Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Astra: The Weirding 2009 + The Black Chord 2012

Astra is a rock band from San Diego, California. Their sound is in the style of the 1970s progressive rock and psychedelic rock, and includes a variety of synthesizers, mellotron and long jams. Astra was formed in San Diego in 2001 by Conor Riley (vocals, guitars, keyboards), Richard Vaughan (vocals,

guitars, keyboards), and brothers Iain (drums, percussion) and Stuart Sclater (bass guitar) under the name 'Silver Sunshine'. Following the departure of Iain Sclater and the subsequent recruitment of guitarist Brian Ellis and drummer David Hurley to the line-up, the band underwent its name change to Astra. This line-up of the band went on to produce the band's first two albums, 2009's The Weirding and 2012's The Black Chord, both of which were released on Rise Above Records in the UK and on Metal Blade Records in the USA. A further line-up change occurred in 2013 with David Hurley departing to be replaced on drums by Radio Moscow drummer Paul Marrone.

Current members

Conor Riley – vocals, guitars, keyboards (2001–present)
Stuart Sclater – bass guitar (2001–present)
Richard Vaughan – vocals, guitars, keyboards (2001–present)
Brian Ellis – guitars, moog synthesizer (2006–present)
Paul Marrone – drums, percussion (2013–present)

Past members

Iain Sclater - drums, percussion (2001–2006)
David Hurley – drums, percussion, flute (2006–2013)


The Weirding (2009)
The Black Chord (2012)



It’s official- the New Wave of Psychedelic Prog (a term that seems to have won out over the equally applicable New Wave of Progressive Psych) is here to stay. The phrase was originally coined, in somewhat tongue in cheek manner, over on the Head Heritage Unsung forum to describe Astra’s Brighton-based Rise Above labelmates Diagonal, and their fellow travellers Wolf People, but San Diego’s Astra have firmly claimed the genre for their own.

In truth however, there’s little on The Weirding, the band’s debut album, that’s ‘new’ at all: this record wouldn’t have sounded out of place at any point between 1969 and 1975. And yet, you’d be hard-

pressed to find any one album of that era that so magnificently covered all bases and magnified the cliches of the genre- right down to the Roger Dean-like, airbrushed fantasy art sleeve- to such epic and marvellous extent. Astra draw on the West Coast psych, hard rock, folk rock and metal end of the prog spectrum- there’s none of the real experimentalism of Van Der Graaff Generator or King Crimson here- but within this limited range they’ve produced a record of such epic grandiosity and occasional sublime beauty that it’s hard not to be swept away by its obsessive dedication to its own metaphor.

It begins with ‘The Rising of the Black Sun,’ an appropriately anthemic instrumental overture of prancing, duelling guitars that sets the scene perfectly for the fifteen minute title track. A wistful flute introduces a vocal melody partway between Saucerful of Secrets era Floyd and Argus era Wishbone Ash, describing the environmental desecration of the planet (a loose concept- you knew there had to be one- for the record), before wah-wah guitars usher in a Black Sabbath-esque bridge and then a languid, space rock middle section. Then it does it all again on the way out.

‘Silent Sleep’ once more recalls Wishbone Ash, with its Mellotron, double-tracked guitars and rather fey close-harmony vocals, although the endless descending arpeggios and chorus-effect guitars also bring to mind the 80s gothic rock of The Mission or The Cult, while making said bands seem almost

restrained and under-achieving in their approach. Burbling analogue synths usher in the ballad-like ‘The River Under’, before the audacious seventeen-minute instrumental, ‘Ouroboros’ in which, like the titular snake that devours its own tail, Brian Ellis’s guitar winds in and out of organ and Mellotron dominated soundscapes, working itself up to a state of apopleptic fury before returning to its previously established melodic theme- and then dropping back in the final five minutes to let the moog synth take the high ground once more. It all builds to a spectacular, Kashmir-esque conclusion of hard rocking guitars and mellotron strings.

After that, ‘Broken Glass’ is a brief oasis of calm, an almost acoustic psychedelic ballad, fading directly into ‘The Dawning of Ophiuchus’ which itself is a five minute instrumental prelude to the closing track, ‘Beyond to Slight the Maze.’ This revisits to some extent the title track, giving The Weirding a somewhat circular feel. Its descending chords more than ever before suggest some early seventies Pink Floyd/Black Sabbath hybrid, as pastoral verses give way to doomily anthemic choruses and an extended, keyboard-dominated outro.

