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The Black Chord
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The Black Chord

16 April 2012 | Format: MP3

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4.6 out of 5 stars
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Format: Audio CD
Having made something of a splash with their debut LP 'The Weirding', Astra return in no uncertain terms with 'The Black Chord' which will surely go on to attain 'classic' status as it takes what was great about their debut and moves the band into the realms of sonic perfection.
Opening instrumental 'Cocoon' sets the scene, coming on like late 70s Pink Floyd, shimmering synths coming over the horizon like the sunrise, the track slowly building momentum before guitar takes center stage as the band start to flex their muscles on this exhilarating prog-workout which acts as a perfect intro to this, frankly, awesome album.
The production is a notch above that of 'The Weirding' as the drums are mixed perfectly into the musical fabric, while the synth and guitars are melted together to produce a sound that shines like Floyd's '...Crazy Diamond': Heady stuff indeed.
Unlike their debut, this album clocks in at a more modest 47 minutes, the band somehow being able to optimize their approach without losing the epic, sun-kissed textures their first album had to offer.
The vocals ease their way in on tracks such as 'The Black Chord' & 'Drift', sounding mellow and well-suited to the dreamy landscapes which will enthrall you - like a mix between the aforementioned Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream's more prog-inspired albums from the late 70s.
The arrangements are strong throughout, as guitar and synths playfully combine on a series of prog masterpieces, each track ending up as a journey in it's own right, as imaginative instrumental passages coupled with strong melodies clinch the deal.
This really is 'all killer', and one in the eye for those who choose to dismiss progressive music as something which punk destroyed back in the day. Nowadays it's appeal is more selective, but nevertheless, if you value musicality coupled with a stunning sense of vision, you need to hear this. Buy now.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I've played this new Astra album 4 times now,twice through the main system, once through high quality cans, and once through high quality earphones. I've waited until I've had a few listens in order to give a fair opinion on their new endeavor.

Firstly, the positive: this album contains only 6 tracks which are sweeping soundscapes of modern prog. Good playing and melodies which appealed on the first play. However, I do not consider it out-shines their marvelous The Weirding.

On the negative side, the production is no better than their first with the drums so far back in the mix, and sounding like someone hitting the arm of a leather chair. Secondly, the voice has an annoying effect imposed on it for the third track "Quake Meat" which is otherwise superb. Once again, the lyrics are difficult to decipher in their entirety yet no lyrics are included with the booklet, just a series of photos. Finally, some (for the want of another word) juvenile effects have been included, wind-like sounds, guitar alternating between channels etc. Whilst such antics were novel back in the late 60s/early 70s, it really is old hat now!!!

Don't get me wrong, my criticisms are meant to be constructive as overall this is still a very good album, however if they had a decent production and dropped the gimmicks, it could have been a great album, therefore only 4 stars from me.

Packaging is a standard jewel case with a cardboard slip case. I'm all in favor of using cardboard packaging for CDs rather than the horrible plastic boxes, but the trend of a slipcase on top of the box is useless in my opinion and environmentally wasteful.
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Format: Audio CD
I'll start by simply saying that this is the best album I have heard since Astra's debut 'The Weirding', and it will probably remain as such until their next album. This is an album for anyone who appreciates music for what it truly is - a vehicle for self expression, experimentation, emotional channelling, and true creativity. It would be easy to describe this album, and indeed the band themselves, as '70s-style prog-rock'. Yes, Astra are clearly influenced by everything amazing that came out of the 70s, and as another reviewer mentioned below, The Weirding was drenched with Pink Floyd worship, but with The Black Chord they have become so much more.

When Astra emerged with The Weirding a few years back, I was quite blown away. It was massive album, filling up every second of available space on the CD, and can be a tough one to sit through in one go - but compared to the majority of new music released these days, it was absolute musical heaven, a true journey of epic proportions. I was so impressed with this band that for a while I thought The Weirding couldn't possibly be beaten. But The Black Chord has at the same time exposed the flaws with The Weirding - those being some overly long jam sections which take a rather long time to go anywhere (though they do usually eventually go somewhere rather magnificent), and a little bit of filler material in the form of Silent Sleep, a song that doesn't particularly go anywhere at all, contrary to the rest of the album - and it has improved on them in every possible way.

The Black Chord is nearly half the length of The Weirding, and so much better for it. The songs (a couple of which still clock in well over the 10-minute mark) are more well written, better structured, more varied and more concise.
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