Critical Mass
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Critical Mass


Band Rock Christian




"Phantom Tollbooth"

Rating 4 stars out of 5

I first heard of Critical Mass a few years ago when, out of curiosity, I typed "Catholic Rock Band" into Google. However, I admit that I didn't listen to any of their music until today.

The band definitely has a lot of artistic merit...this entire album is based on the "Grasping for Hope in the Darkness" comic book, which is available on the band's website. The comic book, drawn in pencil by bandmember David Wang, is actually what we would refer to as a "tract" in evangelical Protestantism. (The difference is: unlike Jack Chick's infamously scary tracts, David Wang does not appear to hate Catholicism.)

The band is also a friend of literacy (the second track on the album is based on the book "Dorian Gray," according to the liner notes) and really wants to make a point. Throughout the album, they do battle with: pornography, explicit lyrics, the legality of abortion, sex education, condoms, the abuse scandal in the Catholic church, judgmentalism, the Jesus Seminar, and... leftist Christian politicians?

Not only did they do all of that; they managed to fit music onto the CD as well. The music sounds very much like CCM, and it is... a lot of it was written for World Youth Day, a Canadian youth conference.However, I've been waiting for a Christian band to cover "Carry On Wayward Son." They did it, and your band didn't.

Overall, a very strong effort.

Freddie Odom
- Phantom Tollbooth

"Grapevine Magazine"

How's this for counter-cultural? Critical Mass, a Catholic rock group based out of Toronto, has crafted their latest CD, Body Language using rock music--a musical genre notorious for reveling in salacious and lewd imagery--to demonstrate and instruct about the Theology of the Body.

For those unfamiliar with the Theology of the Body, it was a series of lectures given by Pope John Paul II, upon arrival to his pontificate, about understanding sex--in all its fullness--in light of the Catholic Gospel. George Weigel, the biographer of Pope John Paul II, called this series a "theological time-bomb" which would soon "reshap[e] the way Catholics think about our embodiedness as male and female, our sexuality, our relationships with each other, our relationships with God--even God himself." (Forward, Theology of the Body Explained, Christopher West).

Disseminating such knowledge to the level that a non-theologian can grasp its truths is hard enough for an author or a public speaker... but a rock group? Music has a language all its own, and popular music disseminates thoughts with a series of sentence fragments—oftentimes speaking to the lowest-common denominator, building to a repetitive and hook-y chorus, with the option to incorporate a bridge—an alternate melodic and lyrical detour—if need be. Popular music today can be used as an effective teaching tool, especially when the music gives the lyrics a voicing that provides emotional depth to the cut-and-dry images contained in the lyrics.

Musically, Critical Mass is up to the challenge. After following this band for many years, I believe this is the best they've ever sounded. There is clarity and musicality in its guitar riffs, accompanied by solid production chops that are equal to what I hear on secular radio. The style veers from hard-rock ("Body is a Language," "No Consequence"), to joyous pop-rock ("Alone," "Walk You Home") to rock balladry ("Devotion") to praise and worship ("Body and Blood (Adoremus version)"). Regarding this last song, a reworking of an earlier song, it stands head and shoulders above the praise and worship musical landscape, improving upon the original with a wonderfully ethereal tone, and incorporating traditional Latin lyrics to the final product. I really appreciate it when Critical Mass lets it all out, taking musical chances and coming up golden.

Lyrically, David Wang and company have stretched their craft and raised the bar; there are stories here that speak to teenagers about the sexual permissiveness in society ("No Consequence"), the Steve Taylor-esque slam on artificial contraception ("Contraception Interception"), and the joys of committed celibacy ("Alone"). You may be hard-pressed to find a musical project that works this hard to shine the light of God's grace with this much minute detail in the darkened corners of our sexually saturated society.

Taking into account that this is Critical Mass's finest musical testament to date, with deep, detailed lyrics that are this faithful to a pertinent and applicable aspect of Catholic teaching today, I am hesitant to say that, to my ears, the marriage between lyrics and music do not entirely work.

One of the problems is that the melodies sometimes project an anger, a roughness, that runs contrary to the tone of some songs. Granted, this isn't a problem when singing about the corruption of today's media, or the problems within artificial contraception, but hearing the angry guitar riffs for "Friend" (a plea for compassion) and "Body is a Language", which lays the foundation for the glorious teaching of the Theology of the Body, is disconcerting. Not to mention that most of the lyrics are barely audible underneath the band's wall of sound (admittedly not a problem for those who have the liner notes on hand).

But even reading the lyrics and the liner notes, you read words that are more likely associated with PhD dissertations than in popular rock songs. Phenomenology. Phylogeny. Manichaeism. Pyres. There is a certain novelty in hearing such words used in a popular song format (in which the first of these words was vocally truncated into four syllables). In fairness, the band tries very hard to explain these concepts to the average listener in the liner notes; but it's still got a ways to go.

