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Band: Astra

CD Title: “The Weirding”

Band Website: www.astratheband.com

Label: Metal Blade Records

Label Website: www.metalblade.com

Release Date: 2009

 

I first became aware of the band Astra while reading Classic Rock present Prog and was intrigued. What a great sound these guys have. Their web site describes it this way: “With their heads floating in the mist of Europe's original psychedelic and progressive eras, ASTRA make timeless music for timeless minds. Their approach is genuine and heartfelt - focusing on melody, symphonic landscapes, cosmic atmospheres as well as raw energy, dynamics and space travel.” The band having it’s origins in 2001 formed in theSan Diego area and consists of: Richard Vaughan (guitar, Mellotron, Moog, vocals), Conor Riley (guitar, Mellotron, Arp Odyssey, organ, vocals), Stuart Sclater (bass), David Hurley (drums, flute, various noisemakers) and Brian Ellis (guitar, Moog). I have to say when I saw twin Mellotron players and all those old analog synths I had to check them out.

 

The Weirding starts off with a cacophony of psychedelic, spacey sounds for the instrumental track “The Rising of the Black Sun” [5:44]; we hear rolling drum riffs, flute stabs and guitar aimlessly picking out a series of notes until the three-minute mark where things assemble into a groove complete with dramatic Mellotron washes. It’s a somber tone with plenty of minor chords and I was reminded of some of the stranger moments off Steppenwolf’s Magic Carpet Ride for some reason. But then unique as the music of Astra is, it’s loaded with sonic cues. That first track slides right into the next “The Weirding” [15:27] and here the musical reference points are a combination of early King Crimson mixed with Black Sabbath. The flute, sax-sounds and Mellotron all remind me of KC while the vocals slightly recall Ozzy’s early style. There are also moments where the guitar has a real Black Sabbath tone as well. This rambling composition goes through a variety of phases, including a long spacey, jamming section that is almost trance inducing. The band has this knack of chanting their vocals reminiscent of early Pink Floyd. The Weirding consists of eight tracks, four of them well over ten-minutes in length. Track four, “The River Under” [8:41] is emblematic of their sound hearkening back to the time of early Moody Blues, Barclay James Harvest, Greenslade, Cressida and others of that era. And don’t even get me started on the cascading Mellotron swells and intense polyrhythmic textures of “Ouroboros” [17:23].  This is brilliant stuff and I love it!

 

Now, whatever you do, don’t get the idea that with all these band referencesAstra are simply a seventies-era tribute band, far from it. With the music on The Weirding, Astra have developed their own unique musical collage incorporating a genuine feel for an earlier time and yet make it very much their own. Even down to the production which retains an earthy, almost muddy texture, particularly on the drums that to my ears completes the band’s musical approach. I was more than pleasantly surprised at just how proggy Astra’s sound was. This is a band that will definitely appeal to lovers of early seventies symphonic prog. I highly recommend it.  

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