April 3, 2020

Imagine a brand of heavy psychedelic rock with added Greek folk instruments! (Heaven only knows what sub-genre that might be called!). Villagers Of Ioannina City are that merry band of boundary-pushers, producing this really quite addictive new album Age of Aquarius.

Some interesting facts for the inquisitive among you: Ioannina is the capital city of both the Ioannina area and Epirus region of Greece, Epirus having been famous for millenia for its landscapes of mammoth mountains and ancient fables and architecture – now for experimental heavy rock! Since their formation in 2007, Villagers of Ioannina City have been known, at least on the European mainland, for this wacky mix of heavy rock and folk instruments – a sort of Greek Horslips, crossed with Hawkwind! Working on their style of flowing, rhythmic arrangements, drawing listeners into the mix, their sound slowly swirls, melancholically yet upbeat and tinged with a celtic wildness. You could describe it as a synthesis of post-rock, celtic-rock and stoner rock influences, with added local soundscapes topped with a large dose of Greek-folk story-telling – this is not your average band! But it hits the mark, and this their second album is put on general release by Napalm records on 3 April, following its original release in Greek in September of last year. It’s badged as a psychedelic mantra for the new age!

The band are: Alex (guitar, vocals), Akis (bass), Aris (drums), Kostantis (clarinet, wind instruments), Kostas (bagpipes). Their debut album Riza came out in 2014 and enjoyed widespread acceptance by critics and audiences, receiving lots of excellent reviews not only from Greece but from all over the world, named by some as album of the year. At that time, they played some of the biggest rock festivals and numerous sold out shows in the biggest music scenes in Greece, then across Europe. But they seemed to lose their way somewhat, and have been pretty quiet since then until this new work.

The band have always been deeply influenced by the Greek landscape all around them, together with cosmic phenomena. They therefore, entirely logically, infuse their rock arrangements with instruments such as bagpipes, flutes and didgeridoos – but I have to say “It works”, and Epirus might just become the next unlikely epicentre of the heavy rock universe!

Age of Aquarius is not a re-launch of the same old stuff from six years ago. It’s clear the band have sharpened their compositional skills in the last few years, the result being tracks that are, if not “all killer and no filler”, at least more rocky, less meandering, generally more mature and listenable with a much better vocal mix and beefier guitar work, hence the stoner-rock tag.

The album starts gently, with the introductory Welcome working along a simple repeated riff, together with incantation-like vocals, delivered nice and clearly at the front of the mix. Welcome pauses and then flows into Age Of Aquarius using the same riff progression. Its a simple but an effective trick, the track building organically over 8 minutes, the guitar riff weirdly but very melodically twinned with bagpipes and (I think ) flute – sounds weird? – but I am intrigued, drawn in and aurally hypnotised by the overall sound!

The third track is Part V. Okay, these guys have a weird sense of humour! But again the song starts very simply with a lovely production before building. The middle part of the album is very much driven by repeated hypnotic riffs – it makes me think there’s really not much difference at all between Hawkwind and much Stoner Rock. And that’s not a criticism, it certainly works to great effect on this album. Although the basic mix is that repetitive riff-driven rhythm, there is a lightness to the playing and the production so that it never gets messy and uninteresting – its all hypnotically tuneful and melodic. A classic example of that is the nine minutes of Cosmic Soul (sounds like it really ought to have been a Hawkwind title!), which builds and builds and builds – but without ever getting boring. Even though many of the tracks do seem to merge into each other, with the same tonality of chords being used, I still thoroughly enjoyed this – and at this point I feel the need to point out it is 2 pm in the afternoon and I’m completely sober in every sense while I write this! For The Innocent is a further example of this deliciously hypnotic song-building, as featured on the video below:

It’s a smart move by Napalm Records to sign this band, this is really entertaining heavy rock that is quite timeless – the links to psychedelia are there but they don’t distract the band or the listener, there being hypnotically great tunes and melodies for all to enjoy! I found this a very interesting, different and alluring musical mix, if you get the chance, have a dabble!

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