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Astra - The Weirding CD (album) cover




Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.89 | 290 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars Wait, this is a 2009 release?

If the release date was never given, the immediate impulse would be to guess it was recorded in 1969.

Listening to the first track, all the classic elements of 70's prog come into view. All the jam tendencies present in Grateful Dead and Deep Purple's music are present in "The Rising Of The Black Sun". The retro sounds, the song titles, even the cover art and the design of the band name just screams "psychedelic". Once "The Weirding" sets in, the mellowed out sounds of the David Hurley's flute and the crunching whining of the guitars of Richard Vaughn, Conor Riley and Brian Ellis, it becomes enlightening to see today's generation embracing the good ol' prog days of yesteryear.

Alas, there seems to be no innovation or ingenuity so grandiose it shatters mere mortal's minds into oblivion, but faithful prog listeners such as myself would just do the normal thing and just embrace it for the elements it has. Some of the more interesting features in this track alone are the back and forth power struggles between the moogs and mellotron sound effects, not to mention the sheer emptiness of the track at midpoint until the guitars wail to life.

All I'd need would be some shrooms and a live concert to go to and I'm set. Although I don't think Astra are touring anytime soon. Unfortunate.

Yes, there have been psychedelic groups such as Iron Butterfly, Ozric Tentacles and even Pink Floyd that have embraced the jam philosophy as the Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers, but never on the scale that Astra managed it. Yes, "The Weirding" is a 15:30 minute long track, but it just drones on for an eternity followed by 3 minute guitar solos every 6 seconds. At least, that's the impression.

The initial impression of retro bands is Wolfmother; they seem to be the one group that people have heard of that brings up the term "retro rock". However, I prefer relating to "The Sword", a modern day band that doesn't come up with radio hits, but rather sticks to the status quo (eh, kinda) and fashions something of a bubbling cauldron of heavy "smash your face with a brick" sounds, which originated from "sludge metal", a slow, droning genre of chugging guitars and stoned deatbeats, one reason why "The Sword" is classified as "stoner metal".

However, Astra have taken that definition of "retro band" to another level by incorporating jam tendencies, the open space of music with simple accompaniment where guitars make their home and incorporate solo after solo after solo.

This seems to become more prevalent in "Silent Sleep", where echoing guitars make stop and go stutter steps into another atmospheric jam. Sure, anyone can just lay down a beat and improvise over it, but the fact that these Californian residents incorporate those wonderful sounds of the moog and mellotron almost have the ability to bring even the most faithful of 70's prog to tears.

However, once you dig deeper into this track, the implications of the track name come into effect, as it's more dreamy and, well, sleepy, than it is heavy, droning and guitar happy. The sudden comparing and contrasting styles of both the second and third tracks (even the first as well) definitely show the talent these guys possess. What really surprises me, though, is that in an environment where Hollywood, glamour and stupidity exist (California), here emerges a band that should've been born somewhere in Europe in the late '60's.

Alas, the final verdict predates this very record's release. Yes, it's a wonderful piece of music, and it's also enlightening that the traditions, sounds and styles of 60-70's prog haven't disappeared forever, but it's certainly not for everyone, not even for every single prog fan. Psychedelic fans may consider Astra to be a "traditionalist" group, your standard cookie-cutter psychedelic prog band. These guys just happen to be from the 21st century from San Diego, California.

But hey, psychedelic prog rock isn't the first thing that comes to your mind when you think "San Diego. That didn't stop Astra from releasing an exceptional record.

Wicket | 4/5 |


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