Astra – The Black Chord

Though it was pretty clear that 2011 probably won’t be beaten in all its dominance, 2012 seems to open very nice. I took it for granted to single out few albums that I’ve been spinning A LOT last weeks.

One of the most anticipated albums is certainly Astra‘s The Black Chord. Since it’s been announced in 2011, I was absolutely convinced that this albums is going to reach the tops on many lists at the end of the year. Although almost 30 minutes shorter in comparison with the debut of the San Diego quartet, The Black Chord doesn’t spare even a second on thoughtless wankery. These guys matured and brought their skills to perfection.

Since the debut album I always thought that the quartet is drawing all their knowledge, impeccable craftsmanship and top notch musicianship from the Californian landscapes. Dreamy, spacey and prog, their formula for success certainly never fails. Keeping myself warmed by almost constant listening to The Weirding, The Black Chord jumps in, making that way a continuous loop of two records that probably exceed every expectations of the 21-century prog listener.

With only the title track exceeding the ten minutes time mark, Astra is keeping the listener’s attention with shorter tracks this time around, providing a secure flight without any difficulties since the album’s opener Cocoon, down to its closing piece Barefoot in the Head. Astra‘s intergalactic progressive rock is relying at the most on Hammond/Moog/piano-led sound, flirting that way with the symphonic rock label. These craftsmen are the experts of wide genre spectre and this outing proves that.

Production-wise, this album is much more clear in the mix comparing to the debut, but other than that, The Black Chord keeps walking the vintage track initialized with the 2009′s outstanding record.

Speaking of comparisons, The Black Chord makes a small shift from psychedelic prog, diving into more classic prog approach with spacey aura. Asked to name few albums that have been influenced them while creating process of The Black Chord, Brian Ellis and Richard Vaughan mention verified giants such Genesis, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Premiata Forneria Marconi, Yes and Van Der Graaf Generator, making this album more song oriented, while deviating from a standard improvising.

Crossing over the various elements of progressive rock, Astra‘s The Black Chord is an unification of these elements, a fusing tour-de-force, a moment of bliss in the 50 years long history of a genre that is very much alive and present in a 21st century schizoidity. It’s hard to say where is Astra heading after The Black Chord, but after all it’s not important. With two strong releases, whatever comes next from their hands will be accepted. Doubtless to say.

Tracklist:

1. Cocoon
2. The Black Chord
3. Quake Meat
4. Drift
5. Bull Torpis
6. Barefoot In The Head

Links:

* Richard Vaughan: vocals, electric guitar, Mellotron M400, Minimoog, Moog Rogue, Echoplex
* Conor Riley: vocals, Mellotron M400, Minimoog, Moog Rogue, ARP Odyssey, Oberheim 2-Voice, Crumar Orchestrator, Hammond A-100 Organ, grand piano
* Brian Ellis: lead electric guitar, electric 12-string guitar, acoustic guitar
* Stuart Sclater: bass
* David Hurley: drums, percussion, flute

Links:

http://www.astratheband.com

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.
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