Astra – Broken Balance
Astra – Broken Balance (2014)
Reviewed by Arno Callens
I never think of Italy as having a vast progressive metal market. A quick search (and lots of scrolling) on the Metal Archives tells me differently, but still I’m largely unconvinced. Of the few bands that are exported – Odd Dimension is another – Astra has always been my favorite. After humble beginnings in About Me: Through Life And Beyond, the band released an underrated scorcher in From Within and it seemed the story had just begun. Catching them at another passage through Belgium at PPM Fest (which is quite fond of them) in 2013, I left with a richer experience of the band, and a promise that Astra would be back this year. It is, and since the map of Italian prog is relatively small in my eyes, Broken Balance should put Astra firmly in the center.
What makes Astra as astral as its name suggests is an exemplary talent for making prog metal rock. The genre usually gets its goods from mileage, but Astra takes flight on the first song and never touches ground again. Of course there is a growing curve for some of the songs, yet you wouldn’t be able to tell from “Over The Hills” on From Within or the first four tracks present here. “Losing My Ego” is a sprawling, powerized prog assault delivering punch after punch, catchy chorus included. No shortage of any of that either on the dreamy “Hole In The Silence”, dreamier “From Sunrise To Sunset”, and kick-ass “Too Late” (“Too Late! Too Late!”).
Progging it up a notch is the somber title track and thumping “Faithless” before the band goes into full Dream Theater mode with “Mirror Of Your Soul”, as singer Andrea Casali gives his best James LaBrie-impression. “Risk And Dare” rips the throttle open to full once more, and from there the album thunders onward until the strangely-not-a-ballad-closer “You Make Me Better”. At twelve tracks, the band risks and dares to lose track of what’s what. This is nothing, however, that can’t be helped with second and third spins.
What’s to say about the musicianship besides that these guys can play ball with the best? Casali’s voice may be slightly too effeminate for some, but he’s far from syrupy, even on the softer songs. He has the pipes to fill stadiums, and that, along with the crispy guitar sound, lends the band its rock ‘n’ roll quality.
Prog can be slow to reveal itself, in all the best and worst ways possible. Astra is not alone in this regard, but proves it can be both direct and deep at the same time. I can sit down with an Anubis Gate album any day of the week and lovingly dissect it, but on another day of the same week I just crave a prog record that makes me headbang and think, and think about headbanging. Broken Balance serves its purpose as a thinking man’s adrenaline shot extremely well. Now it’s up to the world to take notice.
4.0 // 5