Astra – The Weirding

June 19, 2009

astraAccording to the label that’s releasing it, San Diego based band (and “New Gods Of Psychedelic Prog” and “cosmic masters”) Astra’s debut album, The Weirding, has “Guaranteed Cult Status” written all over it. All of that is known as “the hard sell,” but fortunately for Astra, The Weirding is a pretty solid debut, maybe not strong enough to elevate them to immediate rock god status, but filled with enough promise to pay them some attention. Just so you know where they’re coming from, here’s a band picture:

astraband

That’s right, direct from the early 70’s, in spirit, anyway. I can’t say I’ve ever been very fond of prog rock via its early originators, but I’m finding I don’t mind modern practitioners of it at all, and in fact, I really enjoy quite a lot of it. Part of it is owing to the fact that while a lot of the current music, Astra’s included, sounds retro, it’s in fact a kind of blending of prog, psychedelic rock and metal that didn’t quite exist at the time. Astra specializes in the long song, and really that’s where they best show off their stuff, as they are skilled at filling an epic sized space without resorting to silly melodramatics, instead replying on solid musicianship and a keen ear for complex, layered melodies. The two highlights of the record, “The Weirding” and especially “Ouroboros,” are worth the price of admission alone, and take up almost half of the album’s running time by themselves. “Beyond to Slight the Maze” is a good closer, clocking in at just over 11 minutes. Also in Astra’s favor is that they don’t take themselves so seriously that their music drifts into pretentiousness. At its core, it’s good rock and roll fun from a band that knows and respects its influences as well as its likely core fan base.

http://www.myspace.com/astrasound

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Startlingly good second album from British Columbia based band Black Mountain mixes elements from bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Sweet and other 70’s influences into music that’s part hard rock, part psychedelic, part progressive, part folk. Whatever you want to call the result, the soaring male and female vocals, big guitars and synths create a sound that’s powerful and beautiful and so, so very heavy. Though Black Mountain wears their influences on their sleeves, you haven’t quite heard anything like what they’ve come up with on In The Future, which reaches a delirious peak with the epic nearly 17 minute long “Bright Lights.” This is an early contender for album of the year, and it’s not even the end of January yet. There’s not a dud to be found on the 57 minute LP, but highlights include the aforementioned “Bright Lights,” the opener “Stormy High,” “Wucan” and “Queens Will Play.”

http://www.myspace.com/blackmountain