Tag Archive | prog rock

Amon Duul Series Part Seven: Amon Duul II’s “Utopia”

Utopia album cover.

1) What You Gonna Do?; 2) The Wolfman Jack Show; 3) Alice; 4) Las Vegas; 5) Deutsch Nepal; 6) Utopia No. 1; 7) Nasi Goreng; 8) Jazz Kiste.

Eight out Ten

After the release of “Wolf City,” there was a fall out amongst the members of “Amon Duul II.” Bass player Lothar Meid had become one of the primary songwriters of the band by this point. He had spearheaded many of the highly successful flirtations with more accessible ideas found on “Wolf City.” Lothar wanted to continue pursuing a more commercial direction. Producer Olaf Kubler backed these ideas heavily, seeing as Lothar had become a primary composer.

However, not all of the band were interested in his ideas. Some of them (history has distorted who exactly) wanted to pursue a “freer” approach more in-line with their original ideas. This argument caused Lothar to flee into a separate studio with Olaf to work on his ideas. Lothar hired a group of sessions musicians to flesh out his ideas.

As they began working, the ties between the other members of “Amon Duul II” were healed. The original band came back to help Lothar finish his album, adding their own contributions in songwriting, arrangement and playing. As a result, the album, originally released under the band name “Utopia” has become a long lost “Amon Duul II” album. In fact, it is always credited to the band these days, under the album name “Utopia” where as the original album was simply self titled.

So, did all of this confusion lead to a disappointing album? Hardly: “Amon Duul II” was simply too good at this point to pump out sub-par material. In fact, Lothar had become quite an accomplished composer by this point, writing songs with high quality melodies with diverse arrangements in multiple genres. The only reason this album doesn’t rate higher is because a) it does somewhat betray the “dark” atmosphere of “Wolf City” and “Amon Duul II” in general and b) it’s too wildly diverse to be completely coherent.

These are very minor points (in fact, I love wildly diverse albums) but they do create a distraction principle. The darkness that had defined the band for so long has disappeared, replaced by a more simple, slightly generic air. And the problem with the diversity shown herein is that it doesn’t seem naturally diverse but slightly forced. When one listens to “The White Album” (arguably the most diverse album crafted) one marvels at the band’s natural command of multiple styles. The arrangements are easily modified and the band comes up with great melodies and lyrics that boost the songs up.

Here, the band sticks mostly to writing the same kind of darker melodies they had in the past, but with lighter arrangements. And honestly, as diverse as the approaches are here, the band usually sticks to the same guitar, guitar, bass, drums, violin, keyboard arrangements. It’s a case where a band’s style and arrangements masks the album’s true diversity. So, the album seems simultaneously incoherent (in the sense of mood created by songs) but seems somewhat monolithic in sound due to a coherent arrangement approach.

Confused? I wouldn’t blame you a bit. Really, it’s a lengthy way to say the songs sound simultaneously different while all sounding the same. This problem, combined with the loss of the band’s trademark darkness can’t help but knock this album down a few points in my eyes at least. To be honest, it doesn’t knock it down in my eyes as it does in the eyes of other fans, who begin viewing the band as complete and utter sell outs by this point.

Of course, an album this high can’t be all that bad. That said, in spite of the complaints I have voiced here, the album is actually very good. The band seemingly effortlessly tackles genres as diverse as folk rock; heavy, dark blues rock; piano ballads; jazzy acoustic guitar shuffles with wild brass sections; a re-recording of an earlier song; and three wildly diverse instrumentals to close the album.

A real attempt to make a “Utopia” called New Harmony.

The re-recording is of “Deutsch Nepal” from the previous album. This is the only moment of darkness on the album and is an odd low point: the first version was so dark and forbidding that this recreation, which comes across as lighter and less arranged, can’t help but be a disappointment. Besides, what’s the point of re-recording a song as recent as your last album? Imagine if the Beatles had re-recorded “I’m Looking Through You” for “Revolver” with a worsened arrangement. Makes no sense at all.

That said, the songs move through a variety of moods, melodies and styles, all of them pleasant. “What You Gonna Do?” is a huge shock after the previous albums. It’s lighter mood and nearly playful atmosphere seems entirely at odds with the “Lords of Darkness” feel that previous “Amon Duul II” albums possessed. Luckily, the song is catchy, well written and played. It also avoids cheese completely, making it completely adequate and fun.

The next four songs all vary greatly in style and mood, with only “Deutsch Nepal” standing out as a pointless endeavor. The rest are all based on pleasant, accessible but non-trivial music ideas. “Amon Duul II” is too weird to completely sell out just yet, so the songs all have weird twists in arrangement, wild guitar solos or odd vocal approaches to help avoid branding this a sell out. And it’s important to remember that “accessibility” should not be confused with “generic” or awful.

Besides, what kind of “sell out” band includes three high quality, dark, moody instrumentals at the end of their album? “Utopia No. 1” features the band playing in a similar vein to their earlier work. Honestly, it feels slightly out of place here: it seems like it should be on “Tanz Der Lemming” or even “Phallic Dei.”

“Nasi Goreng” (what a title) is an organ dominated, near gospel number that continually builds to an ecstatic climax in a way that “Amon Duul II” hasn’t really tried before. It may seem a bit too “up” for some fans but it’s “differentness” makes it a worthwhile experiment. Finally, “Jazz Kiste” is exactly what it title threatens: some wild jazz fusion. Thankfully, the band understands the genre well and has the chops to pull it off well. No small feat: as George Starostin once put it “…symph-prog will always be bad if you lack the chops to play it, but fusion will simply not exist if you lack the chops to play it…” The fact that the band can pull it off at all (and well) is a testament to their skills.

Basically, the album is essentially slightly less than the sum of its parts simply because the parts themselves are so diverse that they never build up to some ecstatic peak. Unlike earlier albums, a single mood is not sustained for a whole album, creating a feeling more akin to schizophrenia.

Perhaps this was the goal? I highly doubt it, as the album is too accessible to appeal to a true schizophrenic. However, don’t take the fact that the album is less than the sum of its parts indicate that the individual parts themselves are not enjoyable. In fact, each song here, even “Deutsch Nepal” (which is just disappointing because it’s such a pointless retread) is great and worthy listening over and over.

And it is a great indicator of things to come: this “accessibly schizophrenic” style was to serve as their main driving force for the next few years, helping to revitalize their career commercially and artistically. And if some of these albums are better and more coherent, it’s only because the band was only using a refined and perfected version of the formula set here.

Amon Duul Reviews Part Six: Amon Duul II’s “Wolf City”

Wolf City album cover.
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia.

1) Surrounded by the Stars 2) Green-Bubble-Raincoated-Man 3) Jail-House-Frog 4) Wolf City 5) Wie der Wind am Ende einer Strasse 6) Deutsch Nepal 7) Sleepwalker’s Timeless Bridge

9+ out of 10

After the release of “Carnival in Babylon” in 1972, the band reconvened in their studio in July to record another album. When it was released, the fans of “Amon Duul II” must have shaken their heads in anger, with the word “sell out” hanging even more prominently on their lips. The band they had fallen in love with was falling even further into the depths of commercial clap trap.

This time, the album had NO songs over 10 minutes long! The longest song didn’t even reach eight minutes in length. Not only that, but the album was an incomprehensibly short 35 minutes, making it the band’s shortest effort yet. Yes, the album cover was a disturbing wolf head and the album itself was named “Wolf City” but there was no way possible this could be a good album.

