposeful as the rawer-tone of “The Mission” caps with a deceptive depth of melody in its chorus offsetting the stomp and fury of the verse before.

And it’s likewise fitting that the lyrics to “The Mission” trace back to the source of so much of the conflict around which the rest of the songs are based in lines like “Undermine supremacy,” “Cut the power of the pervasive, unstoppable, pestilence,” and so on, that at least to my American ears sound distinctly critical of white supremacism and the cultural discrimination that not only led to the collapse of the government depicted in “Afghan Sky,” but is relevant to the aforementioned invasion of Ukraine and any number of other issues worldwide, be it human rights, plague, or any number of forms of violence and oppression, state or otherwise.

If the revolution is coming, Samavayo sound ready for it. In either case, Pāyān — pronounced “PIE-on,” if the title-track is anything to go by — looks boldly at the time and place of its making while further demonstrating the nuance emergent in Samavayo‘s approach and the band’s will toward ongoing sonic progress. They give no signs of stopping, and that is only for the better.

Samavayo, “Transcend! Exceed!” official video

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