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THE BLACK CHORD

Astra

Psychedelic/Space Rock


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Astra The Black Chord album cover
3.98 | 389 ratings | 12 reviews | 31% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection


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Studio Album, released in 2012

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Cocoon (8:45)
2. The Black Chord (14:59)
3. Quake Meat (6:41)
4. Drift (4:39)
5. Bull Torpis (2:56)
6. Barefoot In The Head (9:13)

Total Time: 47:13

Lyrics

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Music tabs (tablatures)

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Line-up / Musicians

- Richard Vaughan / electric guitar, Mellotron, Moog, vocals
- Conor Riley / Mellotron, Moog, organ, grand piano, vocals
- Brian Ellis / acoustic & electric guitar
- David Hurley / drums, percussion, flute
- Stuart Sclater / bass

Releases information

LP/CD Rise Above Records (2012 UK)
CD Metal Blade Records 3984-15087-2 (2012 US)

Thanks to millslayne for the addition
and to rivertree for the last updates
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ASTRA The Black Chord ratings distribution


3.98
(389 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(31%)
31%
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(40%)
40%
Good, but non-essential (20%)
20%
Collectors/fans only (5%)
5%
Poor. Only for completionists (3%)
3%

ASTRA The Black Chord reviews


Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by AtomicCrimsonRush
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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.

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Send comments to AtomicCrimsonRush (BETA) | Report this review (#694849) | Review Permalink
Posted Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Review by stefro
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.

STEFAN TURNER, STOKE NEWINGTON, 2012

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Send comments to stefro (BETA) | Report this review (#731383) | Review Permalink
Posted Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Review by Gatot
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Vintage atmospheric psychedelic prog

Well, I dunno if that is the right category for the music of Astra. Well, for most of you, you will find this album as retroactive prog music in the past as you might find elements of Pink Floyd, Nektar, Hawkwind, Genesis and bits of ELP. But for me this can be categorized as new inventions influenced by vintage prog sounds and the band has successfully crafted the music uniquely - hey, try to guess any band on planet earth that sounds similar with their music! It's hard, really. You might find in some style of keyboard or guitar that is similar. But I really don't care who actually influence the band as I enjoy the music very well.

The first thing I like about the music is how it flows in crescendo from basically silent part and it goes faster as demonstrated by the opening track Cocoon (8:45). Oh man .... I do enjoy the flow of the music which moves eventually from the slow parts into much dynamic parts with great combined work of guitar and keyboard. The second track The Black Chord (14:59) has different style but still find its roots of seventies prog sounds. You might find some nuances of King Crimson as well right here with this track.

The second thing I like about this album is - of course - the vintage sounds that blend nicely seventies sounds into modern prog Look at the second track which happens to be the album title, you find everything you expect from seventies prog. Not only that, the melody through its vocal line is marvelous! You might find a nuance of King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man but played in psychedelic style. It sounds awkward but it results great music and excellent listening experience!

The third thing I love is the composition. It has basically strong and memorable melody - try second track Black Chord or sixth track Barefoot In The Head - even though other tracks have great melody as well. The harmonies resulted from contributions of musical instruments - guitar and organ / mellotron are really excellent. There are many great guitar solo combined with mellotron / organ work and very good vocal line.

Overall, this is an excellent addition to any prog music collection. For those who were there in the seventies, I guarantee you would love this album as you would find elements that connect you directly to your teenage world. Try first and second track, you will be amazed! And then go spin the last track, I am sure you agree with me. Otherwise, how prog are you man? ..... Keep on proggin' ...!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

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Send comments to Gatot (BETA) | Report this review (#752293) | Review Permalink
Posted Saturday, May 12, 2012

Review by Rivertree
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Psych/Space Team & Band Submissions
4 stars The fans had to wait nearly three years ... but now the unique sound of ASTRA is back. Their sophomore album 'The Black Chord' blends psychedelic with symphonic ingredients in its own inimitable way, based on a really virtuoso implementation at times. The line up remained steady during recent years, so does the sound ... in general. Which means this will please all those progressive music lovers who already have enjoyed the predecessor 'The Weirding'.

Although guitars and keyboards are equally prominent as usual I would emphasize the latter here. Conor Riley and Richard Vaughn provide a cornucopia of impressions - Moog, synthesizer, piano, mellotron and Hammond unlimited - you won't miss anything on this occasion. By the way ... guitarist Brian Ellis is in control of the beloved mellotron too, not in ASTRA though, however at least when it comes to his diverse solo projects, which I also like.

An ambient/spacey intro leads us into Cocoon which bears several repetitive motifs, however slightly modified over the course. Evolving from mid to up-tempo rocking this a gripping affair really. The title songs differs while certainly gaining a symphonic outfit featuring more complexity and turns. Besides distorted vocals Quake Meat shows a wonderful spacey interlude, followed by the floydy Drift and Bull Torpis which I only wished to be more extended due to a very melodic implementation - great track.