My rating of this album would suggest otherwise. This album is very nearly a masterpiece of short piece German rock and roll. Although the songs may be shorter, they aren’t exactly brimming with catchy pop melodies, the type of melodies that would indicate a sell out. Instead, the band sets their dials back to “dark.”

Again, I want to stress that I’m not some kind of “dark” music fiend. However, “Amon Duul II” simply does dark better than they do light, which is proven by this album. The opener “Surrounded by Stars” is one of their better mid-length epics: the overdubbing is back. The sound is murky, the vocals are a bit off key, the lyrics are odd and the song weaves through multiple sections while retaining a dark, hard hitting atmosphere.

The band quickly moves through a wide variety of different moods and styles. “Green-Bubble Raincoated Man” is an odd, slightly experimental piece with off kilter arrangements and odd melodies. “Jailhouse Frog” storms ahead quickly with a rampaging riff that doesn’t sound a lick like “Jailhouse Rock” but which has a similar hard rocking power.

“Wolf City” follows, which moves through a nearly oppressive, seemingly fatalistic atmosphere. It is the masterpiece of the album: the mood set by this track is one of nearly suicidal gloom. It’s amazing that the band can conjure up these moods with a few well placed chords and melodies. It is even more amazing that the band never seems to fall into self parody or over the top melodrama. Instead, the create realistic dark moods which has the effect of making these moods even more effective than the melodramatic posturings over other, lesser artists.

Another point that falls in “Amon Duul II”’s favor is their sense of humor. “Deutsch Nepal” almost nearly falls into a parodic dark level: the lurching, frightening melody almost seems too exaggerated to be taken seriously. The band does an excellent job of arranging instruments to focus even heavily on the darkness of the tune. Then, a grim narrator comes in and begins reciting a set of lyrics in German.

However, the band enlightens this atmosphere by having the narrator cough at various points throughout the track. These points are almost strategically arranged at the points wherein the track approaches its most ridiculous levels. It is a small touch but it is a saving touch: it shows that the band doesn’t take this darkness 100% seriously. That is to say, they take their job of making great music seriously, but they don’t want us to think of them as Nazi’s (the feel the track honestly creates at times).

Perhaps a bit like this?!
Photo Courtesy Motifake.com

The biggest accomplishment of this album lies not only in the quality of the music (which is amongst their best) but in the way the album fully finishes the band’s “transition” to shorter, more straightforward music. After all, it’s not as if the band truly did only long numbers before: however, even these shorter numbers tended to be jam based and instrumental. These shorter tunes are now arranged in a more classic pop and rock format, making them easier to grasp.

However, making the tunes more streamlined and easier to understand did not actually make the band loses its artsier, more experimental edges. If anything, structuring these experimental tunes in a more straightforward way actually helps enhance the effectiveness of the tunes.

No longer is the band simply lost in an incredible murky, atmospheric haze. Instead, they are creating darkly, incredibly moody songs that can resonate with more people. After all, more people can appreciate a murky mood piece when it has an easier to hum melody and doesn’t top 20 minutes.

This isn’t to disparate their earlier work. In fact, that work is truly their groundbreaking work and should be remembered as their most important work, historically. However, albums of great, short and mid-range songs like this live up to the band’s early legacy. “Wolf City” is more immediately entertaining than their earlier albums while retaining a similar, but slightly reduced edge. As a result, I can’t help but give it as high of a rating as their other albums and consider it another masterpiece.

The band would begin integrating more streamlined song ideas into their work at this point to varying degrees of success. Due to the success in their “shorter song” experiments, the band still created worthy albums of great music for several more years. Perhaps not as experimental, but just as enjoyable. But first, the band took an odd detour…

Amon Duul Reviews Part Five: Amon Duul II’s “Carnival in Babylon”

Carnival in Babylon album cover.

1 ) C.I.D. in Uruk 2) All the Years ‘Round 3) Shimmering Sand 4) Kronwinkl 12 5) Tables Are Turned 6) Hawknose Harlequin

7 out of 10

“Amon Duul II” had unleashed five albums of incredible music in the world from 1970 to 1972, which takes into account the two double albums. The band showed themselves capable of wild eyed improvisation as well as well structured hard rock. The darkness of the band wasn’t completely unprecedented but had rarely been done so intensely and with such outstanding musicianship. “Tanz Der Lemming” showed a band with a nearly limitless imagination that had proved to the world that they were one of the world’s most outstanding and innovative band’s on the marketplace.

The one thing that had yet to prove to the world was their ability to write music that would sell. Yes, “Phallus Dei” sold very well but this may have been due to the outlandish title as opposed to the musical content. The band was seemingly content with going into the wild blue yonder without truly having a great pop hit.

However, by the end of 1972 something must have changed in the band. Maybe they were tired of writing side long symphonies. Maybe they wanted a pop hit. Perhaps they were running low on talent and ideas. Whatever the cause, 1972 saw them releasing “Tanz Der Lemming” and the streamlined “Carnival in Babylon.”

The word “sellout” is a harsh word that can often spell the death knell for a band. Many people would call “Carnival in Babylon” a sellout. The song lengths shortened considerably, with the average song length not venturing much past five minutes with the longest song just barely topping ten minutes. Not that length dictates the worth of a composition (in fact, excessive length often signals a bad composition) but the band had showed that their main strengths lie in creating dark moods over extended periods of time.

Another surefire sign of “sell out” was the fact that the songs were structured a bit more coherently than before. Their were attempts to create a normal pop song structure with verses, choruses, refrains and even catchy melodies. The atmosphere had also been lightened from heavily oppressive to a much lighter, less intense feel. This album has often been compared to “Camel”’s work and for good reason.

So is this album a complete embarrassment for the band? Judging by my rating, you can probably guess “not quite” but you can also see that this album is still a downturn from the previous albums and a bit of a slight “bump” in the band’s growth. There are things to enjoy about this album but there are also things that cause a considerable weakness in the album.

The main problem is with the general approach. It’s not I think that “lighter” music and “pop” melodies aren’t compatible with good music (far from it: my favorite Beatle is Paul McCartney). In fact, I think that “Amon Duul II” needed to progress in a different direction as any attempt to outdo “Tanz Der Lemming” would only cause the band to stagnate and repeat the sound and style of the album. So I applaud their courage in attempting to branch out. It actually boosts the rating for me a little.

Climbing the tower of Babel. Babylon. Get it?!

But the band is really struggling in this direction. The band had never written catchy melodies in their lives at this point and their attempts to do so aren’t exactly convincing. It’s not as if the band is completely failing to create enjoyable music: the melodies are pleasant. But not memorable.

Now, before I’m accused of being a “pop slop lover” (a nonsensical insult in my opinion) let me point out that a melody doesn’t have to be immediately catchy to be good. It can be moody, atmospheric and interesting. The band hits on a few moody, atmospheric and interesting melodies on this album but one can tell it is very difficult for them to find these melodies consistently.

Another major problem is the lightened sound. It’s not that the sound is simply major key instead of minor key. The album is still rather moody and not exactly chipper. When I speak of the “lightened” sound I simply mean that the band isn’t overdubbing as wildly as they had in the past. The songs are less wildly arranged than in the past. The dark, murk of their previous albums has been erased for a clearer, easier to understand and less cluttered sound.

Again, many people may consider this a good thing. In fact, in many ways it is a good thing: you can hear individual instruments better than before. The problem comes with the fact that the band aren’t virtuosos and aren’t likely to knock you over by simply playing. Hearing these parts individually separated is nice but few of these parts are immediately memorable. Basically, the band was better at creating enthralling, murky music at this point in their career.

