Astra - The Weirding
(Rise Above Records 2009)
From Aural Innovations May 2009 update
When I first heard The Weirding, the epic debut album from San Diego's Astra, I had zero information on the band, other than a release date of 2009. Was this a re-issue of some lost album from 1970, I seriously wondered? It certainly could have been. But no, The Weirding is a bona fide brand new release from the band formerly known as Silver Sunshine, and what a release it is! Complex progressive rock, cosmic space rock, heavy psych and powerful vocal melodies all collide in a dazzling array of songs that total over 78 minutes of playing time.
The Rising of the Black Sun gets things underway. With its freeform structure of brooding guitars, distant chimes, wailing flute and wild percussion, it conjures up a windswept wasteland where mutants stand poised to do battle with the survivors of humanity. The battle begins as the music breaks into an energetic rhythm with freaked out guitar riffing and spacey Mellotron strings propelling the listener to a furious climax. But it's just a taste of what is to come. This opening instrumental segues directly into the album's first major epic, the awesome title track. Mellotron flute, acoustic guitars and a killer vocal melody are grafted onto a Sabbath meets early Crimson-like backdrop that flows neatly along buoying a verse/chorus song structure until it reaches the middle part, where it then plunges into a lengthy cosmic jam that is somehow both heavy and laidback at the same time. It's brilliantly done, and brings the listener full circle to the vocal melody from the beginning of the song to finish things off.
The album is not all heavy and intense though. There are numerous dynamics within each of the numerous longer pieces. There are also some lovely softer pieces too, like Silent Sleep, one of the most beautiful and longing pieces on the album, with its mystical flute, sweeping acoustic guitars and gentle harmonies. There's also the folksy Broken Glass and the mysterious and atmospheric instrumental Dawning of Orphicus, which takes on a Floydian like spaciness.
The centerpiece of the album is the 17-minute long instrumental epic Ouroboros. The keyboards really come to the fore on this one, with multiple layers of Mellotron, piano, synth and organ (and that's all just in the first four minutes!). After that, a spacey guitar lead takes over as the band delves deep into valleys of misty sonic wonder to then climb, as lovely strands of synths and Mellotron flute re-enter the picture, beyond snow peaked mountains of sound towards the glittering starry night sky.
Each piece has a distinctive mood, but fits nicely into the whole. I'm not
sure if this is a concept album, but it all flows so well together to its haunting,
acoustic conclusion that it certainly could be. And when I said this sounded
like it could have come out in 1970, don't get me wrong, it's no tired flashback.
The Weirding is fresh and electrifying. The song writing is strong and emotional,
never meandering or lapsing into displays of instrumental virtuosity but retaining
an exhilarating complexity that draws the listener in again and again. This
is the kind of album you will be listening to years from now and still be hearing
new things you never heard before in it.
Reviewed by Jeff Fitzgerald
Check out the band web site at: http://www.astratheband.com/
Check out the Rise Above record label site at: http://www.riseaboverecords.com/