Astra won me over with 2009's The Weirding, a total throwback to vintage early 70s prog, all Genesis mellotrons, Pink Floyd dreaminess, and Hawkwind brain-melting guitar freakouts. The Black Chord ups the ante on this style, with multiple mellotrons, minimoogs, and organs creating icy, intertwining melodic lines that lace through every track on this 47-minute monster of an album. This time out, especially on the 15-minute title track, they throw in a little Yes and go for broke, with fantastic results. One thing that sets Astra apart, despite their obvious hommage to classic prog, is that this is not so literal, as it is in some bands (e.g., the many who have a singer who sings high like Jon Anderson, or who get so close to the originals that in some cases bits of melody lines are stolen from prog classics). Astra sound like Astra, ultimately, and the production is warm, full, not screaming "modern" but enough to realize this is from 2012, not 1971. The standout track is the finale, Barefoot In The Head, which boasts the best vocal melody on the record (the main criticism is that, elsewhere, the catchiness of the melodic content doesn't quite reach the heights of, say Yes circa Fragile or Close to the Edge. . . someone should tell Astra that it wouldn't hurt to throw in a few actual choruses to give fans something to sing along to, and remember the tune by!).
In sum, this is every bit as good as The Weirding and in many ways, better: More tightly woven and cleanly composed, not so much of the long wailing jams to fill up space. The sound is much improved, and the vocals are also better with many nice harmonies. If you get the same shivers I do when those mellotron M400s and minimoogs kick in, you will love The Black Chord. It is important that we prog rockers support worthy new bands, and Astra is certainly one!