'The Black Chord' is a substantial effort provided with strong vintage references to the glorious 1970s, especially Pink Floyd and Genesis are shimmering through here and there. Supposed to be manufactured as vinyl, hence the total length is limited. Overall presented as good as the debut at least - a recommended affair again for sure. You shouldn't miss this band.

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Send comments to Rivertree (BETA) | Report this review (#753223) | Review Permalink
Posted Monday, May 14, 2012

Review by Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Well if ASTRA's previous album "The Weirding" did it for you then you'll love "The Black Chord". They continue in that same late sixties, early seventies Psychedelic style with plenty of mellotron and vintage sounds. This one is quite a bit shorter than the previous one clocking in at just over 47 minutes.

"Cocoon" opens in a mellow way as spacey winds arrive. It's building until the guitar is lighting it up as the drums pound. The tempo picks up after 4 minutes. This continues until it turns spacey late to end it. "The Black Chord" is a 15 minute beast. The guitar, drums and mellotron lead early then the piano joins in followed by vocals before 2 minutes. It turns instrumental before 4 1/2 minutes then settles back after 6 minutes. The vocals are back after 7 1/2 minutes as themes are repeated. The guitar is ripping it up late.

"Quake Meat" has an excellent instrumental intro then the vocals arrive 1 1/2 minutes in before the intrumental work takes over again. It settles 2 1/2 minutes in with mellotron. It's intense again after 4 minutes and vocals follow. "Drift" opens with gentle guitar and synths. Reserved vocals join in this melancholic sounding soundscape. It's fuller after a minute as contrasts continue. Lots of mellotron too. "Bull Torpis" is spacey yet heavy. The mellotron storms in followed by the guitar after a minute as it starts to solo. Just a great track. "Barefoot In The Head" is named after the book author Brian Aldiss wrote which I guess you could say is in the (ahem) counter-culture domain. This one reminds me of PINK FLOYD with the vocals and heaviness. Later before 8 minutes we get some ripping guitar in a repetitive soundscape.

Recommended to space cadets the world over.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#802290) | Review Permalink
Posted Thursday, August 09, 2012

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4 stars Astra are a progressive/psychedelic/space rock band from California. The combination of sounds they display is very much influenced by early 70s progressive and psychedelic rock. Two influences that stand out are Pink Floyd and Yes, but darker and more sinister, as if on a bad acid trip. The B ... (read more)

Report this review (#930123) | Posted by Orsaeth | Thursday, March 14, 2013 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Well, to be honest, I was ready to condemn it after the first listenings... but then I got to like it! It's too easy to be proud about the sources of the band's material, but what's the point? We aren't getting any new material from the 'old' sources these days, and I like the kind of material ... (read more)

Report this review (#768402) | Posted by sussexbowler | Saturday, June 09, 2012 | Review Permanlink

4 stars When I first listened to this album, I had the vague and pleasant feeling that the present record manages to capture those classic prog nuances. I shall not approach this review analitically because I feel that the album has an internal coherence, start to finish. It should not be listened to ... (read more)

Report this review (#748942) | Posted by aSimionescu | Saturday, May 05, 2012 | Review Permanlink

2 stars I really wonder why the Astra's new album is so exceptional that it had occupied the Top of 2012 Prog albums chart. Perhaps it's a popular by some "fuddy-duddies", who, while listening to old music, like to drink 12-years old whiskey or 60-years old wine. And they just gave the most votes to t ... (read more)

Report this review (#720920) | Posted by Gandalff | Tuesday, April 10, 2012 | Review Permanlink

5 stars The black chord is a fantastic album that sounds easily like it could have been recorded in the 70's. In fact, i'd say its probably my favorite album to be released in about 30 years. Its classic psychedelic space prog at its best. While not as long as there nearly perfect debut, this album manag ... (read more)

Report this review (#707208) | Posted by pfloyd | Tuesday, April 03, 2012 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Sorry but I really cannot believe It.'.is this real...is this a work of nowadays prog? This is not a masterpiece of psychedelic space rock this is a masterpiece of symphonic prog rock. a masterpiece of progressive rock in general. Yes the lovely 70 ies prog have return...Yes is here...unbe ... (read more)

Report this review (#693399) | Posted by robbob | Tuesday, March 27, 2012 | Review Permanlink

5 stars As excited as I was knowing that Astra was going to release a new album, I was also very nervous. The first album had absolutely nothing wrong with it and it left me so satisfied. It became an instant classic in my book and I know that if I stop listenting to that album right now ... (read more)

Report this review (#689164) | Posted by jalas | Monday, March 26, 2012 | Review Permanlink

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