More Like Bad-Asstra

I already knew that San Diego-based (maybe 1970s-based is more accurate) prog rock outfit Astra were good, but when I saw them perform at Freshface Fever last month I was totally blown away. They played in a room with a bar and no stage, and the only microphones were the ones Richard Vaughan and Conor Riley were singing into, but they don’t need a giant sound system or stage to make them appear godlike or larger than life. Their music does that for them.  Even if I saw them in someone’s basement I would still feel like I was floating away from my body and off into some magical synth-laden Mellotron world where John McLaughlin-style double-neck guitars grow instead of trees and vinyl records sprout out of the earth in place of flowers. Astra opened a window to 1973 and everyone at Les Deux that night was eager to look inside.

“This is the coolest fucking band on the planet right now” is all I could think as Astra made their 2009 debut album, The Weirding, come to life at Freshface‘s Hollywood event. Even the fashionable Hollywood types who attended were won over by the band. I saw a confused smile on guitarist Brian Ellis’ face as he noticed two blonde women, who looked like they were dressed for a night at the Roxbury, dancing to Astra’s prog odysseys. I guess he thought it was weird, too.

After effectively kicking my ass with their monolithic “Ouroboros” (which clocks in at just over 17 minutes, comprising all of Side C of the 2xLP version of The Weirding) and its monster ending riff, Astra played an encore just to make sure that every freshface there had been melted, leaving all of us looking like the cover of In the Court of the Crimson Kingand that’s probably as close as I’ll ever come to seeing the classic prog bands of the early King Crimson era.

I found the band outside and got myself a beautiful gatefold 2xLP version of The Weirding, which I’ve pretty much been listening to on a loop since then. This band is probably my favorite musical discovery since I first heard Witchcraft, their Swedish labelmates from Rise Above Records. Where Witchcraft embody the raw, more straightforward, Sabbath-esque riffs of the 70s, Astra bring to mind bands like Camel, Pink Floyd, Yes, and even hints of the oft-forgotten Captain Beyond’s masterful riffs while never seeming derivative.

Astra’s The Weirding is out now on CD and 2xLP on Rise Above Records and on CD in the US on Metal Blade Records. The double LP is definitely the way to hear this record, though. You should also check out Rise Above’s killer limited edition color in color vinyl pressing of The Weirding here!

ASTRA

http://www.astratheband.com/

http://www.myspace.com/astrasound

http://www.riseaboverecords.com/artists/riseabove/astra/

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