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ASTRA

Psychedelic/Space Rock • United States


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Astra biography
ASTRA originates from the band SILVER SUNSHINE which was founded in San Diego, California. Richard Vaughan (guitar, vocals), Conor Riley (guitar, keyboards, vocals) and Stuart Sclater (bass) are aboard since the beginning in 2001. The predecessor band had released one EP and a full album until founding member Iain Andrew Sclater (drums) decided to leave in 2006. After much discussion they arrived at a decision to continue under the new name ASTRA.

This came along with some changes for the sound and line-up. Drummer/multi-instrumentalist David Hurley joined soon. The band began to record some demo songs and toured the west coast of the US. Guitar wizard Brian Ellis finally completed the ASTRA line-up and the band was ready to produce the debut album 'The Weirding' which was released on Rise Above Records in May of 2009.

ASTRA stands for progressive rock music with psychedelic roots. The sound also incorporates heavy rocking as well as symphonic organ and mellotron infected elements. Based on a skilled songwriting this is presented in a rather 70s retro style including some long tracks showing jamming parts where the band members let the music flow and evolve.

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ASTRA discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

ASTRA top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.90 | 264 ratings
The Weirding
2009
4.00 | 397 ratings
The Black Chord
2012

ASTRA Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

ASTRA Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

ASTRA Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

ASTRA Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

3.38 | 7 ratings
Winter Witch / Cosmic Wind
2009

ASTRA Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 The Black Chord by ASTRA album cover Studio Album, 2012
4.00 | 397 ratings

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The Black Chord
Astra Psychedelic/Space Rock

Review by 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!

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 The Black Chord by ASTRA album cover Studio Album, 2012
4.00 | 397 ratings

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The Black Chord
Astra Psychedelic/Space Rock

Review by Orsaeth

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 Black Chord is the second full length album from the band, which originated from the band Silver Sunshine. A lineup change and shift in sound, and the band known as Astra was created. Employing dark Moog synths and mellotrons, trippy guitar melodies, and tribal sounding drums, they craft a wonderfully space-y journey through time.

The tone for this album is set right away, with wind sounds and a cosmic keyboard chord fading in on 'Cocoon'. The song builds and builds in mood, getting faster and more intense. The title track is a mammoth, 15 minute long cosmic trip. It varies its mood and pace expertly, making for a fantastic experience. The entire album manipulates the atmosphere very well, going between mellotron driven relaxed passages, tense progressive flourishes, and the occasional acoustic guitar lead.

The musicianship on the album is very precise and well-developed. The drumming stands out for being complex and fluid, without being over the top. The guitar parts are very free flowing, never seeming content to fall into a repetitive pattern, and the bass guitar follows suit, and the keyboards provide a perfect backdrop for all of this to take place. In addition to the individual parts being excellent, the songs are written well which allows all the pieces to fit together perfectly. The flow within and between each of the songs is fantastic, essential for the ambitious tone and structure that Astra is going for.

The Black Chord is an ambitious mix of progressive rock, psychedelic folk, and space rock. Astra have truly been able to forge a sound that is a throwback to the classics while still being its own unique entity. The band has a very bright future ahead of them if they can continue improving at this pace.

Score: 81

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 The Weirding by ASTRA album cover Studio Album, 2009
3.90 | 264 ratings

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The Weirding
Astra Psychedelic/Space Rock

Review by FragileKings
Prog Reviewer

3 stars This is one of those albums I have mixed feelings about. The strengths definitely lie in the music and songs, which as most others have already pointed out, resemble in many moments the styling of Pink Floyd between 1968 and 1971. Just listening to this album again last night in preparation for the review, I found myself in many instances thinking of "A Saucerful of Secrets", "Relics", "Music from the Film 'More'" and even "Echoes" from "Meddle". There are also times where the music could be from "Ummagumma"'s more lucid parts. Aside from Pink Floyd, I was also reminded of Hawkwind and surprisingly even Scorpions from their "Fly to the Rainbow" album of 1974, and one part of "Ouroboros" had me wracking my brains to find out what it reminded me off and finally I concluded that it was like a part of "2,000 Light Years from Home" by the Rolling Stones!