So why give the album such a high rating if there are so many obvious faults? Easy: the music is still enjoyable and moody. The band was simply too good at this point in their career to make truly bad music. This album, while the worst of their “classic” period is still high quality in many ways.

In fact, fans of “Camel” and early “Pink Floyd” may actually prefer this album. It has that same lighter than air feel to it, that same spacey, airy sound that is so alluring from those bands. “Amon Duul II” holds their own against these bands. However, they no longer sound as intriguing or original as they had before which is a major blow against the album. But for those interested in the band, it is worth getting as it’s light atmosphere is nothing like earlier or later albums and only shows off their abilities in changing with each new album.

The album does serve a very important transitional purpose: it helped inspire the band to focus their efforts on shorter, more concise works while fixing the “atmosphere” mistake by retaining a more arranged and darkly focused atmosphere. This approach would help inspire them to create at least one masterpiece and several excellent albums in the years to come.

Amon Duul Reviews Part Four: Amon Duul II’s “Tanz Der Lemming

Tanz Der Lemminge cover.

Record One: 1) Syntelman’s March of the Roaring Seventies 2) Restless Skylight-Transistor-Child

Record Two: “The Chamsin Soundtrack” 1) The Marilyn Monroe-Memorial-Church 2) Chewing Gum Telegram 3) Stumbling Over Melted Moonlight 4) Toxicological Whispering

10+ out of 10

One year after the breakthrough hard rock/middle eastern/gypsy/jam based breakthrough of “Yeti” “Amon Duul II” released their second double album, “Tanz Der Lemmings” (or “Dance of the Lemmings”). The line up is more or less the same as the previous album. However, this is where all similarities end: the music of this album is completely different from the proceeding two albums.

The title of the album is one of the most appropriate I’ve ever heard: at times it does sound like a particularly energetic and wild animal (such as a lemming) dancing in a forest, surrounded by like minded critters. The party they are having sounds like an incredible blast but (as befits the lemming’s reputation) they often sound as if they are about to fall off a cliff to their death as the band jams in wild and unpredictable ways through four basically side long tracks.

Amazingly, the band never falls of the cliff: in fact, they reach their early, experimental peak with this album. While later albums may be more immediately listenable and enjoyable and may reach different types of peaks (such as the pop music peak of “Made in Germany”) but the band never topped the imagination and atmospheres they set with this album.

The first track “Syntelman’s March of the Roaring Seventies” perfect sets up the mood of the album. It starts out as a mild march, with acoustic guitar replacing the wild electrical outbursts of yesteryear. Flutes, violins, mellotrons, pianos and dozens of overdubs help contribute to a wild, swirling sound that builds and builds. Vocals come in and non-chalantly chant rather dubious lyrics (the band never had a solid lyric writing ability) as the sound swoops and twirls.

Honestly, it’s very hard to describe these songs using traditional reviewing methods. Reviewing pop songs is a much easier task as you can discuss the melodies, the arrangements and the lyrics in a much simpler method. These songs are incredibly long and diverse with multiple crescendos, valleys and arrangement details. It would be impossible to describe these tracks in a concise and coherent way.

Instead, I’ll focus on the way the album makes me feel when I’m listening to it. I feel like I’m being transported into a new realm with each new track. The first track is the most dynamic track, moving through multiple movements, moods and melodies. It is much softer than “Yeti” focusing more on gentle acoustic sounds.

“Restless Skylight-Transistor-Child,” the second track, has a more hard rock oriented set of riffs (a reminder of the hard rock sounds of the last album) with wild ambient synthesized sounds, gentle sitar plucking and bashing drums. It moves through a seemingly endless series of riffs, melodies and ideas. Chris Karrer and John Weinzierl particularly shine on guitar while Renate wails.

The second record is the “Chasim” soundtrack and features four tracks instead of two. “The Marilyn Monroe-Memorial-Church” is the first track and the longest track on the album. It is also easily the noisiest track on the album and in the band’s career. Unlike the first two tracks, which seem relatively composed, this track seems like completely noisy jamming without any structure.

Alternative album art?
Photo courtesy Psygnosis games.

Instead, the band focuses on creating a mood and indeed creates one of their most powerful mood pieces ever composed. The ominous sense of foreboding created in this track has few precedents in rock and roll and is still a harrowing experience after all these years. The synthesizers seem to be the primary noise makers here, creating all sorts of bleeps, blips and whirs that sound unlike any other synthesizer sound I’ve ever heard.

The last side is made up of the last three tracks, “Chewing Gum Telegram,” “Stumbling Over Melted Moonlight” and “Toxicological Whispering.” These shorter tracks focus on creating individual moods, similar to the shorter tracks on “Yeti” and “Phallus Dei.” They are much more composed than the third side of the album and give it a levity that is lacking in the first album and the third track.

To be honest, all of these songs tend to sound similar due to the lengths of the track and their extreme diversity and wild dynamics. They do set different moods but it is hard to memorize or remember any of the melodies of individual songs. As a result, Tanz Der Lemming” cannot be rated as an album of individual songs but as an atmospheric soundtrack of nearly cinematic proportions. It must be listened to in a single sitting to be appreciated properly.

Those interested in “Amon Duul II” often start with this album and “Yeti” as they are (justifiably) the album’s most famous and celebrated albums. However, they actually give the listener a slightly “off” view of the rest of the band’s history. Immediately after these lengthy (although short enough to fit on a single CD) albums, the band started focusing on shorter tracks with less ominous atmospheres and easier to digest melodies.

Many fans of the band actually stop listening to the band at this point. However, these fans will miss out on several albums of excellent progressive rock/progressive pop albums that feature many high quality and memorable moments. Unlike many other progressive and experimental oriented bands, “Amon Duul II” was able to progress into a more streamlined direction without “selling out” or losing their initial appeal in a mistaken attempt at commercial success. This process was to begin immediately with their next album.

Amon Duul Reviews Part Three: Amon Duul II’s “Yeti”

Yeti Album Cover

Record One 1) Soap Shop Rock 2) She Came Through the Chimney 3) Archangel Thunderbird 4) Cerebus 5) The Return of Rübezahl 6) Eye-Shaking King 7) Pale Gallery

Record Two 1) Yeti 2) Yeti Talks to Yogi 3) Sandoz in the Rain

Only the second album by the band and they hit a major, major home run: to many people, this is their absolute best album, a masterpiece that the band never topped. A double album with well arranged, deep and hard hitting songs in a variety of different styles. A second album of brilliant improvisations. It still serves as their most famous album (though not their best selling; oddly, that is “Phallus Dei”) and has become a cornerstone for krautrock and rock and roll in general. In fact, it could be said that the band can be forgiven the last several crappy albums they made on the strength of this album alone.

Do I come across too strongly? Perhaps I do. In fact, I can’t say I fully believe all of this hype when it comes to this record. I don’t think it’s as influential as it has been stated: true, there is a gothic feel to the proceedings that undoubtedly influenced the sonics of various bands in their wake. However, few of these bands handled these atmospheres as effectively as “Amon Duul II” turning in slightly derivative and sometimes laughable works.

However, if you ask the “cool” groups that have been influenced by krautrock, they will usually name “Can” or “Kraftwerk” as influences. This isn’t always the case but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a band say they were influenced by “Amon Duul II.”

