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Nebula - Atomic Ritual

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Artist: Nebula

Album: Atomic Ritual

Label: Liquor and Poker

Review date: Jan. 8, 2004

A bit of a joyful throwback, Nebula spin out waves of stoner guitar and rhythmic churn, certainly earning the frequent comparisons to Mudhoney, MC5, Monster Magnet and the like. Personally, I also hear connections with Hawkwind and even Guru Guru, though this no doubt has a present-day production style to it. I don't think anyone will accuse Nebula of bringing an original sound, but that's hardly the point, since they do just fine with what they've got.

The title track kicks things off, and the album doesn't much let up throughout. The guys wisely kept the album to 41 minutes, which I heartily applaud. Blast in, do your damage, and leave while it's still fresh. Wish more bands would do the same. Atomic Ritual starts with some gorgeous twin-guitar lead action, leaning on the wah enough to bring in some Hendrix visions. Guitarist/vocalist Eddie Glass acquits himself handily during the quiet breaks, leaving some much-appreciated breathing room while tossing out tasty reverse-delayed licks to make it all psychedelic. "So It Goes" is a heavier, no-holds-barred rock-fest, dense and murky, showing the importance of Ruben Roman's strong drums and Simon Moon's thick, driving bass.

"Carpe Diem" has a more accessible, almost pop-derived bounce to it, complete with a "woo hoo" vocal chorus that verges on cheesy but generally falls on the safe side. And the stereo fuzz-guitar leads at the end certainly make it all worthwhile anyway. "More" shifts the proceedings back into high gear, offering piercing leads and a speed-worthy riff. "The Beast" centers on a riff that somehow seems very familiar, but is very memorable in any case.

The nicely-named "Out of Your Head" delivers on its promise with epic, towering stoner-rock guitar and a stomping, heavy rhythm that shifts up and down. Towards the end it kicks back to a loping pace to allow Glass some air in which to push the guitar into outer space as multi-tracked leads circle around and upwards. "The Way to Venus" rides a riff of the type that you'd swear nobody writes anymore, but there it is. "Paradise Engineer," with a repeating organ motif, feels a bit different, perhaps vaguely reminiscent of Deep Purple. Slow and heavy, it even boasts some spacerock flange effects amidst the riffage.

Perhaps the weakest song here is "Electric Synapse," not because it's bad but because it feels more by-the-numbers than the rest. It's a short rocker that lacks energy and depth, and by comparison feels somewhat thin. But not to worry, "Strange Human" ups the energy level again, and rocks more than hard enough to compensate -- until it breaks partway through and turns into a slow, woozy psychedelic song that doesn't rock but instead floats off into the ether -- and then blasts off again right at the end. Then "Fin," as its name implies, finishes things off. Surprisingly, it's a brief, quietly pretty piece led by piano and plucked guitar, shot through by a heavily-distorted guitar lead faded into the background.

Many will probably dismiss this album as 'retro' or accuse the band of not taking things to anyplace new, but I'd argue that they're missing the idea here. Frankly, there are all too few bands confident enough to hone their skills and simply deliver something strong and straightforward. And if I'm going to drive down the freeway late at night at high speed, I'm probably not going to throw on the latest cutting-edge release -- I'll take Atomic Ritual instead, thanks.

By Mason Jones

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