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Ad Astra: Surface Of Last Scattering

Ad Astra are a progressive outfit based round Doug Bowers and Christopher Flynn, with a little help from Henry Jablonski, Chuck Tidwell, Jeremy Ribando and Mitch Rall. In terms of style, their album Surface Of Last Scattering is very current in that retro way US prog seems to specialise in. The likes of Neal Morse or Erik Norlander reminded of through its keyboard led but guitar infused approach. Melody however is the key feature here, for while there's no doubt that Bowers (who handles vocals, keys, guitar, percussion and drum programming) and Flynn (12 and 6 string guitars and backing vocals) possess some serious chops, it's always the song that comes first. It's an approach which pays off, the duo and assorted friends expert in creating music that has a real sense of narrative and evolution, as passages neatly segue into one another and different approaches are allowed to take centre stage.

Lyrically things are based on creation and the passage from the beginning of life to the time after and while this is primarily from a Christian perspective, not to the extent that I'd call this blatantly Christian Prog. Instead you get Bowers exploring subject matter obviously close to his heart, his Fish inflected tones able to get the themes of the album across in a pleasantly ambiguous manner. The main message however comes through the music and here no one will question the ethos, for it's beautifully melodic prog delivered with passion and guile. The opening title track is a clever benchmark for what follows, keyboards driving the song forward, guitars interjecting with a surprisingly snarling bite. However with a variety of tempos and intensities employed it's often the ever changing dynamics which engross, the likes of Alan Parsons, Marillion or Vangelis touched on and then moved away from in quick succession.

If there's a fault, then the less than engaging drum programming is probably it, the beats never quite arriving with the force the more intense outings require, or indeed the subtlety needed to hold the atmosphere of the introspective movements. And that's a real shame, for at both ends of the scale Ad Astra are more than capable of delivering the goods, "Lament" as beautiful and fragile as its name suggests, "Pathways" a more 60s pop slice of goodness that also progs it up and bares its teeth when the mood arises. The centre piece of the album however is the constant evolution of "Cradle To Grave To Life", which is actually split into "Cradle", "Grave", "Life" movements on the disc's track-list (the song titles programmed on the disc seldom match the track list on the back of the digi pack!) a majestic example of how to deliver top notch symphonic prog.

Surface Of Last Scattering is a prime example of the depth of quality progressive music that's bubbling under the surface (no pun intended) of the genre's main players. If you're willing to dig that little bit deeper, the rewards are surprisingly good, as are Ad Astra.

Track Listing
1. Surface of Last Scattering
2. Lament
3. Cradle to Grave to Life - Grief
4. Cradle to Grave to Life - Recognition
5. Cradle to Grave to Life - Redemption
6. A Gift of Peace
7. Pathways

Added: October 28th 2015
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Ad Astra on facebook
Hits: 1826
Language: english

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