I’m not sure why this is: the band is certainly as good as “Can” and much better than “Kraftwerk.” I think the problem lies in the fact that the works of “Can” and “Kraftwerk” break more new ground than “Amon Duul II.” As startling as the sound of the band appeared to be, it rarely deviated too far from established patterns of jamming. There was none of the clinical synth work one can associate with “Kraftwerk” and the band’s playing abilities don’t match the impeccable standards set by “Can” and the band’s jam’s rarely become truly exciting in the same way.

Case in point: the second record of “Yeti.” These improvisations are more solid than the improvisations of “Phallus Dei” in many way: the sound is deeper, the playing is more fluid and the band tries many different things. However, they usually fail to set a mood in the same way. Often they seem like directionless ramblings in a way that makes me think that “Phallus Dei” was much better planned than I expected. This is odd considering three guys from “Amon Duul” actually guest on the track.

However, I don’t want to overstate this deficit. The jams are still enjoyable to listen to, especially as background music and can probably hit a lot of emotions for fans of “out there” music. Some fans even prefer the second record to the first. Perhaps the best way to think of this record is as a “bonus” disc, such as the third record to George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass.”

Looking at it this way helps turn the second record from a failed and dated (though I hate that word) experiment into a fun diversion. Besides, it’s not as if the rest of the album differs greatly from this loose jamming atmosphere: the band is still in full flight. But a sense of focus drives the band to creating the first studio masterpiece they ever managed.

The album starts with “Soap Shop Rock” the first “Amon Duul II” song I ever heard. It starts with a heavy, heavy yet complex riff that repeats a few times, doubled up on two guitars and joined by bass and drums. It pounds up into a crescendo and begins repeating a simpler variation as…one of the guys here sings. Forgive me if I don’t know off hand, but the band’s vocals are so similar and colorless that it’s hard for me to differentiate them. Except for when Renate starts wailing like a wounded opera singer attempting to impress an impatient opera director…

Anyways, the songs moves through various moves including a violin led section with dramatic downward riffs, quieter ominous singing and ending with a repetition of the beginning riff. As you can see, this type of music is hard to describe. The band interacts in various complex and memorable ways. The atmosphere is still more important but it is at least tied to memorable riffs and a structure that makes sense. Themes are repeated at key moments to help keep the song coherent. And it doesn’t ramble all over the place: it carefully works a single mood, a much harder task.

 

A physical embodiment of the album attacking the listener.
Image from “Yeti: Curse of the Snow Demon” Property of American World Pictures.

The same rock sensibility is true of the third track, “Archangel Thunderbird” one of the band’s hardest rockers and a highlight of their stage show. It is essentially a more compact version of “Soap Shop Rock” featuring all of the benefits that implies. Similar to this song is the fifth track “Eye Shaking King” which differentiates itself with a slightly middle eastern sounding riff, wild distorted vocals and a wildly panning guitar solo which moves from left to right rapidly.

The second track “She Came Through the Chimney” (potential Beatles associations aside) is a quieter track, filled with gentle guitar melodies, careful violin playing and a less aggressive stance. Kind of the calm after the storm: after the intensity of “Soap Shop Rock” it’s nice to see the band relax and take it easy. Flutes (probably mellotron based) and bongos make heady contributions to this track. An odd, dissonant organ track upsets the simple mood. The organ sounds almost like a violin, quietly making noise in the background. “Cerebeus,” the fourth track, is an acoustic guitar driven piece with a generic “middle eastern” key. Bongos keep the rhythm, giving the piece an ominous feel.

Middle eastern motives pop up regularly on this album. “The Return of Rübezahl” is a slight piece of filler with such an atmosphere: it’s a little too repetitive to be held highly but its theme is memorable and dramatic at times. Same with the concluding track, “Pale Gallery.”

Several words kept popping up in this review: ominous and middle eastern. This was not on accident or due (completely) to lazy writing. The band truly sounds scary on some of these tracks, like the kind of music the devil would hear in hell. Taking on all of these “exotic” (to untrained western ears) keys and melodies helps contribute to that feeling.

The band also overdubs like mad. There are sometimes what feels like dozens of tracks going on in the rockers while the slower “ballad” type songs have weird details that derail their moods (such as the organ in “She Came Through the Window.” On the one hand, the album often sounds all of a piece. For the longest time (and even now) I have a hard time differentiating the songs besides the opening “Soap Shop Rock” which sticks in my mind due to being heard first.

And very few of these melodies will stick in your head forever. They are written well enough that, with the production and arrangements they create a seriously demented and individualistic mood I’ve never heard anywhere else. For that reason alone, the album is worthwhile. However, the music itself (as well as the playing) is good enough to guarantee this album legendary status. The band was to top itself a year later with its next (naturally double) album. But that’s for another day.

 

Amon Duul Reviews Part Two: Amon Duul II “Phallus Dei.”

Phallus Dei album cover.

1) Kanaan 2) Dem Guten, Schonen 3) Luzifers Ghilom 4) Henriette Krotenschwanz 5) Phallus Dei CD Bonus Tracks 6) Touchmaphal 7) I Want the Sun to Shine

Nine out of Ten Stars

Now that we got the “crap” out of the way, let’s get started into the more interesting, beefier and generally more engaging work of “Amon Duul II.” The group made a pretty big splash artistically with “Phallus Dei” in 1969, technically in the same year as “Amon Duul I.” Don’t get on my case to find out what MONTH they were released in: let’s just say they were released almost simultaneously.

“Phallus Dei” (which means exactly what you think it means and if you aren’t sure, remember that “phallus” refers to something men have that women do not while “dei” is a shortening of “deity”) is the one album that remains closest in spirit to the first incarnation as it consists entirely of mostly improvised, mostly instrumental music that sounds very primal in approach and texture. However, it beats all of those albums handily for reasons I will point out below.

I do want to confess that I tend to enjoy the work of “Amon Duul I” more than I put on in my last review. However, I am rating these albums according to how I think a non-fan might approach the albums. And I am rating them based on what I consider to be their artistic worth. If I’m to be honest, I consider the albums pretty much flops artistically but a lot of fun to listen to as both entertainment and historical artifacts.

With that out of the way, lets get to “Phallus Dei.” On “Phallus “Dei” the line-up for “Amon Duul II” generally focused around these players: Peter Leopold, drums; John Weinzierl, guitar, 12-string bass; Falk Rogner organ, piano, keyboards; Chris Karrer, violin, guitar, twelve-string guitar, soprano saxophone, vocals; and Renate Knaup, vocals, tambourine.

Several percussionists join the band (in the grand “Amon Duul” tradition” as well as an extra bass player, Dave Anderson. Anderson, who later joined “Hawkwind” rejoined the “Amon Duul” family with “Amon Duul UK” but I’m getting ahead of myself. This line-up would adjust, expand and contrast throughout the years but generally featured these basic players.

The basic sound of the album can be summed up in one word: jamming. The album consists of live set pieces that the band had been playing for a year or so. However, this is not the completely aimless jamming of “Amon Duul I”: it is “mood jamming.” So, maybe two words would fit the sound of the album better.

Actually, I take that back: three words would perhaps be better: dark mood jamming. While dozens of bands had jammed much earlier than “Amon Duul II” few bands, German or otherwise, had focused on such moody, brooding textures. Sure, “Pink Floyd” was pretty dark but they were very structured with very little true jamming. This makes the album pretty groundbreaking.

Describing individual songs is actually pretty difficult here: their aren’t any really catchy riffs, memorable vocal melodies or coherent song structures. There also isn’t a lot of diversity in arrangement, mood or approach. The sound is also generally thinner than later “Amon Duul II” albums: while later albums featured extensive arrangement and overdubs, this album seems to be purely live in the studio jamming.

