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Astra - The Black Chord CD (album) cover




Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.99 | 434 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars One of the few 21st century progressive rock outfit's capable of producing an authentic retro-style sound, San Diego's Astra burst onto the scene back in 2009 with their outstanding analogue-drenched debut 'The Weirding'. Released on both CD and deluxe gate-fold vinyl(yum yum) 'The Weirding' made many of the days modern prog acts seem cheesy and insipid by comparison, the group's muscular blend of earthy, metallic riffs, dense mellotron swirls, other-worldly lyrics and lengthy, complex song suites harking right back the genre's early 1970s golden era yet also encompassing a decidedly contemporary edge, thus lending Astra a unique and powerful sound all of their own. Three years on, and happily, the boys are back with a brand new studio offering, something that has been keenly anticipated by Astra's growing legion of fans ever since it was announced last year that April 2012 would be the slated release date. Featuring the same five-man line- up of Richard Vaughan(vocals, keyboards, guitar), Stuart Sclater(bass), Conor Riley(keyboards, vocals), Brian Ellis(guitar) and David Hurley(drums, flute) and recorded in their native California, 'The Black Chord' picks up right from where it's predecessor left-off, more-or-less utilising the same formula that made 'The Weirding' such a progressive masterpiece. Right from the grazing instrumental mysticism of 'Cocoon', which provides a suitably dense beginning, 'The Black Chord' once more demonstrates both Astra's love of classic prog and heavy rock sounds and their consumate musical abilities with instruments old and new. Fans will be pleased to hear that 'The Black Chord' has much in common with 'The Weirding', yet this is no facsimile album. Simply put this is shorter, sharper and slicker than before, with less musical wandering and a slightly more focused set of compositions that once again feature the group's stylistic hallmarks of carefully-wrought mellotron-and-moog passages, bouts of sustained rock riffery and a heady, hazy atmosphere engineered by the old school instruments. Sometimes the group maybe lose their way a little, as on the otherwise excellent title-track, yet the balance between dissonant roars of proto-metal psych-rock and celestial sections of shimmering calm are nevertheless maintained throughout, all the while peppered with Vaughan's hash-piped vocals. Finally. 'The Black Chord' ends in suitably bombastic style, initially with the oddly-named 'Bull Torpis' which serves up another helping of fantasy-flecked retrograde prog, before the screeching power-psych metal of 'Barefoot In The Head' brings the curtain down in suitably epic style. Following up 'The Weirding' was never going to be easy, especially considering that album's mature and highly-intricate sonic imprint(thus sounding like a genuine product of the 1970s from a veteran outfit) yet this sophomore release shows that Astra are no one-trick pony. Although 'The Black Chord' doesn't deviate too far from the sonic stall set out by it's predecessor, it's still a remarkable album filled with the kind of classic progressive grandstanding that is hard to find in these digital days. Undoubtedly one of the premier modern groups, Astra have here produced another excellent album; we await the next one with baited breath.


stefro | 4/5 |


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