Astra – The Wierding – 4.5/5
I admit it, I screwed up. The christmas special was intended to finish on the 24th, but about 2 days in I realised it would finish a day early so to compensate I had to think fast. Coming in as a recently discovered impressive debut from a supergroup of “Yes” and “King Crimson” members comes the bonus! 80 minutes of epic prog rock goodness with 4 tracks over 10 minutes long (and two over 15)! Sweeping psychedelic melodies galore, riffs swooning and vocals soaring as though the last thirty years had never actually happened and…and…
Alright fine. Its not actually a Yes/Crimson supergroup that somehow snuck under the radar, but it might as well be; unashamedly retro, you could easily be forgiven for mistaking this as some early 70s release, but in truth this Californian quintet begain making waves with this release as late as last summer. With a strong instrumental focus comprising of space-like Floyd or Hawkwind psychedelia streaming from the guitars, all the time complemented by the rhythm behind him, bass and drums seamlessly worked into the slowly shifting soundscape created as it gently meanders its epic course. It’s a little bit of shock to the system when the vocals finally kick in after so long, produced in what feels like the same manner as the classics themselves, their ever so slightly crackly tone only enhancing the atmosphere.
But its not just the core either, an album of this length has pulled out all the stops in creating many different styles in their repetoire. The occasional liberal helping of minimoog bringing fond flashbacks of listening to Yes’s “Roundabout,” or King Crimson’s flute work with more than a couple additions of Jethro Tull’s folk like atmosphere, and yet for all this versatility, it eventually does feel as though its dragging its heels a little. The music is superbly composed, but its length makes this an album you need to go in headstrong and alert, charging in full pelt to make it through to the other side. This is not easy listening and many may find themselves struggling to make it through the entire release in one sitting (myself included).
From tracks like ‘Broken Glass’ which wouldn’t have felt out of place on a ‘Beatles’ album; short yet oddly simplistic and poignant, and all the more beautiful for its deceptive haunting melodies, to the lengthy title track still capable of maintaining its momentum like a lost Crimson epic; for all its combination of styles taken from prog rock’s glory days it never comes off as a mere imitation, instead serving to remind us of how powerful the genre used to be. If this was released 30 years ago there is no question in my mind that this album would be mentioned alongside “In the Court of the Crimson King” and “The Wall.” Late is indeed, far far better than never.
Highlights: The Weirding, Broken Glass, Beyond to Slight the Maze