Which in some ways makes the album even more impressive: later album may be darker, but they required a careful arrangement process to create their moods. This album does it purely through playing. In fact, I bumped the album up a point from eight to nine while I was writing this review just for that reason. Musically, the album deserves no more than an eight but for audacity, the level of groundbreaking involved as well as the mood, it deserves at least an extra half point. But I don’t do half points. That just gets irritating after awhile.

Now, to describe the sound of the album. Basically, the band is very guitar heavy: John Weinzierl and Chris Karrer are super pros on their instruments and create a wide variety of textures. They aren’t exactly virtuosos but they’re very clever and creative, which is much more important any ways. Karrer expands the sound with solid, but unspectacular violin and saxophone playing. Perhaps these were over dubbed? Perhaps he just let go of his guitar and picked up the other instruments. I’m not sure.

 

Maybe Karrer looked like this in the studio?
Source: Fastest One Man Bad.com

Each groove (again, following “Amon Duul” traditions, these aren’t truly songs) generally starts out in the same way. A solid percussion groove begins and the guitars kick in, playing a wide variety of riffs, solos, chord progressions and generally interact with each other fairly complexly. The band kicks in with vocals sporadically.

These vocals are generally not melodic but textural. The vocals are split between fairly bland male vocals and the rather wild vocalization style of Renate Knauup which sounds like somebody trying to opera without the necessary strength of voice but with lots of vibrator to compensate.

On the sidelong title track, the band moves through several different sections. The shorter songs focus on mood making. The shorter songs range from just over two minutes to over eight and are much more condensed when compared to the wide ranging and rampaging title track.

Nothing is exactly highly memorable. In fact, the first few listens are definitely going to be underwhelming after all of these years and especially when contrasted with later recordings. The album seems almost completely chaotic in many ways, like a mess of guitar, bass, drum, percussion, violin, sax and Renate-wail (my phrase for Renate Kraupp’s vocalization style).

Subsequent listens will prove that the band is actually incredibly accomplished, confident and fully in control of what they are playing. Certain riffs rise out of the mist from time to time and embed themselves in your mind. You may find yourself humming them. More likely, you will find yourself swaying to the heavy grooves and digging the darkness. Besides, all “Amon Duul” albums (even later, more streamlined “Amon Duul II” albums) sound incredibly chaotic at first. It’s kind of their schtick.

The original album starts out with four shorter to medium length tracks. This is the track listing I have placed above. The second side consisted of the side long title track. However, CD reissues have placed “Phallus Dei” first, leaving the shorter tracks for last. They also add two bonus tracks, two lengthy songs from the same sessions that basically create the same mood as the album.

This odd rearrangement is actually a mistake in my opinion. The first four tracks are actually much moodier and thought provoking than the title track. This is because they are shorter and focus on a single mood or groove fully, instead of sprawling all over the place like the title track. However, the title track has more variety and energy. Perhaps this is the reason they put it first on the CD.

Whatever the reason, I insist it was a mistake: the dark moodiness of the first four tracks should definitely come first. “Phallus Dei” takes longer to get going, as it is a longer jam (which usually take awhile to get off the ground) and features far less effective and dark moods when compared to the first four tracks.

Starting with the darker tracks puts you in the mood of the album immediately and following with a side long song helps you relax a little (mood wise) and to get up and boogie (relatively speaking). Program your CD or Mp3’s with the original vinyl track listing and contrast it with the CD running order and tell me I’m not right. Or just listen to the vinyl album.

Final verdict? “Phallus Dei” is a groundbreaking album that any fan of “Amon Duul II” or “krautrock” in general should own. The music isn’t nearly as formed or as exciting as later works by the band. However, it still illustrates a highly confident band that knew what they wanted to do with their music immediately (unlike early Kraftwerk) and who had the professionalism, skill and playing ability to perform it (again, unlike early Kraftwerk. Not to pick on them but they weren’t very good until “Autobahn). Buy it and buy it well.

Amon Duul Reviews Part One: Amon Duul I’s Entire Discography

 

Greatest Hits for a Band with No Hits

 

Might as well get this over with: my “Amon Duul” reviews are going to start with the least regarded, least interesting and least respected subset of the group. In fact, I’m just reviewing all of them with one article simply to get them out of the way: believe me, the pros and cons of each are pretty much exactly the same with only minor variations.

Starting off with the worst albums by a group is an experience that many reviewers may not enjoy undergoing. However, for some it can be considered an edifying experience: get them out of the way or start of the review series with a hilarious group of insults and then moving on to the good stuff later, to explain why you even enjoy the band in the first place.

Me, I’m doing it because they came out first. It’s kind of an OCD thing: start with the earliest stuff, chronologically and work your way through the years. After all, who could enjoy a bunch of primalistic, simplistic drum pounding produced in the worst possible way? Not a lot of people.

However, there is a simple joy in much of their music that simply cannot be found anywhere else in the rock and roll world, bar perhaps “The Shaggs” (be nice, or I’ll review them). The enthusiasm of their recordings, the amateurish joy can sometimes rub off on the listener. However, the listener has to allow themselves to fall victim to these dubious joys. There is no middle ground here: the band is not goin to come to you. You have to go to them. Is it worth it? Read on to find out.

Psychedelic Underground 1969

 

Beautiful Cover.

1. “Ein Wunderhübsches Mädchen Träumt von Sandosa” (A Pretty Girl Dreaming of a Miracle in Sandosa) 2. “Kaskados Minnelied” (The Cockatoo’s Love Song) 3. “Mama Düül und ihre Sauerkrautband spielt auf” (Mama Duul and the Sauerkraut Band Plays on You) 4. “Im Garten Sandosa” (In the Garden at Sandosa) 5. “Der Garten Sandosa im Morgentau” (Morning Dew in the Garden at Sandosa) 6. “Bitterlings Verwandlung” (The Bitter Nerd’s Transformation)

6 out of 10 stars

Before we begin these reviews, let me state the band lineup: Rainer Bauer, guitar, vocals; Ulrich (Uli) Leopold, bass; Helge Filanda,congas, anvil, percussion, vocals; Wolfgang Krischke, percussion, piano; Eleonora Romana (Ella) Bauer,shaker, percussion, vocals; Angelika Filanda, percussion, vocals; Peter Leopold, drums; and Uschi Obermaier, maracas, percussion. I only mention the line up out of etiquette: it’s not as if many of these people would go on to bigger and better things.

I also apologize for the lengthy song titles: they were an absolute bitch to transfer from Wikipedia over to Open Source. The lengthy titles are also hilariously inappropriate: they sound like bad poetry or bad prog song titles. They definitely don’t match the contents of the “songs” themselves (though I do admit “The Bitter Nerd’s Transformation” is a hilarious title).

But I Don't Wanna Be Transformed!

In fact, I’m going to refer to the music on this album as “grooves.” I don’t think it’s fair to call them songs, neither for the band or for potential listeners. Because if these are to be held up as songs, they album would basically get zero stars out of ten. They obviously took little time to think up: the band just went into their studio and bashed around for hours, recording every note and then randomly tweaking the recordings with studio effects.

This approach is honestly the approach that early “Amon Duul II” took but with a major difference: professionalism. That band were super pros and very serious about their jamming and studio effects. “Amon Duul” seems content to bash out a single groove endlessly and randomly insert non-related sound collages. Everything by their sister band seemed carefully planned. Everything by the original band seems anti-planned.

