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Astra - The Black Chord CD (album) cover




Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.99 | 434 ratings

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Symphonic Team
5 stars Astra pay tribute to classic 70s prog with a cosmic intergalactic mosaic of sound and fury.

I was so impressed with Astra's 'The Weirding' masterpiece that as soon as I laid eyes on this enigmatic new album, 'The Black Chord', I had to have it. Immediately, the style of Astra's modrn space rock meets classic 70s prog, is prominent. The album takes us on a mesmirising journey that at times is sumptuous tranquillity and at other times launches into heavy space guitar collisions. Every track offers something very special and never disappoints. I am in awe at how Astra capture the 70s sound and yet inject, and even reinvent, a modern approach to progressive psych rock.

'Cocoon' begins with howing solar winds and then ambient spaciness building with menace. The echoed guitar howls over, a drum beat settles into a steady measured pace. The glissando Hackett like guitars of Brian Ellis begin an improvised psychedelic melody. A riff locks in with twin guitars overlayed, and a fusion of keyboards smolders along tinging the edges of the sound. The music is uplifting as it builds to a faster cadence. The repetition of the riff is broken by a frantic keyboard and guitar run with very fast arpeggios. An intonation of lead guitar swells over and then is saturated by a bubble bath of synths. A wonderful melody takes over and caresses my ears, and I am in prog heaven. This is an inferno of prog excess, an instrumental with a very distinct 70s style sound, with odd time tempos, and percolating liquid keys. The guitars are drowned out by synths that fade and we hear manic drumming from David Hurley and more wind howling to end this awesome opener to the album.

It segues straight into the mammoth 'The Black Chord' that is a mosaic of colour and musical motion, with a windtunnel of keyboard, and some unusual chilling sounds leading to Conor Riley's piano phrases. The piano keeps some semblance of melody before we hear the psychedelic vocals of Richard Vaughan in early Pink Floyd style. Lyrics include; "Told the tall tale, Chapter and the verse, On the balance, Bounty and a curse, Into bright white, Only to reverse, For the Earth, Swallows whole." There are accents of acoustic picking and grinding organ with tons of tron. The music is fuelled with high octane guitars, with echoes of Hawkwind or early Genesis. There is a great progressive riff, and some spacey vox as it builds patiently. Some nice effervescent ambient pads fizz through as a delightful guitar chimes out heavy riffage. The bass of Stuart Sclater permeates the sound with comparable pulsating heartbeats. The tempo switches are dynamic and cutthroat razor sharp. There are touches of King Crimson, Caravan, Yes and Hawkwind imbedded in the billowing soundscape. It is a glorious cosmic journey with wavebreaks of modulating synthetic rhythms. The epic track transgresses into a lengthy shimmering organ, heavily phased guitars and sporadic drumming. It is an incredible master track full of sound and fury, a cacophony of cosmic musak topped with lashings of heavy psych prog like swirls of cosmic debris. A masterpiece of vivacious musicianship.

'Quake Meat' is an astonishing prog paradise. After a rapid fire killer riff the extreme psychedelic flanger vox crash through. The guitars of Ellis and Vaughan are ruthless and unremitting, and this is as heavy as I have heard Astra; no distortion, just very cool riffs. Ellis burns with a lead guitar solo and there is a break in transmission. The space effects soon swirl across like glacial planetary clusters, with celestial synths, and chunks of vociferous flute warble as a wah wah guitar break intercedes; Prog grandeur. Hawkwind blasts of stormy interstellar rays wash over and more phased vox punctuate the horizons. This is mind blowing music; incredible!

'Drift' begins with acoustic vibrations and a synth intro as softened vocals sweetly blend over. The atmospheric and sumptuous beauty is drfting along serenely with hovering mellotrons allowing the music to breathe. It is a lush short piece that acts as a welcome transmission, sandwiched between chaos and mayhem.

'Bull Torpis' is a crazy instrumental with lashings of insane keyboard wizardry from Riley and ultra heavy 70s guitars from Vaughan and Ellis blazing like a fire. The riffs are sensational with a frenetic time sig but the thing holds together with exquisite bass from Sclater and deliriously irregular drumming from Hurley.

'Barefoot In The Head' is an absolutely divine Pink Floyd homage, even inserting similar 'Have A Cigar' riffs, and harmonised spaced out vocals. Lyrics include; "Burning out and barefoot in the head, I'm hanging by a thread the writing on the wall, Lost and bound inside the grey machine, And nothing in between can break the final fall." The mellotron strings are icy cold and overlayed are the incredible spacey lead guitars that soar into the stratosphere. A cavalcade of guitars ends the album with riff upon riff and multi phased lead breaks creating a massive wall of sound. The glissando lead guitars careen off the scale and shimmering keys build to a crescendo. It builds to deafening white out, with droplets of synth and mammoth mellotron waterfalls cascading over, the guitars of Vaughan and Ellis clash together in the maelstrom and then it suddenly cuts off. And another masterpiece track is the result. I just wish it was not over so quickly.

What can be said about a band that sounds so pristine and spaced out, with some of the most amazing musicianship I have heard for a long time. It grows on the listener and is truly inspirational showing how music can sound contemporary and yet remain genuinely reverant to the golden sound of the 70s. Astra encompass everything that I love about prog, odd time sigs, symphonic mellotron soaked scapes with heavy psyched up guitar riffs and gentle meandering vocals. There is nothing better than hearing the modern band maintain the spirit of the 70s in such an affectionate manner. It is never contrived or forced because Astra are true to themselves and consistent in their inventiveness and innovation; not stealing but merely honouring the heritage of prog. This album is a paradise for prog addicts and definitely one of the masterpiece albums of 2012 thus far.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 5/5 |


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