With their fifth album, Swiss stoner troupe Monkey3 has endeavoured to create something both ambitious and monolithic. A 70-minute epic divided into four chapters, Astra Symmetry (Napalm Records) is, according to the PR fluff, “feeds its inspiration from the mapping of the stars and their symbolic associations, interpreting the constellations stranded over the dark sky.”
The astral nature of the subject matter comes through well in the music. Perhaps less aggressive and straightforward than previous albums, Astra Symmetry is a record of transcendental jams; there’s less focus on the riff, and more in the spacy ambience of the atmosphere. But despite that, there’s a definite classic rock influences shining through.
The slow psychedelia of opening track ‘Abyss’ has an air of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’ about it, the instrumental ‘Moon’ harks back to the early epics of Dio-era Rainbow, while ‘Dead Planet’s Eyes’ combines bluesy rock with symphonic elements. It’s clear these guys are unafraid to engage in a minimalist jam and let it breath. The likes of ‘Endless Ocean’, ‘Mirrors’, ‘Asraea’ and ‘Arch’ could fill a whole album of normal length, but act as mere interludes to segue between acts.
While there’s quality to be found throughout, the final quarter is where Monkey3 really shine. The band clearly know how to build layers in to a song, and each track in the final segment grows from nothing in an intense crescendo of classic rocks solos.
Some fans might find this new, spacey Monkey3 less exciting than previous incarnations. But while not the most energizing stoner records you’ll hear all year, Astra Symmetry is certainly one of the most ambitious. One to listen to alone and get lost in.
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