The music maintains a slow to medium tempo throughout, unlike the sophomore album "The Black Chord" which breaks into gallops and canters in a couple of parts. The electric guitar is at times heavy but mostly spacey, never really technical but full of expression. And each song is carried on a shifting sea of lush and cosmic keyboard sounds: plenty of synthesizer, Mellotron, and organ. We also can enjoy some flute in a couple of the tracks. These boys know just how to take us on a mind-altering journey through space that never jars too much nor gets too weird or uncomfortable (think "Echoes" or "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" and not "See Emily Play" or "Bike"). It's a wonderful trip through a starscape of cosmic music.

Regarding the vocals, they are smooth and very much like the era of Pink Floyd mentioned above, sometimes uncannily so. The actual sung part of the songs are not long and Astra fill the length of their compositions with delay-effect guitar solos that often have a bit of an edge to them and keyboard solos that are everything I said above about the keyboards. The band follows the late 60's mentality of taking short songs and filling them with lengthy instrumental passages.

Where I have any criticism about this album lies in three aspects. The first is the sound quality. I respect that the band may have been trying to capture the atmosphere of that time period but the music sounds as though it was recorded in someone's home studio. It's not clear and bright but muddy and dull. I have music from the early eighties that actually was recorded in a home studio and it's exactly that lo-fi sound that makes great music sound less impressive. It's like viewing the ocean on an overcast day. There's all the power and magnificence but not the sparkle.

Next, I find overall impression of the album lacks variety. Individually, the songs have their own strengths and all of the songs are well enough composed and performed, but after having listened to the album through I feel there's a remaining impression of lengthy guitar and keyboard solos and some vocals. There is some variety in the music here and there, and the 19-minute instrumental "Ouroboros" includes some mixed sounds and moods (thankfully it's not just an epic jam session), with a very pretty guitar/keyboard/flute section. But again, overall, the lingering impression is of a very long cosmic journey retro space rock. It's like diving under the sea: there are colourful fish and corals but in the end what you actually saw was mostly water.

Finally, I find the album is very long. This is, in effect, a double album, or at least it would have been had it been released in the period of musical style the music emulates. It may have been a case of having so many good songs that they didn't know which to leave off the album and just put everything on. I actually can't say there is any song I could do without; however, some bands these days are putting out a normal length album and then including an extra CD in a deluxe package for fans who want a little more. The Flower Kings' "Banks of Eden" had such an option with four additional tracks included on a bonus disc and Wolfmother's "Cosmic Egg" came as either a single CD with a dozen tracks or a double CD with a total of 16 tracks. Perhaps Astra might have tried this approach.

The good news is that all three issues I mentioned above were taken care of in their next release "The Black Chord" which has slightly better production, more diverse music, and is under 50 minutes long.

So, good as the music is, I can only offer three stars for this album. I am very much looking forward to Astra's third album which I anticipate will be even better than "The Black Chord".

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 The Weirding by ASTRA album cover Studio Album, 2009
3.90 | 264 ratings

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The Weirding
Astra Psychedelic/Space Rock

Review by apps79
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

3 stars Hailing from San Diego, California, US Progsters Astra emerged from the Psych/Jam Rock act Silver Sunshine after the departure of drummer Iain Andrew Sclater.He was replaced by David Hurley, while the addition of guitarist/keyboardist Brian Ellis and his progressive influences brought a change of musical direction and group's name.The rest of the crew are guitarists/keyboardists Richard Vaughan and Conor Riley and bassist Stuart Sclater.Astra recorded their debut ''The Weirding'' during the fall of 2008 at their own studio, released on Rise Above Records in May 2009 for the UK market and two months later on Metal Blade for the UK buyers.

If the term Retro Prog is even a bit valid, then Astra's music deserves this description 100%.The whole, very long album (about 79 minutes) seems a lost work from the 70's era of Progressive Rock with strong psychedelic and spacey/symphonic inspirations and a great amount of shifting moods.The main influences come from the early-70's Mellotron-drenched era of KING CRIMSON and the psychedelic side of PINK FLOYD, but there are also some other interesting entries in Astra's music like the spacey, hypnotic flute passages in the vein of PULSAR or the extended jam sections close to the Kraut Rock stylings.The tracks range basically from long to very long compositions with limited vocals and huge space for instrumental exercises, both in a soft, psychedelic style or with a heavier and richer approach.All of them contains an incredible amount of Mellotron waves and intense introductions based on the ARP Odyssey vintage synthesizers as well as great, heavy guitars with some nice distortions next to a few interesting melodies, not to mention the lovely sound of flutes here and there.Most of the arrangements are tight and performed with an incredible passion, while the vocals recall the smooth but very expressive singing of GREG LAKE, still not everything about this album is perfect as it seems on paper.The final feeling, though positive, is that Astra lack personal identity and some long instrumental themes are a bit overstretched, however the constant change of moods does not make them that apparent.

