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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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The Black ChordThe Black Chord
Metal Blade 2012
Audio CD$7.93
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WeirdingWeirding
Metal Blade 2009
Audio CD$9.05
$9.00 (used)
Broken BalanceBroken Balance
Scarlet Records 2014
Audio CD$8.81
$9.99 (used)
From WithinFrom Within
Import
Lion Music Finland 2009
Audio CD$13.74
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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 | 239 ratings
The Weirding
2009
3.98 | 355 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)

3.32 | 6 ratings
Winter Witch / Cosmic Wind
2009

ASTRA Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 The Black Chord by ASTRA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.98 | 355 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 | 239 ratings

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The Weirding
Astra Psychedelic/Space Rock

Review by FragileKings

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 | 239 ratings

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The Weirding
Astra Psychedelic/Space Rock

Review by apps79
Special Collaborator Neo Prog Team

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
3.98 | 355 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
3.98 | 355 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
3.98 | 355 ratings

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The Black Chord
Astra Psychedelic/Space Rock

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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 The Black Chord by ASTRA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.98 | 355 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
3.98 | 355 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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 The Black Chord by ASTRA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.98 | 355 ratings

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The Black Chord
Astra Psychedelic/Space Rock

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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 The Black Chord by ASTRA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.98 | 355 ratings

BUY
The Black Chord
Astra Psychedelic/Space Rock

Review by Gandalff

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 this "old-new" piece.

So, I'm one of those die-hards, I admit it without torture. But I prefer the originals rather than copies. And the music of the band Astra is just an exemplary case of imitation. Well-known musical motifs and techniques that were developed more than 40 years ago, are blended together into an indeterminate sound wall, which thus becomes to infinitely boring and somewhat insane mixture. Compared to the previous album "The Weirding", Astra eliminated at least some direct and most apparent reminiscences of famous Prog Epics, like "Meddle" or "Cirkus". But this is also the only positive, with whom they come now.

However, it seems to me that the previous album was still more varied and more interesting. So, "The Black Chord"? I would say rather "The Grey Boredom." There is an impression I have from this album.

Just two stars indeed, I'm sorry.

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