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Astra - The Black Chord CD (album) cover

THE BLACK CHORD

Astra

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.99 | 434 ratings

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FragileKings
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Nearly four years have passed since I purchased this album, and it has become an important disc for me as it was one of the first I bought after I discovered the significance of both prog rock and this site. As I have stated in other reviews, I had only ever heard of progressive rock once when it was mentioned in an Austin Powers movie in reference to the Alan Parsons Project. Yet my music collection included many of the albums that are on this esteemed web site. When I finally understood what prog was (thanks to Wikipedia and this site here), I began seeking out progressive artists, and Astra's striking album cover caught my attention on Amazon one day while I was searching for modern day prog bands.

My impression has not changed over the years. This is always an enjoyable album to listen to. It's not too long (unlike their debut, "The Weirding") and the tracks are kept at a reasonable length, completed perfectly in their given time frames. As I listened to this album yet again tonight, though, I was once more struck by the impression that this is really space travel music. You'll know what I mean when you hear the slow and gradual building up of the first track, "Cocoon". It takes you for a ride over the surface of a barren but exotic planetary landscape at sunrise before launching you to the stars and through gaseous nebulae and spiraling galaxies.

Astra are five lads from California who know how to capture the cosmic rock of the early seventies. Somewhat like the child of 1969-71 Pink Floyd and Hawkwind but inheriting Pink Floyd's more laid back style, Astra are big on Moog synthesizers and Mellotrons but of course including electric and acoustic guitars along with the quintessential bass and drums. One member is also credited with flute. A retro band to be sure but a very good one. The music is not hugely complex but rich in textures, the Mellotron used to create that space age fantasy soundscape. Acoustic guitar doesn't figure in much except in "Drift", and when I hear it in "Barefoot in the Head", the guitar notes are more like sparkles of twinkling starlight glittering through gaps in the obscuring nebulous gasses in the slowly shifting dust of a starfield.

The music is generally quite laid back and slow but it can break into gallops, the brief instrumental "Bull Torpis" being the one track the moves along at a hurried pace. There are suitable flourishes of guitar solos and keyboards, and the vocals are soft in that old Pink Floydian way and sometimes distorted slightly to add to the spacey effect. I believe there are two vocalists and their harmonized vocals also fit right with to the overall effect.

Though not everyone views retro-prog favourably, I think in a case like this where it is accomplished so well one has to give credit. This is one far out piece of work. If there is any flaw great enough to deny the album a five-star rating it's the production sound. I'm not sure if it was intentional but the dynamic range seems to be lacking. I'd love to be able to hear the music captured more clearly and the life of the instruments rendered more generously. This is a step up from their debut which had a much inferior sound quality. I can only hope that if they ever get around to recording a third album it will be better produced. But again, it almost seems as though it was done intentionally because the lack of dynamic range doesn't totally dampen the music. Perhaps they were going for this kind of effect.

A worthwhile album to check out, and gosh darn it all, Astra, guys, get another album out sometime soon, will you? You do stellar work!

FragileKings | 4/5 |

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