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Prog Folk • Brazil

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Hard to find a more Celtic-sounding band in South America. The style of this six-piece Brazilian outfit (fronted by a female vocalist) crosses Celtic folk with prog rock and heavy metal. Add to this a few sparse death metal male vocals and you have a surrealistic blend of The GATHERING, NEXUS and KARNATAKA. Besides the traditional rock instruments, they use woodwinds, fiddles and bagpipes to good effect.

Their sole album, titled "Urantia" (2002), has a rich and full sound. It is made up of five proper songs of Celtic flavor (four of them quite lengthy) and a number of short but beautiful instrumental frescos. The heavier passages may remind some of METALLICA or OPETH but the overall feel is more akin to MOSTLY AUTUMN. The band's ability to blend various styles and to pen some memorable melodies make for a generally enjoyable album, only marred sporadically by the guitarist's moronic death growls. As for the female vocals, they are quite pleasant but especially suited to the quieter, tranquil passages. Tasteful and original material overall, and definitely more complex and 'proggy' than SKYCLAD or The MORRIGAN, their folksy English counterparts.

Recommended for fans of MOSTLY AUTUMN, KARNATAKA and The GATHERING.

: : : Lise (HIBOU), CANADA : : :

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Ilmasaari by AshtarIlmasaari by Ashtar
Czar Of Bullets
Musea Records France 2004
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ASHTAR discography

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3.51 | 17 ratings

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ASHTAR Reviews

Showing last 10 reviews only
 Urantia  by ASHTAR album cover Studio Album, 2002
3.51 | 17 ratings

Ashtar Prog Folk

Review by CCVP
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Folk music, progressive rock and some extreme metal here and there

Ashtar's Urantia is one of those albums you would never pick up and give it a chance if you were to buy it in a regular CD store. In the first place, the cover is just so bad, cheesy and generic that it would not be able to incite the curiosity of anybody to find out what's behind it. In the second place, the band's pictures on the CD tray and inside the booklet don't help with their visual appeal at all. In the third place, if you put together the cover, the band's pictures and the tracklist on the back, the first thing that may come to your mind is that they are one of those generic metal bands out there and then put their album back on the store's CD shelf.

Luckly, in my case, that was not the case. I bought over the internet and, although I was pretty skeptical when I unboxed it, listening to Ashtar's first and only album, Urantia, made me leave behind any doubt I had about the quality of their music. What the band present here is a quite original mix of folk music, progressive rock and extreme metal. The folky progressive rock dominates much of the album environment, but whenever the metal part kicks in it really takes the spotlight right away. That usually when Luís Garcia puts out a stronger vocal part or when some heavy riffs appear, in contrast to the usual acustic guitar or normal electric gitars.

One important thing to point out here is that the folk part of this band's music does not reflect the place were they come from at all. Hailing from the state of Rio de Janeiro, Ashtar had the possibility to go explore the vast array of the country's diverse musical culture and deliver an album that is differs themselvesfrom the vast array folk rock artists who choose to use English or Irish folk music as the source of their inspiration in the USA and other countries. Instead, they chose to do like the latter and be just another person in the crowd. Not that Urantia is a bad album, it's core is simply not different enough, though the metal parts do cover most of that lacking originality concerning the folk parts.

The vocals here are, for the most part, pretty decent. Fernanda has a very good and fitting voice for the genre and uses it the way she should: her clear, calm and somewhat ethereal vocals dominate most of the album's songs, since some are instrumental. Speaking of which, the instrumental section isn't bad at all. Exceptiong one part in the middle of the song Oblivion Scars, where both guitarrists clearly overestimated their playing fast / shredding abilities, most of the instrumental playing is top notch.

Grade and Final Thoughts

Ashtar's Urantia was (again) quite a surprise for me. Their interesting mix of folkish progressive rock and heavy metal really impressed me. Almost everything fits perfectly in their places and despite some flaws (like the guitars in Oblivious Scars and the complete lack of any Brazilian reference in their music), the album is a very interesting journey, which is helped by the description of what inspired each song or what said song trying to portrait right below its name in the booklet.

For all that, I think that 4 stars is more than a fitting grade.

 Urantia  by ASHTAR album cover Studio Album, 2002
3.51 | 17 ratings

Ashtar Prog Folk

Review by Tarcisio Moura
Prog Reviewer

3 stars A brazilian band that plays a mix of power metal, ambient/new age and celtic folk? That seems to be a bit odd, although another highly successful band from Brazil, Tuatha De Danann, also draws their inspiration from the same sources (bar the ambient parts). Ashtar has the advantage of having a truly outstanding (female) singer in the voice of Fernanda Mesquita. The group started as a doom metal outfit, but you won´t find any of this style here. They seem to come directly from Ireland and save for the the vocalist´s accent, you could hardly tell they were south americans. That´s not to say their music is not worthy, much on the contrary. They are quite good.

