Monkey3An eastern drone, and the sound of the sitar and tabla precede a whispered chant. The drum steps up in tribal fashion. Now this is different. Monkey3 in fact are from Switzerland and describe “Astra Symmetry” as our “magic carpet ride”. The harsh vocals don’t really live up to the billing but “Abyss” is the trippiest of trips, the proggiest of prog, the weirdest of weird and ….?

So from the mysteries of the East, where was this journey going to take us? Into Kraftwerkian cosmic territory to start, then save a dark spoken passage “Moon” takes us through a world of sombre tones and luxurious guitar. There’s always a feel of cosmic prog, with tinges of post rock. Wavy moods and atmospheres feature strongly. As the drum beats calmly to “Endless Ocean”, there’s a sound like a didgeridoo. The willowy keyboard conveys images of early Kraftwerk experimentation. After the melancholic and 70s rock-laden “The Water Bearer” and the equally sad but chunkier, more mystical rock experience of “Crossroad”, the wider expanse of “Mirrors” takes over. It’s quite dark and gloomy. Maybe I expected something bigger than this after the extravagant start but “Astra Symmetry” does live up to its name by coming from a dreamy planet. You get what you wish for, as they say, and along comes “Dead Planet’s Eyes” with the wooziness and wispiness of Astra but a prog-type vocal which does nothing for me but to disturb the equilibrium. The more typically instrumental “Seeds” takes us back to the ethereal style test card fare, which borders on but never quite achieves excitement. It is music to absorb, but I could not see myself being carried away by it. “Astraea” takes us to the cosmos for a short while, and captivating it is too, and a good lead into the ascending prog-fused post-rock “Arch”. “The Guardian” is more of the same, while “Realms of Light” steps up the ante with an eerie sound sending a frisson through the veins as the instrumental heartbeat pounds and rises to a climax before working its way back through the cosmos.

“Astra Symmetry” is a long album and is dominated too much by some gloomy but unexciting passages. That is disappointing because in the cosmic and wider experimentation, there’s a lot of very interesting material here.

(7/10 Andrew Doherty)