The Mekaal Hasan Band sound like no other group on the planet. The fiery, guitar-fueled art-rock band blend south Asian, Middle Eastern and global metal influences into their distinctive, rhythmically tricky sound. Don’t let their constant tempo and metric shifts or lead guitarist Hasan’s Berklee background give you the impression that what they play is prog. Their latest album, Andholan – streaming at Spotify – is packed with unexpected dynamics, snarling melodies and purposeful drive, taking flight on the wings of frontwoman Sharmistha Chatterjee’s soaring vocals. They’re making a rare New York appearance on August 30 at 7 PM at Joe’s Pub, and they’re very popular with a Punjabi audience, so $15 advamce tix are very highly recommended.
The opening track, Gunghat kicks off with a bitingly flurrying, chromatically menacing guitar-and-flute intro before Gino Banks’ hard-hitting drums kick in and Chatterjee’s uneasily intense, elegantly ornamented voice enters, while Hasan and flutist Mohammad Ahsan Papu build a shiveringly artsy, metallic backdrop. Champakalli builds around a creepy bell-like motif before Hasan puts the bite on and they make almost gleeful metal out of it; then they go back and forth with an ominous sway.
Chaterjee builds toward imploring heights over a surealistically chiming, watery background as Bheem gets underway, then the band picks up steam, like a more darkly metallic update on classic 70s Nektar, the flute adding droll touches, almost like portamento synth. Hasan’s garish squall contrasts with Chaterjee’s stark leaps and bounds and the terse, new wave-tinged pulse of Sayon: imagine the Police with metal guitar and a Pakistani influence. Maalkauns is both the hardest-hitting soccer-stadium fist-pumper and the most distinctively Pakistani numbers here.
The album’s best song, Sindhi brings back the eerie bell-tone ambience of the second track – Hasan’s distinctively ringing, reverbtoned guitar textures, at least when he isn’t getting cheesy putting the bite on, anyway, are nothing short of delicious. Mehg opens as an airy mood piece that quickly gives way to a crushing stomp, flute and voice sailing above it insistently. Kinarey, the album’s final cut, is a diptych. Based on a raga etude, the song shifts through pensive piano and vocals to a lonesome flute interlude and back. It’s rare that you hear a band that so seamlessly bridges the gap between Indo-Pakistani music and rock, let alone one with such a nuanced yet powerful singer.