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Eela Craig: Missa Universalis (1978)

Back in 1967, there was a California psychedelic band called The Electric Prunes that released an album called Mass in F Minor. They had the idea of recording a Rock Mass, using religious text to the (then contemporary) psychedelic rock sound. The results, might not have been entirely successful, but still an interesting listen. 11 years later Austrian band Eela Craig did something like that, except in a synthesizer-dominated prog rock context. Only this time around, not only does the lyrics include the Latin text, but lyrics in English, French, and German. The band also got some help with non-member Walter Karlberger in the lyric department. Missa Universalis was the result, and is by far the most mellow album the band had ever done up to that point. The album opens up with “Kyrie”. My favorite part of the song is without a doubt, the droning, spacy synths. This, right away, brings to mind what certain German bands, like Eloy, was doing around the same time. This is without a doubt the best song on the album. “Credo” is divided in to two parts (on the LP, that is), the first half is a ballad with some great lush string synths. The second half is in a more funky manner (like a more tame One Niter). “Sanctus” was based in part of a theme from composer Anton Bruckner (it was interesting, around the same time Missa Universalis came out, Eela Craig perfomed at Internationales Brucknerfest ’78 in their hometown of Linz, which was held from September 3 to October 1, 1978, in which the band was to premier that album on September 22). Most of “Sanctus” consist of gentle vocal harmonies, but then the second half (which I find much more interesting) consists of a cool funky jam with a MiniMoog solo not unlike One Niter. “Agnus Dei”, like another song not mentioned yet, “Gloria” (which came after “Kyrie”), hadn’t really stuck in my head to really give a desciption. The last song is “Amen”, reminding me of Vangelis circa Heaven & Hell, with Hubert Bognermayr repeating the words, “Amen” over and over. The biggest problem I have with Missa Universalis are the lyrics, given I’m not Christian, it’s really difficult for me to stomach lyrics such as, “And I believe, in One Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God”. In other words, I don’t fancy the idea of being preached at listening to a prog rock album. For how strongly religious this album is, seven years ago, in 1971, they did a song called “Selfmade Trip…” on their self-entitled debut, which had rather obvious drug references, the band sure went a long way in those seven years, to say the least. I compare Missa Universalis with Mass in F Minor because both were not entirely successful attempts at a rock mass (and of course, neither sounded like each other), using a style of music contemporary for the time (West Coast psychedelia for the Electric Prunes, and prog for Eela Criag), but both still turned out fascinating, even if flawed, albums. So if you don’t mind the lyrics, or the fact, this album, like many other late ’70s prog albums, tended heavy to the synthesizers, you’ll probably enjoy Missa Universalis.
– Hubert Bognermayr: keyboards, vocals
– Harald Zuschrader: keyboards, acoustic guitar, flute
– Hubert Schnauer: keyboards, flute
– Wil Orthofer: vocals
– Gerhard Englisch: bass
– Fritz Riedelberger: guitars, vocals
– Frank Hueber: drums
– Alois Janetscko: live mixing