Villagers of Ioannina City – Age of Aquarius [Things You Might Have Missed 2019]

Originally released on an independent label in 2019, I didn’t find out about the excellent Age of Aquarius until Napalm re-released it this year.1 I’m writing it up anyway because it’s one of the best things I’ve heard this year. The Villagers of Ioannina City play psychedelic- and folk-infused progressive rock. As the name suggests, the band are from Epirus in northwestern Greece.2 They are heavily influenced by the folk music of Epirus, and therefore feature a clarinet3 (e.g. “Age of Aquarius”) and bagpipes (e.g. “Dance of Night”) in addition to standard rock instruments. Other than a brief screamed vocal section at the end of “Part V,” it never really crosses into metal territory. Pink Floyd comparisons are a cliché in this genre, but nonetheless appropriate, particularly for some of the guitar lines (“Part V” again).

Age of Aquarius succeeds primarily on the strength of VIC‘s songwriting, but there are plenty of stylistic contributing factors. The folk aspects use a style of folk music that will be unfamiliar to most listeners. That element of unfamiliarity keeps the basic sound interesting. The bagpipes, always a divisive instrument, are used in the right places and get some of the catchiest melodies, but never overused. And likewise, vocalist Alex works really well for the band. He’s not showy or highly technical, but he’s charismatic and brings a lot of character. But none of this would matter if the writing wasn’t up to scratch.

Psychedelic and stoner music’s most common failings are succumbing to directionless jamming or boring, rather than hypnotic, repetition. Prog’s is becoming overly wanky. VIC do neither. This is clearly psychedelia and so there are a lot of extended repetitions of particular riffs, but they’re consistently great, develop in interesting ways rather than just looping, and interplay with the other instruments. The tracks wander but never feel lost, despite mostly running over eight minutes, and build to satisfying conclusions. Nothing feels unnecessary. The album as a whole also has a great progression and flow to it. There are consistent themes and styles across its runtime, but it never overdoes any particular element. The hooks and melody lines are interesting and catchy in equal measure.

It could, perhaps, have been a tiny bit shorter—over an hour is a long time, even when it’s this good. The industry-standard DR6 production, while not in any way bad, makes the folk instruments feel a little confined at times. But that’s the closest I can get to levelling complaints at Age of Aquarius. Alas, the strict rules of list season prevent it from featuring on my list, but it would have been in the running for my AotY, in either year.

Tracks to Check Out: “Age of Aquarius,” “Dance of Night,” and “Cosmic Soul.”

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Shout-out to the comment section’s Arrogant Bastard, who brought it to my attention.
  2. I’m sure you knew where Ioannina is.
  3. Yes, unusually, clarinet is a very common instrument in the region’s folk music.
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