ASTRA - The Black Chord

Astra - The Black Chord

6 songs
47:13 minutes
***** ***
Rise Above

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Three years ago, San Diego based retro proggers Astra showed up with their debut album The Weirding, which on the one hand amazed with totally authentic Seventies sounds, but on the other hand was maybe a little too long for its own good. Now they are back with the follow-up The Black Chord, which is a good thirty minutes shorter than its predecessor, and therefore much easier to follow. There are bands like Transatlantic and Flower Kings who are deeply rooted in early prog but still manage to add a contemporary element to their music. Not so Astra, who probably only use and record with analogue equipment. That’s of course anything but original, but sometimes it’s nice to have a band sound as if the last forty years never happened.

The Black Chord begins with the nearly nine minute long instrumental Cocoon, which in my opinion is a rather odd way to start an album, but then progressive rock bands have never been bound to any kind of conventions after all. This track has a surprisingly strong kraut rock touch, not unlike some of the earlier Tangerine Dream efforts. This is followed by the quarter hour long title track which instantly recalls the first line-up of King Crimson, due of course to the fact of the many lush mellotron parts within this magnum opus. Two other bands to come to mind are the more symphonically operating Yes and early post-Syd Barrett Pink Floyd. The latter comparison comes mostly from the way they structure their melodies.

Next up is the harder rocking Quake Meat which once again has strong King Crimson parallels, while Drift is a beautiful prog ballad that should touch the heart of every self-respecting prog rock fan. Then we’re in for another instrumental, although Bull Torpis is only a short three minutes long. The concluding Barefoot In The Head is with its nine minutes running time another long track, and could as well have come from Pink Floyd.

Astra have made a lot of progress since their admittedly overly indulging debut. They cut away the unnecessary bits, improved strongly on the songwriting, and thus are able to present a truly authentic piece of analogue retro prog. Although the music has its fair share of guitar parts, it’s mostly the vast array of ancient synthesizers, and especially the mellotrons which come with a lot of different sound banks, that should enchant the progressive rock lover. It’s definitely not original, but it’s still a simply beautiful record that as a fan of the aforementioned pioneers I will listen to again and again.

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