The Black Chord

Astra is a psychedelic/progressive group from San Diego with just a couple releases under their belt, but they sure have created a mighty mature sound in the short period of time that they’ve existed. 2009’s The Weirding, the debut, was a sublime welding of earthy layers of sound with ’70s prog rock. The Black Chord hits the same vein, oozing golden waves of psychedelia and enlightening prog rock-outs.

Where to begin describing this? Well, the resounding vibe is a huge thing for Astra. A mood is quickly set and though it fluctuates, it’s a constant stream that flows through from beginning to end of the album. A steady combination of grandiose melodies, time signature and pattern shifts, and extended prog jams keeps the giant hot ball that is The Black Chord hurtling through inner space. The album is at times intense, at others relaxed, but consistently radical and consistently moving.

Opener “Cocoon” ushers The Black Chord in with spacey sounds and an Indian-sounding guitar section that leads into signature Astra material — lush riffs layered with dramatic organs and various other keys all wrapped up in warm tone, spiraling upward, upward until bursting into a Kansas-esque prog jam-out. A hell of a start to the album. The nice thing about The Black Chord is that where The Weirding‘s tunes were sprawling, this time around the tracks are more concise, more closely-shaven (yet without trimming any of the meat).

The title track is the longest on the album, clocking in at just under 15 minutes. For those susceptible to entanglement in the addictive web that Astra creates, it’s a non-issue. The lush environment created through guitar, voice, mellotron, organ, Moog, etc. is easy to traverse and flow along with — never does “The Black Chord” become monotonous or tiring. A journey through various soundscapes leads into the interestingly titled “Quake Meat,” a groovy affair which ebbs just as much as it flows. It’s replete with some of the smoothest riffing/soloing on the album, some truly far-out instrumental work that includes a flute, and psychedelic vocals. From there, we float along to “Drift,” a mellowed-out and almost somber tune that relies heavily on soft vocals and soft melodies. “Bull Torpis,” on the other hand, is more of a prog freak-out/jam session (as you may have guessed by the name). If any tune from The Black Chord could be transported back to the ’70s without a question raised, it’d be this one. Closer “Barefoot in the Head” is about as close as Astra come to straight-out Pink Floyd worship, and it’s a good thing without feeling ripped off. A cool doom riffing section three-quarters of the way through the tune reaffirms the coolness of the whole thing.

Astra has proven their ability to put out solid prog/psych rock albums with both the stellar The Weirding and now The Black Chord. Honestly, it’d be easy to dismiss their work as retro rehash based on appearances, but don’t go that route. The Black Chord is definitely a great album that requires only your ears and your mind for appreciation; highly recommended for fans of prog and classic rock.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jodi Van Walleghem
June 15th, 2012


  1. Commented by: Gabaghoul

    The Weirding was great, gonna have to check this out too. Great writeup Jojo

  2. Commented by: Jodi

    Thanks yo…you’ll like this one for sure

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