At nearly eighty minutes, this largely instrumental and unashamedly grandiose album can start to seem like a drag if you’re not in the right mood. There’s pomp and prettiness galore, but little to genuinely

involve you- it’s all flash and mirrors, and for all the muso showmanship the songs are actually simple and repetitive affairs at bottom, following the same repeated descending chord structures throughout. But that said, its easy to succumb to its obvious, sentimental charms, particularly in the company of a bottle of good red wine or certain other combustible comestibles when one’s inner 70s rock man emerges cro-magnon like from his sub-conscious cave. Overblown and out of time as it may be, something about The Weirding is also absolutely wonderful.

Artist: Astra
Album: The Weirding
Genre: Space Rock, Progressive
Date: 2009
Country: US
Label: Rise Above
Catalog: RISECD120


01. The Rising of the Black Sun 5:44
02. The Weirding 15:27
03. Silent Sleep 10:41
04. The River Under 8:41
05. Ouroboros 17:23
06. Broken Glass 3:45
07. The Dawning of Ophiuchus 5:29
08. Beyond to Slight the Maze 11:36

MP3 @ 320 Size: 182 MB
Flac  Size: 433 MB



The Black Chord is an album by American progressive rock band Astra. It is their second album, released in the United States on March 27, 2012 on Metal Blade Records, and on April 16 in the United

Kingdom on the independent label Rise Above Records. The album inspired positive reviews upon release, and was praised for its even more psychedelic and space rock feel as well as higher production values compared to their debut The Weirding. The heavy metal review at stated "San Diego maestros Astra craft expansive suites that hearken back to the original root of mind-expanding, unrestrained and genuinely progressive rock.

Rich with hallucinogenic and hypnotic promise, and slathered in layers of vintage, billowing instrumentation, the band's stunning sophomore album, The Black Chord, expertly evokes the spirit,

tone and vision of '70s cosmic prog." described the album as "combining the dark grooves of Sabbath, with the improvisational tangents of King Crimson, the moods of the early eras of both Yes and Genesis, as well as hints of space rock from Hawkwind… the use of crunched guitars, brass, woodwinds, a variety of Mellotron sounds and Moog/analog synths, syncopated jazz drumming, and growling bass… yield honest results as everything sounds organic…." According to Sound Colour Vibration, there is a "depth and reality that a lot of progressive rock bands fail to obtain."

Astra encompass odd time sigs, symphonic mellotron soaked scapes with heavy psyched up guitar riffs

and gentle meandering vocals. There is nothing better than hearing the modern band maintain the spirit of the 70s in such an affectionate manner. It is never contrived or forced because Astra are true to themselves and consistent in their inventiveness and innovation; not stealing but merely honouring the heritage of prog. This album is a paradise for prog addicts and definitely one of the masterpiece albums of 2012 thus far.

Astra ‎– The Black Chord
Label: Metal Blade Records ‎– 3984-15087-2, Rise Above Records ‎– 3984-15087-2
Format: CD, Album
Released: 2012
Genre: Rock
Style: Psychedelic Rock, Prog Rock


01. Cocoon   8:43
02. The Black Chord    14:58
03. Quake Meat     6:39
04. Drift    4:37
05. Bull Torpis      2:54
06. Barefoot in the Head   9:13

MP3 @ 320 Size: 109 MB
Flac  Size: 295 MB


Falling apart from everyone
Follow the setting sun
Out of time
Caught in the siphon circle
Braincaged in the dark
Deeper down, mirrored without a sound

Time and again it fades away
Hollow the patterning fray
Reason rime
Unravelling the webwork
River rust, turning to carbon dust

Spirit the hours, day after day
Chasing the bright side, losing the way

Burning out and barefoot in the head
I'm hanging by a thread the writing on the wall
Lost and bound inside the grey machine
And nothing in between can break the final fall

Shadow the winding mind from here
Prophet and prey to the fear
Draw the line
Just on the lunatic fringe
Balancing there
On the edge, driving another wedge

1 comment:

  1. Hello! Thank you for this not very much known band, I pleased to know they're still activ. I bought "The Weirding" in 2009 and I look forward to listening to the second one. Thanks !