The fact that retro prog act is signed to Metal Blade Records is perhaps one of the most glorious yet puzzling things going on in music today. I mean, for a label that features no shortage of death metal, black metal, grind, thrash, and power metal acts, Astra stick out like a sore thumb. Thankfully, the band can only feel really good having one of the major metal labels behind their brand of mid-70's prog, space rock, and psychedelia, something most bands of their ilk certainly don't have. The Black Chord is their latest platter of wild sounds that harken back to the glory days of prog, a CD that will surely take your mind on a journey should you choose to get on the ride.
Opening cut "Cocoon" is chocked to the gills with fluttering Moogs, spacey Hammond organ, searing guitar leads, and meditative percussion. Think of a strange meeting of Tangerine Dream, Pink Floyd, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Santana, and you have an idea of where the band are here on this one. The title track, a 15-minute monster, features haunting Mellotron, majestic piano, and the first appearance of vocals on the album. As the song starts to build, heavier guitar riffs and Hammond come into play, as images of Atomic Rooster start to appear, giving the song a very cool early 70's proto-prog feel. Before you can take a breath the Moog stabs into the mix, and there are also some wild Chris Squire inspired bass lines, adding to the intensity of it all. A marvelous song from start to finish.
"Quake Meat" is another treat, like a head-on-collision between Yes, Gentle Giant, and Atomic Rooster, as complex guitar, keyboard, and bass lines play off each other, before haunting effects laden vocals, Mellotron, flute, and spacey guitar lines take the song into dreamy Pink Floyd & Hawkwind styled territory. On "Drift", things take on a more pastoral flavor, as acoustic guitars, Mellotron, piano, and synths provide the bed for intoxicating vocals to float over, and the brief instrumental "Bull Torpis" is a sizzling prog/fusion number filled with sizzling guitar & synth solos. Near 10-minute closer "Barefoot in the Head" once again channels Atomic Rooster, Pink Floyd and Yes, as the listener is swept through a magical concoction of fuzz toned guitar solos, beefy riffs, ominous layers of keyboards, and mysterious vocals. Magical stuff!
In short, The Black Chord was made for those who either can't get enough of that vintage era, or missed it entirely. Honestly, there are times here where if you didn't know any better, you'd swear this recording was from 1972. Analog freaks rejoice, Astra have come to take you through some time travel, and it's a journey you'll want to be a part of, trust me.
02. The Black Chord
03. Quake Meat
05. Bull Torpis
06. Barefoot in the Head