Astra - 'The Black Chord' Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     August 29, 2012    
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Another quality Prog release in a year full of them.

Retro seems to be catching on; Presto Ballet made it their ethos to record using glorious, classic, analogue instruments, the Flower Kings have gone that way with their latest offering and then there’s Astra. Moogs, Mellotrons, and Hammond Organ adorn this album, as they did the debut (‘The Weirding’), in a way that will have those, like me, who were raised on 70s Prog salivating with pleasure. That’s not to say that Astra are entirely stuck in the past, they seem to have the ability to evoke the era but to present the music in a way that doesn’t make it sound completely dated; that’s great credit to them.

Naturally, there are sections of music contained within the album where one can point a finger and say ‘that sounds just like…’ but frankly who cares? Not me. They simply glory in the sounds of a brilliant and productive era of Rock music.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine For Melodic Rock Music

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The instrumental, ‘Cocoon’ opens proceedings in fine fashion with Pink Floyd style synthesisers floating into the air and then being built on by the other instruments. Slightly ‘trippy’ at the outset (it’s fair to say Astra sit at the psychedelic end of the Prog genre) lovely melodies emerge as the piece unfolds. Non-Prog fans will object to the repeating pattern that underpins the number (a style they use regularly) whilst those who like the genre will revel in the steady development of the track. Early Camel comes to mind thanks to both the keyboard sounds employed and the guitar solo which is pure Andy Latimer. The title track is up next and over its 15 minute span it covers at lot of Prog bases from languid instrumental sections through flourishes of King Crimson-ish bravado. After the initial burst of energy the song changes to a wonderful piano motif which ushers in a delightful layered vocal, this is then added to by understated Hammond and guitar before the synthesisers and Mellotron come to the fore. The band’s influences abound on this track, I could draw up a list but I’ll refrain, let’s just say that, for me, this is a triumph of song creation and arrangement.

I mentioned the vocals earlier and although primarily and instrumental band when they do sing they do so with multiple voices rather than one in a manner not unlike CSNY and Moon Safari. ‘Quake Meat’ is a bit self-indulgent and rather complex making it the most difficult track to get in to; ‘Drift’ is a mellow number initially based around an acoustic guitar and tinkling synthesiser. Again the arrangement is superb and there’s a hint of current It Bites about it and the big finish is a delight. ‘Bull Torpic’ is a short fairly intense instrumental before the album concludes with the nine-minute ‘Barefoot in the Head’ which has early Pink Floyd inflections, not least the guitar solos.

Conclusion: this is another quality Prog release in a year full of them.

Gary Marshall

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  • SeaDog57 : just an observation. I just got Issue 89 at the Bookstore and when i looked at the spine of the magazine it says "Fireworks Issue 85 Winter Jan - Mar 2019" Was this a misprint? The rest of the Magazine is Issue 89. Was just wondering did anyone else notice this?
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