Which, I’m going to be honest, is pretty cool. In theory, mostly. In practice, it’s must less cool. However, I can’t deny the awesome groove that the band kicks up on several parts of this album. Track one (I’m NOT putting you through the pain of reading those pretentious song titles twice) is one of the longest, if not the longest, track done by “Amon Duul” and its also one of their best. It doesn’t really differentiate itself from the rest of their output that much: it’s primitive pounding, crashing, bashing and chanting all mining a single groove for 17 minutes.

There is little to no melody to the track: everything is pounding and bashing. The guitar work is limited to some of the most unbelievably amateurish sounding guitar ever pressed to vinyl. Even the piano parts are percussive. The band chants ridiculous nonsense over top of the din. It sounds like an awful drum circle jam come to life.

However, as pointed out by George Starostin, the length of the track actually works in the bands favor. It seems interminable at first, but at about the 8 minute mark the groove imprints itself in the mind of the listener. The rest of the track bash along at the same pace with the same groove. But by that point a listener with a suitable mind (not everybody will fall for the charm of the groove) will be completely entranced.

In fact, the rest of the album has a similar effect. Most of the tracks are pretty lengthy, creating similar hard to beat grooves. Honestly, the grooves don’t sound that much different from each other. Some are a little slower. Some are faster. Others use more sound collage effects while others use less. But they all essentially sound the same.

Which is pretty cool for a listen or two. It all sounds like a wild party with a clan of cave men, bashing around and preparing the listener for a ritual that they weren’t meant to experience. As a result, the album has a unique sound which cannot be found anywhere else in the annals of rock history. Others have tried but few have reached the fun of this record. Of course, such a record can get no more than six out of ten stars. Five stars for the uniqueness and one star for the grooves (after all, they do all sound identical).

Collapsing/Singvogel Ruckwarts & Co. 1969.

 

An Ugly Album Cover.

1) Booster (Kolkraben); 2) Bass, Gestrichen (Pot Plantage, Kollaps); 3) Tusch, FF; 4) Singvögel Rückwärts (Sing­vögel Vorwärts); 5) Lua-Lua-He (Chor Der Wiesenpieper); 6) Shattering & Fading (Flattermänner); 7) Nachrichten Aus Cannabistan; 8) Big Sound (Die Show Der Blaumeisen); 9) Krawall (Repressiver Mon­tag); 10) Blech & Aufbau (Bau, Steine & Erden); 11) Natur (Auf Dem Lande).

3 out of 10 stars

Amon Duul”’s recording output immediately takes a nose-dive with this album, released in the same year as “Psychedelic Underground.” Many listeners may not understand why the album gets such a low rating. However, it’s very easy to explain: this album is literally made up of material from the exact same recording sessions as their debut. So, it essentially sounds exactly the same as the first album.

To some, this may not be a big deal. For me, it’s a little bit ridiculous. I mean, it’s not as if they mine different moods with these pieces or explore uncharted territory: it sounds exactly the same. Except this time the grooves come in smaller, easier to digest chunks. On the surface, it may seem better to have shorter grooves but it actually cripples the album.

Think about it: what’s the best part about listening to a live James Brown groove? Is it the complex interaction of the instruments? James’ vocal improvisations? The solos? No way: it is the rhythmic thrust of each groove extended to nearly intolerable lengths. The groove seeps into your very being and nearly becomes part of your being.

Now, imagine one of these live grooves was cut down to two or three minutes in length. It completely eliminates the power of the repetition. It removes the hypnotic power of the repetition on the mind (a real, studied effect that is incredibly fascinating) and renders it moot. Instead of being hypnotic it becomes annoying. What an odd effect.

That said, the grooves are simply less engaging. It truly seems like the group picked the best grooves for the first album and were scraping the bottom of the barrel with this album. The sound collages and effects are slightly downplayed as well, eliminating much of the sense of randomness which could occasionally make the first album engaging the first time you heard it.

So the score breaks down as one star for the grooves, one star for the balls to release the album (I mean really, it takes some gall to release two albums that sound like this) and the third star because I’m in a halfway decent mood. After all, I’m listening to “The Yardbirds” BBC Sessions while watching the Who’s stupid “Tommy” movie. How could I be in a bad mood?!

Pardieswarts Duul 1970

 

Yeah, Paradise Indeed...

1) Love Is Peace; 2) Snow Your Thirst And Sun Your Open Mouth; 3) Paramechanische Welt; 4) Eternal Flow; 5) Paramechanical World.

5 out of 10 stars

Amon Duul” rebounds a bit with their third album. The original album featured three long stracks while CD reissues add two tracks that made up a contemporary single. Unlike their past two albums (and their next two double albums) this album was created in a studio session that did not originate from their massive jam session.

In fact, the album can be seen by the band as an attempt to escape their percussion heavy, amateur drum ritualism and into the world of real music. Perhaps they were inspired by their sister band and their success? Or maybe they were sick of the repetitive nature of their past (and future) albums and wanted to try something a bit more varied and artistically interesting?

Whatever the reason, the album has a much lighter touch than past albums. Acoustic guitars replace the acid rock heaviness of past albums. The drums are very light most of the time and there are light touches of production and arrangement, such as piano, bass and guitar.

And the production is much easier on the ears than previous “Amon Duul” albums. Although that isn’t saying much: their first two albums seemed to be recorded to a tape recorder and mixed with a wooden oar. This album has very clean sound and very careful separation of elements. Everything sounds professionally done and is very easy to listen to for extended periods. The listener doesn’t have to take a break to test their hearing, as was true in the past (and the future).

However, as is obvious by the rating, this isn’t a very successful attempt to create “real” music. The basic problem lies in the band’s musicianship: they are simply too weak of musicians to create truly compelling music. They are obviously going for a “tranquil” air (“paradieswarts” should be an indication of “paradise” or tranquility) and try to create “beautiful” or even “pretty” musical backdrops.

But the band simply doesn’t know how to make that kind of music. You can’t simply strum a few basic chords and play a few simple piano melodies and call it “tranquil” or “evocative.” They simply repeat a few basic phrases over and over again. This is a major problem when it comes to “beautiful” pieces as beauty can simply not be created with such simplicity. You have to work for true beauty.

The band is definitely working here and you can appreciate the effort while still realizing its largely for naught. The songs drift lazily by your ear without engaging your senses like the best of their work. Many people will simply be waiting for the album to get over.

However, even in such a format as this, the band once again succeeds best in long form. In fact, if one wants to be inordinately kind to such a poor band (after all, true kindness is rare these days) you could try to make a case that work such as this could work as a type of “ambient” style of music. After all, its not as if the pieces develop. You could play any of these tracks at any point and still have the same basic sounding music.

And its not as if the music is damaging to your ear. Unlike other albums by the band, this album is gentle, peaceful and not at all dissonant or pounding. You can enjoy it while making tea, just before a nap or as a method of calming wild children. As a result, the album does have some worth to it. Three stars for the attempt at making music and two for the actual music. In fact, this is the band’s second best album. Everything is down hill from here.

Disaster 1972

 

Ster Is NOT a Good Album.

1) Drum Things (Erschlagzeugtes); 2) Asynchron (Verjault Und Zugeredet); 3) Yea Yea Yea (Zerbeatelt); 4) Broken (Ofensivitäten); 5) Somnium (Trauma); 6) Frequency (Entzwei); 7) Autonomes (Entdrei); 8) Chaoticolour (Entsext); 9) Expressionidiom (Kapuntterbunt); 10) Altitude (Quäär Feld Aus); 11) Impropulsion (Noch’n Lied).