Even though I have reservations about the final product, I wish all bands choose to not play it safe, and take the educated risks that Critical Mass has done. They ought to be commended for helping advance Catholic music and raise the listener up with knowledge and wisdom of our faith. This is most especially true for the sonic blast that accompanied this theological time bomb of the Theology of the Body.



Faith Looks Up (1997, Producer Ron Roy)
Broken Records Sampler (1998, Critical Mass contributed one song, "Wisdom")
Completely (2000, Producer Andrew Horrocks)
Light of the World/Lumiere du Monde (2002, Official CD of World Youth Day 2002, Critical Mass contributed the song "Share it with the World")
Grasping For Hope in the Darkness (2004, Producer Andrew Horrocks)
Celebrate (2006, Producer Andrew Horrocks)
Gift of God (2007, a compilation CD for the Eucharistic Congress in 2008, Critical Mass contributed 2 songs to this compilation: "Reverend Larebil" and "Body and Blood", while David Wang was the executive producer for the CD)
Catholic Music 2007 (2007, a very successful collection by SpiritWing Records. Critical Mass contributed the song "Dorian Gray")
Catholic Music 2008 ( Critical Mass contributed the song "Body and Blood")
Rocking Romans- Best of new Catholic Music 2008 (Critical Mass contributed the song "Body and Blood")
Body Language (2009, Producer Andrew Horrocks)

Music Videos
I'll Be Fine, 1998, directed by Ray Lyell
Body and Blood, 1998, directed by Ray Lyell
Kephas, 1997, directed by Ray Lyell
Mary's Song, 2003, produced by Salt and Light Television (notable for featuring scenes from Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and, for copyright reasons, has never been made publicly available except for Salt and Light Television)
Set Me Free, 2003, directed by David Wang, promotional video only
Your Mysterious Ways, 2005, directed by David Wang, promotional video only
Dorian Gray, 2005, concept by David Wang, live footage from Salt and Light Television



Critical Mass started in 1997 by David Wang as a way to introduce Catholic youth to contemporary Christian music. Initially the group focused on leading worship at youth events and Masses. The original group members were Matt and Tim Devine, Eric Kubica, Tom and Sharon Pawelko, Matthew Bierschbach, Lorraine Adams, and David and Jodie Wang. The band wrote original music influenced by their Catholic faith. Their first album was a demo recording, Faith Looks Up and received positive reviews. The album went on to win the band Best International Group and Best Modern Rock/Alternative album from the United Catholic Music and Video Association. One of the songs, I'll Be Fine topped the spiritual rock charts at Lorraine Adams left the band in 1999.

Their second album Completely was produced by Andrew Horrocks and had a more professional sound than the debut demo release. The album immediately garnered the Best Album of the Year at the Canadian Gospel Music Association's Covenant Awards. The song Humility was finalist for Rock Song of the Year as well. The Canadian Gospel Music Association and their Covenant Awards are the equivalent of the prestigious Dove Awards in the United States.

The success of Completely resulted in the group being invited to be one of the major two bands involved in the larger liturgical celebrations at World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto. The band was given the honor of performing at both the Papal Welcoming Ceremony and at the Papal Vigil, the latter of which was seen by the 600,000 in attendance and on international television. Except for David Wang, the members of the band then left to pursue other projects. Matt and Tim Devine formed a new band, Devine. Tim Devine has since entered the priesthood with the Companions of the Cross.

David Wang and new band members Scott McKendrick, Luke Kupczyk, Tracey Doyle, Paul Kieffer, Lawrence Lam and assisted by Harvey Armoogan and Laurel Pentelow continued the mission of Critical Mass with the album Grasping for Hope in the Darkness which was released on September 11, 2004. It too, won Best Rock Album honours at the Covenant Awards. Their cover of the Kansas classic, Carry On Wayward Son also was nominated for Best Rock Song. Over the past two years Critical Mass has extended its reach into the United States with touring and retreats.

In October 2006, the band again received International Group of the Year honours from the United Catholic Music and Video Association. About the same time the band was joined by new member Dave Flitton, who substitutes in at keyboard and guitar whenever necessary.

In 2007, Critical Mass released a live praise and worship effort called Celebrate, which includes covers of popular worship songs as well as some remakes of songs from the album Completely. This album was nominated for 6 United Catholic Music and Video Association Awards.

In 2009, Critical Mass released "Body Language", an album based on Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body. This is one of the first Christian rock albums to ever deal so explicitly with the topics of sex, love and communion, in a Catholic Christian context.