Perfect album for those who suffer from 70's prog nostalgia.Rich, grandiose and adventurous Progressive Rock for fans of KING CRIMSON, YES, PINK FLOYD.Warmly recommended.

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 The Black Chord by ASTRA album cover Studio Album, 2012
4.00 | 397 ratings

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The Black Chord
Astra Psychedelic/Space Rock

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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 The Black Chord by ASTRA album cover Studio Album, 2012
4.00 | 397 ratings

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The Black Chord
Astra Psychedelic/Space Rock

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Jazz-Rock/Fusion/Canterbury Team

4 stars An album that has a well-produced retro sound with solid performances and meaty compositions but it is lacking the hooks and melodies that would bring me back.

1. "Cocoon" (8:43) is an instrumental song in the space-psychedelic/Komische rock instrumental jam vein. (8/10)

2. "The Black Chord" (14:59) has a gorgeous beginning but the runs into a few rough patches. Nice Yes-like guitar and Mellotron melodies in several places. (9/10)

3. "Black Meat" (6:41) takes a step backwards in terms of sound and structural choices. In my opinion this is a much less mature and well-thought out song with subpar performances that don't gel well. (6/10)

4. "Drift" (4:39) is a soft, low key presentation of simple instrumental support for some interesting layering of vocal harmonies. Interesting but just lacking that melodic sensibility necessary to hook the listener in. (8/10)

5. "Bull Torpis" (2:56) opens with a very RUSH-like familiarity--even though it is keyboard-led and the guitars never get up to Alex LIFESON competency. I fail to see the need or purpose of this one. (6/10)

6. "Barefoot in the Head" (9:13) (9/10) has more of a PINK FLOYD/ELOY sound and feel to it.

Four stars.

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 The Black Chord by ASTRA album cover Studio Album, 2012
4.00 | 397 ratings

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The Black Chord
Astra Psychedelic/Space Rock

Review by sussexbowler

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 being offered here. Always have.

So, you could say that it's a mix of Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues, Yes and Rick Wakeman, but of course it's NOT them! I wouldn't say that it overall sounds like the Floyd, which was maybe the impression that I was getting before I'd actually heard it. The band try to find parts of the classics that worked, and then try to incorporate them into their sound. Rather like trying to dig five tunnels under a river, and getting them to meet up successfully!

Where the album fails (for me at least), is that it isn't reflective enough. See? I told you it wasn't like the Floyd. She runs at quite a pace.

Anyway, the surprise is that they give the album a great ending, in the true spirit, no less.

Yes, I was cynical, but the download was well cheap, so I thought I'd see if my brother (a Floyd fan) might like it. I don't reckon that he would actually, (because it's too fast-paced), but don't that put you off giving it a go.

It's not groundbreaking, but you can see where the sources of the material are, so if you liked that kind of thing 40 years ago, you'll probably give it the thumbs up.

Also, if you're like me, it seems that you might need to give it a proper chance to ultimately win you over.

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 The Black Chord by ASTRA album cover Studio Album, 2012
4.00 | 397 ratings

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The Black Chord
Astra Psychedelic/Space Rock

Review by Rivertree
Special Collaborator PSIKE 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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 The Black Chord by ASTRA album cover Studio Album, 2012
4.00 | 397 ratings

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The Black Chord
Astra Psychedelic/Space Rock

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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 The Black Chord by ASTRA album cover Studio Album, 2012
4.00 | 397 ratings

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The Black Chord
Astra Psychedelic/Space Rock

Review by aSimionescu

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 with a song-by-song method, but as a journey. And a fine musical journey it is.

However, I am not gonna give this one a five star because there is one thing missing: progressiveness. By this I do not mean that it is not a prog album. On the contrary, it is a - very - prog album. But, it is rooted so powerfully in classic prog sounds, song structures, scales and rhythms, that it hardly reaches new grounds in terms of musical forwardness. The original element here is more of a reinterpretation / re-evaluation of the classic prog album. However, it is not an original album in the way, let's say, 70's King Crimson albums were. Not groundbreaking...

I really enjoyed it and shall certainly listen to it again and again. The effort these guys made must be thoroughly appreciated. For nostalgic prog heads this will trully be a delight.

Keep 'em coming guys!

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Thanks to rivertree for the artist addition.

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