Astra
From Within

Launched as a Dream Theater cover project back in 2001, Italian Progressive Metal five-piece Astra eventually grew into a self-reliant act and started writing and recording original material. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard their 2006 debut About Me – Through Life And Beyond, but I’m keen to do so after getting acquainted with their newest disc From Within. In fact, an initial exposure into this album probably won’t make you think of the their music as something special, and you might even write them off as just another clone of the onetime Prog Metal greats from Long Island. However, after giving From Within a more serious listen, I was pleasantly surprised at how inventive Astra turned out with their interpretation of what a Dream Theater successor should sound like today. Regardless of the multiple reminders of Images And Words or Scenes From A Memory era trademarks popping out here and there, it’s still obvious that these Italians are not only spot on imitating their heroes, but also invest a lot of other interesting influences into their music. Thus, I was more than once caught off guard by impressive bombastic keyboard flashes in the vein of Abacab era Genesis and harmonious vocal acapellas strongly resembling classic Queen and Styx.

What makes this band particularly worthy of praise is their ability to mix the complex, aggressive and beautiful. It becomes evident from the very first moments of “Over The Hills”, which is seemingly flowing, yet also volcanic in its essence, with explosive heavy guitar sections and opportune rhythm changes. While the keyboards mostly compliment the leads and the battery with ominous atmospheres they are still far from being just a background element and occasionally contribute a stellar solo or imposing pattern overshadowing the other instruments. The vocals are also damn good. Not even once does Titta Tani sound boring or uninspired skillfully jumbling smooth, crystal clean parts with raucous overtones a la Russell Allen or Mats Leven. In this respect, a very model track is “Memories Remain” where Titta presents an impressive performance supported with the combined choir efforts from the rest of the band. Nonetheless, as much of a metal singer as he is, the man has also proven to be a dead ringer for Freddie Mercury, which is more than obvious on the closing emotive ballad “Never Say Goodbye”.

Their compositions are measurably intricate and rich in details putting together the main melodic themes of the songs. The top task seems to induce as many emotions and musical memories from the past as possible and only then to impress with technicality. That is probably the very feature fixing a distinct boundary between Astra and Dream Theater. For that matter these guys are apparently way closer to their fellow countrymen DGM and Britain’s Threshold, though there is still a solid block of individuality found in nearly every track here. “Save Another Day”, for example, sees the band successfully flirting with some funky and jazzy additions with the backbone of the song obviously hovering somewhere between the realms of Hard Rock and Melodic Metal. No less inventive is “Simple Mind”, evocative of Kilroy Was Here era Styx. The song is a good demonstration of the band’s joint vocal work and has a typical lustrous vibe of a classic 80’s rocker.

Production-wise, From Within lives up to the best of present-day efforts and boasts a tasteful sound and flawless mix of the instruments. I think this record will primarily appeal to fans of melodic prog metal as well as classic hard rock. I must congratulate Lion Music on taking another brilliant band under their wing and this album is recommended without a shadow of a doubt!

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Igor Stakh
May 2nd, 2009

Comments

  1. Commented by: gabaghoul

    need to hear this. terrific review, as always.

    but why refer to DT as “onetime prog metal greats?” I guess that means you don’t like any of their recent output. (I thought Systematic Chaos was a good return to form, for the most part).


  2. Commented by: ceno

    No, I still worship them and like every single album ever released by them except for the debut. I think that now they are just another top-notch band among lots of other such contemporaries, some of which even surpass their major inspirers. This release from Astra is a good example of it.


  3. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    lost me at the first sentence.


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