Astra - The Black Chord (Metal Blade) *****
Prog rock is definitely alive and well, and there is a new batch of exciting bands that carry the legacy established by Yes, Genesis, ELP, Pink Floyd, and King Crimson. Astra is definitely in the forefront of such bands. "Black Chord" is only their second album, but it presents the band with an established style and feel. Astra's debut, "Weirding," showed a lot of potential, but this album takes it to another level.
The music on "The Black Chord" has a very retro feel, it sounds like a record from 1970s. It's unbelievable how they achieved such sound, but it works beautifully. The tracks are long, take time to develop, and one can only imagine how they can be presented live. The use of mellotron often takes the center stage, and the band really know how to use it to their advantage. There is some outstanding guitar here. Underneath the mellotron umbrella, it's the guitar that really sets the tone and drives the music.
The overall feel of "The Black Chord" is hypnotizing. This music is consuming, it's difficult to put this album down. As intense as these players get here instrumentally, the music often has a very calming effect. And you do hear influences from the classic bands mentioned above, and that's certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
"The Black Chord" is a stunning record by a very ambitious new band. Astra is making a very strong statement here that will not go unnoticed. "The Black Chord" answers what the joy of creating and playing music is all about.