Broad and spacious as all hell, Astra’s The Black Chord is retro in excess.
The San Diego outfit employs all manner of guitar and analog synths to get the job done, never resisting an occasion to jam the hell out at great length. This can get a tad repetitive, but there’s something altogether remarkable about the lengths Astra goes to in order to slay the ominous dragons of routine.
Astra is Richard Vaughan (vocals, electric guitar, mellotron M400, Minimoog, Rogue Moog, sound effects), Conor Riley (vocals, mellotron M400, Minimoog, Rogue Moog, ARP Odyssey, Oberheim 2-Voice, Crumar Orchestrator, Hammond A-100 organ, grand piano), Brian Ellis (lead electric guitar, electric 12-string Guitar, acoustic guitar), David Hurley (drums, percussion, flute), and Stuart Sclater (bass).
As the follow-up to their 2009 debut The Weirding, The Black Chord is 1970s wankery turned up to 11 or maybe even 12. The songs are immoral in scope and everlasting in their aptitude to buzz on and on, which is somewhat masterful and somewhat wearing all at once.
The good news is that Astra knows how to write a song. In the interior of these huge songs lie arrangements that are virtually pop-like in their melodic receptivity. There is a running chord, perhaps a black one, that slashes through as a souvenir of just how damn sweet the retro vibe can be when it’s done right.
The title track, 15 minutes of proggy bulk, is easily The Black Chord’s most stimulating track. It ebbs and flows in phases, with some moments of rather forthright rock melody and other flashes of ongoing keyboarding that would make Ray Manzarek redden. There are also some Santana-esque guitar passageways, just to mix up the sauce a little.
Then there’s the under-three-minute “Bull Torpis,” a harsh tempest of guitar riffs and more keyboard fun. It still fares well as a rather fluid jam, but it has a little more single-mindedness.
Whether it’s the fusing of vocals on “Barefoot in the Head” or the guitar noodling of “Cocoon,” Astra certainly seems to know where they’re going with The Black Chord. As hazy as the songs may seem, these flower children actually have a great deal of focus when it comes to their creative slant. They gather as one mystical unit, swords and Moogs drawn, and don’t seem to mind fading off into the vapour one bit.
Article originally published as Astra – The Black Chord over at ye olde Something Else!