1 out of 10 stars

I gotta give “Amon Duul” credit: they sure know how to name their albums. After the relative “paradise” of their third album they dive headfirst into the muck with “Disaster” an album that fails on all fronts to be engaging, entertaining or even listenable. The band simply went too far this time and paid the price (a poor review on a poorly web blog. That’ll learn em!).

What is is that separates this album from their first three? Well, very little honestly. The grooves come from the same jam session that birthed the first two albums. Yes, they are still milking that jam session for all its worth. I honestly believe that this was the only jam session the band ever recorded. I also believe it lasts exactly as long as all of the lengths of these albums added together.

Why? Because I am 100% sure they simply released every second of the jam session. After all, why would they release a DOUBLE album of percussive grooves? That’s right, this album is twice the length of “Psychedelic Underground” and is nowhere near as effective.

This is in spite of better sound quality and more manageable groove lengths. Yes, the grooves are longer than “Collapsing” (explaining why this is a double album with the exact same number of songs as that album) but the groove lengths should be long to be appreciated. The problem doesn’t lie in the groove lengths or the sound quality though: it lies in the quality of the grooves. And these grooves stink.

Of course, this is a highly subjective opinion. How can I prove that these grooves are really worse than the grooves on the first album? Honestly, I can’t. Yet somehow, it feels that way anyways. Perhaps the band is actually hampered by better sound quality? The touchy sound quality on the first two albums gave them a “audio verite” feel that made you feel like you were at an actual primitive ritual, which greatly enhanced their effectiveness.

Perhaps the simplest explanation is the most believable: two albums of this drum heavy shit is simply too much to take in one sitting. I’m sorry that I haven’t explained the sound of the album more individually but if you’ve heard ANY of this band’s album (bar the third) you’ve heard them all. And its getting old.

The album gets one star for truth in advertising. This truly is a complete disaster for the band. The band must have realized this, as they didn’t release another album for 11 years. How would it stack up against past albums?

Experimente 1983

 

Yeah, This Album is Truly Special.

1-24) Special Track Experience

1 out of 10 stars

 

I want the reader to know that I actually listened to all of these albums in a single sitting in one day. I started with “Psychedelic Underground” and worked my way up to this double album (that’s right, another double). At first, I was a bit excited: after all, the grooves on “Psychedelic Underground” were a hell of a lot of stupid fun. Maybe the band would be better than I thought.

However, as groove after groove passed my ear, I slowly began to lose hope. My positive feelings slowly melted into ambivalence and then into near hostility. How could a band release music this poor and repetitive and not be deeply ashamed? After all, the guitarist for “Amon Duul” would later make an appearance on “Amon Duul II”’s second album “Yeti.” Their sound recorder would appear on that album’s cover (and then freeze to death during an acid trip). Were the band deluded enough to think they were releasing great, ground breaking music?

Oddly, the answer to that question appears to be “no, no they didn’t.” As a matter of fact, the band wasn’t even releasing these albums: it was a producer who was trying to cash in on the success of “Amon Duul II” by releasing excerpts from the jam sessions. This isn’t to say that the band didn’t release albums on their own: the first three albums can be considered to have been released by the band’s own free will. The last two were not. And they are the band’s worst albums.

Now, this is the story I had read somewhere online. I’m a piss poor researcher and I never saved or annotated that source. It was probably Wikipedia. However, I actually believe this theory based on the auditory evidence. Especially with 1983’s “Experimente” a “better late than never” entry into the psychedelic sound wars. And does it hold up?

Have you been paying attention? I know you have: you know the answer. Of course it doesn’t. Why some rogue producer (or the band itself) would think to release an even longer collection of outtakes from a jam session…okay, we can pause here for a moment so you can cry a bit over the idea of “outtakes from jam sessions.” Take your time.

Ready? Good. Obviously, this simply cannot hold up to the band’s past work, let alone their contemporaries from the same time, let alone the musical climate of 1983. This album features 24 ultra short to medium length grooves all named “Experience” and numbered after their track number.

And its torture. What I said about “Collapsing” holds true here, except ten times more fully. How can you give into a groove that last a minute and a half? You can’t. It ceases becoming a groove and becomes either a) song b) an experiment. Since none of these are songs, they can only be called experiments. And since this type of experimentation was already beat to death in 1983 (and since they obviously already released all the “good” grooves and experiments on previous albums) what chance does this album have?

None. It’s a pretentious mess that simply has no reason to have been released or even heard. The fact that it stay sin print boggles the mind. 10 stars for the audacity to release an album like this in 1983 and negative 9 stars for the pretentiousness and inadequacy of the work. Avoid this album at all costs. As a matter of fact, you can avoid “Amon Duul” altogether to be honest. There’s a reason I reviewed all of these albums in one ultra long article: to get them out of the way.

 

The first couple of albums are good as historical pieces but hardly good music. They really only serve as a historical footnote to the career of “Amon Duul II” and as a sign of how bad that band could have turned out. Turn in next time for a review of “Phallus Dei.”

Mr. B’s Legendary Band Series: Amon Duul (all permeations)

ROCK AND ROLL!!

Good morning (or afternoon or evening) kiddies! Mr. B is back with some more legendary band reviews. This series will focus on a rather wild and wooly time and place in rock history: late 60’s through early 70’s Germany. Rock and roll had finally filtered through the lens of European censorship and had begun to influence the lifestyles, opinions and music of the European people.

Now, I won’t pretend to be an expert on the socio-political sensibilities of the time. Frankly, I know very little about the country in that period beyond the music and the unfortunate division of the country that occurred during World War II. I would hazard an educated guess that this division helped contribute to a rather tense, difficult mood that seems to appear in the rock and roll music of the time.

This music, usually called “krautrock” by critics, was some of the most daring, outrageous, innovative and influential music of the period. For example, David Bowie’s “Berlin” trilogy was heavily in debt to various krautrock bands. Kraftwerk essentially invented synth pop out of thin air, while Can mined a “James Brown meets the Velvet Underground meets World Music meets Stockhausen” groove. Even minor bands, such as Popul Vuh, influenced such music as ambient dance, while Tangerine Dream still makes synthetic music.

However, delving into a complete history of krautrock and all its various permutations and influences is frankly, the work of a madman. Such as Julian Cope, who’s writing on krautrock is extensive, engaging, illuminating and essential for any rock fan interested in the fringe areas of rock. This introduction serves only as a basic primer in krautrock, designed to help introduce the rather infamous, legendary, misunderstood and sometimes nearly forgotten “Amon Duul.”

Don't Forget, Flowers In Your Hair

“Amon Duul” (which is was one of the very first groups to start influencing the rock and roll scene in Germany. Bands such as “The Monks” had appeared earlier but “The Monks” were Americans making rock and roll music in Germany. In fact, “Amon Duul” began as a group as early as 1967. However, they weren’t a strictly musical group. They began live as an art commune that delved into performance art, painting, sculpture, communist ranting and various other activities, of which music was just one aspect.

Most of this commune valued the ideals of enthusiasm, excitement, experimentation and exuberance (the four E’s!) over musical structure, composition and ability. Their musical performances usually consisted of day long jams with up to eleven members contributing at any given point. Members of the commune were encouraged to join in on the jam as others left. Most of the commune played various forms of percussion: in fact, the only instruments besides percussion was sloppily rhythm guitar, bass and percussively slammed piano.

Well, such fun certainly couldn’t go undocumented: their infamous jams were usually very roughly recorded with a similarly amateurish enthusiasm, valuing the “heat of the moment” over sound precision. Which is a nice way to sound the recordings sound a bit like crap. But the group waged their art war with the German world for at least a year before some grumblings from certain members of the group lead to dissension in the ranks.