I really liked their knack for writing fine melodic tunes and the the longer tracks are quite varied and very well performed and arranged. In fact they are superior to a lot of much more hyped metal bands of that year. It is only a shame they did not release a follow up so far. Certainly they have the chops to go much further. Songs like Children Of The Mist, Urantia and Nemesis are excellent exemples of their good craft. If they are not too original, at least they know how to handle the style with rare competence, specially if you have in mind this is only their first CD.

Although there is not much prog in here, Urantia is a very fine debut that certainly will please anyone who likes melodic tunes done with passion and conviction. Very good production and strong musicanship. If this was a HM site this would be a four star affair, no doubt. As it is I can´t give it more than 3,5 stars. Not essential in a prog collection, but still very good.

 Urantia  by ASHTAR album cover Studio Album, 2002
3.51 | 17 ratings

Ashtar Prog Folk

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

3 stars Here’s a rather odd album, featuring what the band refers to as “spiritual world metal” and ranging in sound from Celtic folk to progressive metal and several points in between. Ashtar are from Brazil and have been compared to such other ‘world’ folk bands as the Gathering, Karnataka or Gjallarhorn. I would add the Ayreon spinoff Stream of Passion to that list as well. I’m not completely convinced this is really a progressive folk band, but any time you mix violin, whistles, bagpipes and whacked-out themes of mystic worlds and other-worldly people then I suppose folk music can reasonably enter into the conversation.

Ashtar began as a doom metal band, and they are often found still listed as such in various music blogs and archives. There’s very little of that sound left in their music though, which consists mostly of fairly mellow and intimate progressive metal with Celtic overtones. None of the tracks here really stands out, although both long tracks “Urantia” and “Nemesis” demonstrate that the band has developed a knack for combining metal guitar with violin and spacey synthesizers for an overall pleasant (if not particularly original) sound.

The band is named after a supposed astral being who is preparing the lead a fleet of alien starships to Earth to bring about “planetary cleansing”, and the album is named for a book of mysterious and dubious origins whose purpose is to expand cosmic consciousness and enhance spiritual perception” (whatever that means). As an aside, the Urantia Book is the spiritual tome former Kansas member Kerry Livgren was studying when he instead converted to Christianity in the late seventies. So it seems either odd or appropriate (depending on your viewpoint) that the band includes an instrumental version of the traditional Protestant hymn “Amazing Grace” in the form of a bagpipe solo on the album.

Aside from this oddity, the bulk of the album is full of decent but fairly forgettable tunes with frequent references to other-worldly and mystical, quasi-religious themes. Like I said, a lot of this sounds like a slightly less-impressive version of Stream of Passion, and virtually all the songs here call to mind some other band. “Druid Dream” could have been done by Bluehorses, for example, and “Oblivious Scars” comes off as a decent Mostly Autumn clone but without the Gilmour-like guitar work. There are also several short, instrumental transitional pieces of a minute or so each, and these are the bits that actually lead me to at least marginally accept these guys as a form of progressive folk.

Overall I’d say this album is more of a curiosity than an essential progressive work, although if you happen to run across it and are interested in anything you’ve read here, I can at least mildly recommend picking it up. Three stars for making a decent effort, but not really anything more than that.


 Urantia  by ASHTAR album cover Studio Album, 2002
3.51 | 17 ratings

Ashtar Prog Folk

Review by bonsiachamp

4 stars Urantia is a very unique, very pleasant album that has the crafting to bring the listener to a wide range of good-looking settings. the guitarist introduced me to the album and I was quite suprised as I was expecting to be honest quite less. They use a wide variety of instruments with some added affects which further contributes to the folk mood. The female vocalist has a gracious warm voice, but some may be put off with her accent (note that this is mostly only in the slower parts). Concerning the male vocalist, he's quite unprofessional as far as growling ability goes, but still his growls is deffinitely a necessity to the Unrantia album's scene. I recommend this fine album to anyone who is open-minded to music, if you are nit-picky I suggest you don't purchase as you may rip its pleasantness apart.
 Urantia  by ASHTAR album cover Studio Album, 2002
3.51 | 17 ratings

Ashtar Prog Folk

Review by Minstrel X

4 stars Ashtar is a band with great instrumentation and great Celtic Music passages. The surprise about this band is that they are from South America, from a small region of Brazil. Their style is similar to bands like Karnataka or Mostly Autumn, but there are some musical landscapes a la Haggard or The Provenance. In terms of Songwriting, pieces like "Children of The Mist" and "Urantia" have it all! Loud-soft-loud instrumental transitions with great female, male and demon vocals. "Oblivious Scars" is a heavier song with lots of electric guitar distortions and angry chords. Their lyrics are very...let's say...Esotheric. Themes are old Celtic beliefs and Elvish tales. If there's a piece i'm in love with, that must the mythological interlude "Druid Dream". In short: A very recommendable piece for Progressive Rock fans and Folk lovers.
Thanks to ProgLucky for the artist addition.

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