Astra Symmetry is comprised of twelve songs broken down into four “movements,” each of which relates to constellations and their symbolism to the four elements: water, air, earth and fire. The album starts off with an eastern flair on “Abyss,” the longest song on the record at eight and a half minutes.
Instruments are slowly added to the mix, as well as some vocal chanting that sort of explains the gist of the album. Once we get past this awkward chanted intro and into the tribal toms, the song moves into Monkey3’s winding, grooving, hypnotic style. A killer start despite very weak vocal moments.
I would normally try to pick out two or three standout tracks and discuss their merits, but Astra Symmetry contains no weak songs. They’re all great, making it harder to single out just a couple. Many of the songs lead directly into one another, such as “Abyss” moving directly into the huge-sounding “Moon” (again sadly with a smattering of poor vocals) which culminates in one of many outstanding, Pink Floyd-like guitar solos.
“The Water Bearer” opens in ominous fashion, with haunting piano chords hammered out atop a throbbing bass line before giving way to another slow, emotive guitar solo. “Dead Planet’s Eyes” features a string melody that reminds one of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” and closer “Realms of Lights” builds and builds to a massive crescendo, bringing the album to a satisfying conclusion.
Monkey3 bill themselves as psychedelic stoner instrumental rock, and when they stick to that they rank amongst the best. What trips them up on Astra Symmetry is the smattering of dubious vocal performances. The band has something they want to say with respect to the four elemental movements, but boy they have a hard time saying it. Perhaps guest vocalists for these occasions would have been a better choice.
Honestly, the vocal issue (and it only shows up on maybe a quarter of the songs) is the only nitpick on an otherwise great record. Monkey3 play with a spacey, swirly groove that not many can hit, and the production and mix of Astra Symmetry caters perfectly to their abilities. Instruments are clear or hazy within the context of the songs, in particular the thick, ever-present bass guitar, and the psychedelic effects are perfectly utilized.
This is an outstanding release from the psychedelic groove vets, and if not for the questionable vocals scattered throughout Astra Symmetry, Monkey3 would have one of September’s top releases in their catalog. As it stands, focusing on the music and ignoring the singing when it occurs will lead listeners to a lot of musical pleasure.
(released September 2, 2016 on Napalm Records)