Six members of the group were getting a bit tired of the amateurish rumble of the jam sessions. These six were actually well trained musicians who had ambitions towards making more structured, well produced and more professional sounding music. This is not to say that they didn’t adhere strictly to the “jam” session aesthetic. Instead, they were growing weary of playing with people who simply couldn’t hold up to their standards.

They're Pretty Good Musicians...

This lead to a serious problem within the commune. In fact, it all came to a head at the “International Essen Song Days” festival. This was Germany’s first underground musical festival. The six more professional musicians wanted to break away and form their own strictly musical group. However, they wanted to use the “Amon Duul” name. Drummer Peter Leopold suggested that they could share the name: the first, amateur group (who were also working in various other forms of art) would be “Amon Duul.” The second group (who would focus mostly on music) would be “Amon Duul II.” Both bands took to the stage separately and jammed away.

This split creates some confusion amongst krautrock fans as nearly two dozen albums have come out with the name “Amon Duul.” In fact, further confusion is sowed by the fact that in the late 80’s, four albums came out under the name “Amon Duul” which only featured one original member of “Amon Duul” and which featured mostly British musicians. This group can be labeled as “Amon Duul III” or “Amon Duul (UK)” to avoid confusion.

The question amongst some fans is how each band differs from the other. What is incredible is how different each group sounds from the other. “Amon Duul” released four albums of heavily percussive jams, which were enhanced and altered in the studio. These four albums are pretty rough sounding, highly amateurish and difficult to discern from each other. In fact, these four albums all come from one of their mammoth, days long jam sessions. They also released a fifth album of more composed music that was separate from the others.

“Amon Duul (UK)” released four albums of various quality that run the range from free associative jams, highly experimental sound collages to tightly wound pop songs. They are highly produced but seem very separate from the sound of the 80’s beyond the crystal clear production qualities of each album. Nearly all of these albums were allegedly based around studio rehearsals and half finished ideas that never entirely pleased the band.

As a Matter of Fact All of These Instruments Do Appear On "Amon Duul" Albums.

However, both “Amon Duul” and “Amon Duul (UK)” can be considered pleasant, but minor preludes and prologues to the much more engaging “Amon Duul II.” “Amon Duul II” released the rest of the nearly two dozen albums created by these groups and for nearly seven years was one of the best, most innovative and engaging bands in Germany.

Most of “Amon Duul II”’s legacy is built around their first three albums: “Phallus Dei” “Yeti” and “Tanz Der Lemmings” the last two of which were double albums. What makes these albums so interesting is their combination of highly experimental jamming with listenability. Frankly, “Amon Duul II” is one of the easiest to listen to krautrock bands for the average fan.

Part of this has to due with their heavy emphasis on rock riffs and folk motives. The band rarely engaged in pure dissonance, even in their most experimental period. They also included a wide range of influences including folk, jazz, country, space rock, classical music and electronic music. All of these elements were throw into the pot in a way that synthesized all of them without drawing attention to any singular aspect. And perhaps most importantly, the band had a sense of humor that complimented a truly dark and surreal sensibility: “Phallus Dei” means exactly what it sounds like, to illustrate just one example.

These three albums form one of the most impressive and engaging trilogy of albums in all of krautrock. “Phallus Dei” is heavily jam based, with a lighter approach: “Yeti” is a dark, heavy album filled with wildly experimental rock riffs and a complete album devoted to pure jamming of the “Amon Duul” variety (and in fact features members of the original group); while “Tanz Der Lemming” features a more complex, heavily overdubbed symphonic approach that has no precedence in rock and roll history.

Welcome to the 60's!

However, the band began to streamline their sound with their fourth album “Carnival in Babylon.” This is not to say that they “sold out” or “went pop.” In fact, “Carnival in Babylon” sounds very “Pink Floyd” or “Camel” which is to say still experimental. Just a bit lighter in tone and less ambitious. The band continued this streamlining process, including the dark and heavy masterpiece “Wolf City” and the highly diverse but engaging trilogy “Utopia” “Vive Le Trance” and “Hi Jack.

Many fans find these albums to be a betrayal of the bands initial experimental nature. While they do get a bit less essential with each new album, the band showcases an incredible strong writing sensibility that nearly seamlessly includes heavily experimental hard rock, piano ballads, disco elements and pop songs in a highly fun and quick shifting manner.

In fact, this trilogy all leads up to the band’s late period pop masterpiece “Made in Germany.” This double album easily matches their earlier darker masterpieces but in a different realm. The album quickly shifts between a seemingly endless collection of immediately catchy pop tunes in a wide range of genres. Experimental textures easily contrast with a catchy chorus, often within the same song. The band had seemed to master the art of pop songwriting.

However, several band members left after the album was released which resulted in an immediate downturn in quality. The band released three albums before breaking up in the early 80’s and then reuniting to create one more album in the mid 80’s. However, none of these albums hold up to the high quality of their pop trilogy, let alone their classic albums.

Did I Mention That Amon Duul is a Huge Band?

After the flame out of “Amon Duul (UK)” the original “Amon Duul II” band reunited for a high quality album in 1995 called “Nada Moonshine #” (the # is not a typo). The band then toured the album and occasionally reunited for a tour. As late as 2007, the band was still releasing music.

So, how much of this music is worth the time of the listener? Sorting through nearly two dozen albums could be a headache for the interested fan. To be honest, one could content themselves with the first album by “Amon Duul” as well as “Pardisewarts Duul” the non-jam based album. The rest of their output is very spotty or too similar sounding to differentiate.

“Amon Duul (UK)” has two albums which can be considered essential: their first two albums, “Hawk Meets Penguin” and “Meetings With Menmachines – Inglorious Heroes of the Past. The first is a heavily jam based album while the second is a solid pop album. The last two mine similar fields but with decreasing rewards and in fact do seem rather thin and “unfinished” when compared to the first two.

“Amon Duul II” is a much trickier proposition for the collector. Many more of their albums are worth picking up. “Phallus Dei,” “Yeti,” “Tanz Der Lemming,” “Live in London,” “Carnival in Babylon,” “Wolf City,” “Utopia,” “Vive Le Trance,” “Hi Jack” and “Made in Germany” are very solid collections to any krautrock fans collection. Fans that are more interested in the experimental work can subsist on the first three, including the live album. However, “Nada Moonshine #” is a very solid combination of high quality songwriting, experimental tendencies and 90’s production techniques.

Now, They Are a Very Old Band.

However, all of this shall be revealed in my upcoming series of reviews. That’s right, I’m reviewing every single “Amon Duul” album ever released. Basically, I want these reviews to work as “one-stop-Amon Duul-review-shopping” for the uninitiated and curious. Each album rating will reflect what I think of the album’s musical content personally. An “experimental” rating will also apply for those who are interested only in experimental work.  I will also include a “listenability” rating which will show how easy each album is to listen to in one sitting.

I will also go over the lineups of the bands before individual album reviews (if necessary) as the band was huge in and of itself (as an earlier photo caption stated) and they went through nearly every musician in Germany during their career. What is interesting is that the band doesn’t seem to have a true “leader” like many groups. There’s no Pete Townsend or Holger Czukay steering the band.As a result, I will go into detail on what I believe certain band members brought to the band (when necessary) and how this influenced the band.

All of this is truly, the work of a madman. I expect this process to last nearly the rest of my life (and I plan on becoming immortal soon). I’d ask for pity, but nobody is forcing me to do this but me.