Atomic Opera
Gospel Cola

I'm supposed to like Atomic Opera. I mean, it has all the ingredients that I like: heavy rhythms, intelligent lyrics, shifting meters, eccentric instrumentation and plentiful harmonies, just to name a few. But something is missing from this recipe that makes it more of a swill than a stew. With the above facts in mind, I've given this album more than its share of spins in the hopes that something will click, hoping that I will learn to like it at least as much as their first release For Madmen Only. Perhaps it is the vocals. Frank Hart has a clean, nearly operatic tone that is horrendously free from any grit. Likewise for Kemper Crabb whose voice is at least original but so mellow that its soothing timbre is more fit for a choir than a rock band. Perhaps it is the whole baroque/metal feel of the album, a kind of intellectualization of the music without remembering that music needs a soul. And that, more than anything, is probably the key. Yes, they switch meter with the ease of a master juggler, yes they mix calypso with rock with folk with medieval song, but without a soul, without the means to reach into my chest and make me feel something, it's all just head music.

But for all of the above, I can respect the music of Gospel Cola and what they are trying to achieve, much in the same way that I can enjoy the music of Rush, Kansas, and Dream Theatre, music that also fails much of the time to reach me emotionally. For fans of this ultra-progressive type of music, dive right in... the water is great! Not only will you find pentatonic and eastern tone scales-a-plenty but some great intellectual lyrical fodder. The opening track, "Jesus Junk" finds the band taking a humorous look at the same sub-sub-culture that created WWJD bracelets while in "Silence" Hart implores "Why is there so much hate?" against some of the most emotive, chunky rhythms on the album. Fans of Kemper Crabb will not be disappointed as this medieval sage gets plenty of room to play mandolin, dulcimer, recorder, bozouki, harmonica, and ocarina. "The Circle Is Closed" is classic Crabb, with a slightly lilting melody and soaring chorus backed against a deluge of buzzing guitars, progressive percussion and monkish backing vocals. All in all, I admire what this band is trying to do and they are so close in achieving it. If they could only get that magic ingredient into their mix, perhaps the right producer, they would have a fine stew indeed!

This review first appeared in WhatzUp, July 2000.