posted on 7/2009 By:
Everything about The Weirding screams "long-lost prog-rock album from 1972," from the Roger Dean-ish cover art to the vinyl-hued sonics to the ten-minute-plus epics to the presence of the mellotron to the spacey band name that, in 1972, at least wouldn’t have conjured images of Asia’s third record... But yet Astra isn’t some overlooked Moog-laden or jazz-leaning Canterbury-scene collective, and The Weirding isn’t a leftover from the days of yore, but rather both are products of modern-day sunny San Diego.
The Weirding is firmly rooted in spacey psychedelic and 70s progressive rock, but the occasional element of proto-metal heft does float by in the ether. A harder-edged riff here and there emerges from the void and toys with Sabbath-ian stomp, but mostly, this Weirding isn’t crushing, isn’t hard-driving. It's more heady than heavy—Astra’s atmosphere is more spacious than aggressive, more dreamy than menacing. In broad strokes, The Weirding sounds like Greg Lake-era King Crimson and Gabriel-era Genesis jamming with Pink Floyd and tossing a handful of Cream-like riffs in the mix to add a tougher, more muscular edge to the proceedings.
Although the album’s focus is predominantly instrumental, The Weirding’s sporadic vocal melodies further that psyche/prog all-stars comparison above. Those melodies hearken towards "In The Court Of The Crimson King" (the title track) or "Echoes" ("Silent Sleep," where the melody is even sung in a dreamlike diatonic harmony heavily reminiscent of the interplay between Floyd’s Gilmour and Wright). The guitars shimmer and snake beneath the drifting keys, lilting woodwinds, and whatever else may come along. The drums are propulsive and tight without being overly flashy; they’re busy without being cluttered. The bass work is melodic and provides some tasteful counterpoints to the guitars and keyboards. (Thankfully, throughout the whole record, Astra manages to encapsulate prog’s envelope-pushing ethos without falling prey to the style’s more masturbatory tendencies. The Weirding is not a purely instrumental showcase, although it is an instrumental workout—it’s a balance between songcraft and twisting improvisation, between prowess and vibe, with ample amounts of both but with a focus on atmosphere over pure noodling.)
But of course, neither flash nor vibe would matter at all if the results, the songs themselves, weren’t brilliantly executed. The title track blends that aforementioned Crimson-ity with the album’s heaviest riffage, that nearly Sabbath-like blues-based groove. The all-instrumental seventeen-minute "Oroboros" is effectively a loosely structured jam and yet still a highlight, opening with a strangely dance-y synth intro before falling into a Genesis-esque melody and an elongated psyche-blues guitar solo / keyboard freak-out that eventually turns around to drop into a dreamy keyboard interlude before reversing once again into another guitar workout
I could sit and dissect this all day, endlessly analyzing its breadth and scope, but the fact remains that I could sum it up in a much more concise fashion: a beautiful and exceptional record, through and through, The Weirding is highly recommended. For fans of classic progressive rock and/or the Steven Wilson side of the new school, this one’s a must-have. I simply can not stop listening to this, and more accurately, I will not. It’s as grand a prog record as I’ve run across in a long while.
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