Oh Italy, will you ever stop delivering kick ass metal? Now don’t get me wrong folks, I love the San Francisco Bay Area I’ve called home for the majority of my life, and am very pleased with the area’s contributions to heavy metal, namely the thrash era of the 1980’s, but at the present moment, no country has been consistently delivering like Italy has, especially when it comes to just buckling down and busting out some no holds barred, guitar crunching, drum smashing, vocal chord tearing heavy metal. And when it comes to metal that is blunt and to the point, Astra pretty much nails it on their album Broken Balance.
Astra began their journey in Rome in 2001 as a four piece instrumental band, three of which are still in the band today, Andrea Casali (vocals and bass), Silvio D’Onorio De Meo (lead guitar), and Emanuele Casali (keyboard and rhythm guitar), and after a few changes, settled on drummer Filippo Berlini. According to their bio, they cut their chops on Dream Theater covers, and managed to win the first Italian Dream Theater Tribute Contest, leading them to a show with the Wizard Rudess himself for the Italian fan club’s 10 year party. From that point, they followed the tried and true path of releasing albums and touring. In 2005 they released About Me: Through Life and Beyond, and followed that with the 2007 release of From Within. Now, it’s time for that ever crucial third album, so let’s take a look at Broken Balance….
Now, unlike a lot of the music I’ve been reviewing in recent days, there is no genre bending, no quirks or hidden aural agendas. From note one of the opening track, Losing Your Ego, Astra makes it crystal clear that they just want to rock the fuck out. The song, and the whole album for that matter, is a catchy riff fest with a strong hard rock/metal vibe. It’s the type of music that would have taken a very high place in the annals of late eighties metal, with the searing high vocals of Casali, the constant double bass of Berlini, and the relentless guitar riffs and solos. They do mix it up a bit, throwing in a few time changes here and there, some subdued moments, and a growl or two, just to add some flare and color to the overall product. Hole in the Silence picks up right where the opener drops off, without skipping a step. The third track, Sunrise to Sunset, has a slightly balladesque touch to it, with a soaring and catchy chorus that really showcases the vocals of Casali. Buried in the midst of the soaring vocal work is a brilliant instrumental section and a jaw dropping solo. It’s surely my favorite on the album, a song that will be listened to many times, me singing at the top of my severely under qualified lungs.
From there they go right back to the metal. Song after song they are relentless, one of those albums that screams “LIVE SHOW PLEASE!!!!!!”. Too Late has yet another catchy chorus, something of a standard throughout the album actually. The title track, Broken Balance, opens with a sultry tone, something else they are rather adept at, and delivers a fairly complex song afterwards, teasing at exploding out multiple times before restraining themselves, working the listener into a furious sense of expectation as to what’s going to come about. Then comes the instrumental, where they let loose in a fury of notes scattered around before the guitars take control. Six more tracks follow, delivering a good variety on their version of solid metal. Another ballad comes in the form of Mirror of Your Soul. Risk and Dare is a crushing and rather dark number on an album that is overall fairly uplifting. Three more rockers lead into the closing track, You Make Me Better. This one opens on the heavy notes, and then settles into ballad zone. It’s a love song of course, with all the requisite cheesiness lyrically and the solid climactic moments.
Astra gives at the core of this album a polished sound for sure. Though there are very few mistakes on it, they also don’t break down any barriers. It is altogether a good, fun rocking album, the kind that is meant for cranking up and punishing your neck and your neighbors. Their tightness as a band is clear on every song, and the catchiness of the album should ensure a good deal of longevity for yet another addition to the growing pantheon of Italian metal.