Tensions and the usual personal differences that are inevitable in most bands began to surface on this, Amon Duul’s third LP Dance Of The Lemmings in 1971. Bass player Dave Anderson jumped ship and joined Hawkwind whilst the enigmatically named Falk – Ulrich Rogner left but continued to lend his artistic talent to the LPs and take on some keyboard duties.
Renate Knaup-Krotenschwanz left but kind of never left if that makes sense; she does appear on this LP briefly and made it back to sing lead on the next.
Well I know nothing of the inner group tensions but you can defiantly hear a very different incarnation on this LP, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst. Directionless but ambitious, there are plenty of highs and lows to be found, if nothing else bass replacement Lothar Meid shines.
Dance Of The Lemmings has a strange concept running through it, almost akin to a stage play in many acts which along with its ‘St.Pauls Epistles to the Corinthians’ like long winded titles and sub sections can be read as quite pretentious. These track titles range from the amazingly elaborate ‘A Short Stop At The Transylvanian Brain Surgery’ to the cringing ‘Stumbling Over Melted Moonlight’, which could be found echoed on the first King Crimson album.
A maelstrom of ideas and hints to undercurrents which range from far left politics to the commune free spirit – remember this was the Baader Meinhof years where left wing sensibilities turned from waving Che Guevara flags to acts of terrorism within only a couple of years. A dark and scary period certainly for German history, in fact the Baader Meinhof Complex book and movie are really important works which I recommend to anyone whose interested in learning more of the cultural background to what was happening both socially and politically around this period.
The album artwork itself has plenty of suggestive pointers to where the band is coming from, a collage of historical figures mingle with what looks like some time traveling spaceship which is making its way through some kind of worm hole; in fact very much rubbing shoulders with and tipping a hat to Hawkwind’s In Search Of Space concept artwork, which evidently came out the same year.
The dashboard of the time machine has pictured on its panels the various band members and an illustration of The Tower Of Babel, which points to the biblical finger waving warnings of lost morality and greed. The back cover features some shamanic looking character whose wearing the skull of some poor unfortunate creature that happened to get too close to the bubbling cauldron in some ancient druid ritual.
A mythology has been created that takes in Arthurian legend as written by Tolstoy, the mysterious Germanic myths from the past and the old testament whilst the music itself sits between the cosmic and Gothic of Yeti and the ambient tones of fellow German band Popol Vuh.
So this their third LP has some real difficulties which critics either love or hate, even Julian Cope left it out of his top 50 krautrock LPs, though he is being way too harsh. In fact I still think for all its failures it’s a really good listen, one that has to be done in the privacy of your own home with headphones on, also you need a good hour or so of uninterrupted time to really absorb yourself.
One last thing, which Cope mentioned as well, is that the album title sometimes goes under the title of ‘Tanz Der Lemminge’, this is the German translation, which is a bit of anomaly and appears from time to time on the market. It’s safe to say the original UK/US versions are always entitled Dance Of The Lemmings.
United Artists (UK/USA)
1971 Double LP Gatefold.
Track List: –
Syntelman’s March Of The Roaring Seventies (15:51)
a. In The GlassGarden
b. Pull Down Your Mask
c. Prayer To The Silence
d. Telephone Complex
Restless Skylight- Transistor- Child (19:33)
1. Landing In A Ditch
2. Dehypnotized Toothpaste
3. A Short Stop At The Transylvanian Brain Surgery
4. Race From Here To Your Ears
a. Little Tornadoes
b. Overheated Tiara
c. The Flyweighted Five
5. Riding On A Cloud
6. Paralized Paradise
7. H.G Well’s Take Off
1. Chamsin Soundtrack – The Marilyn Monroe Memorial Church (18:05)
1. Chewinggum Telegram (2:41)
2. Stumbling Over Melted Moonlight (4:33)
3. Toxicological Whispering (7:45)
Chris Karrer – Guitar, Violin, Vocals
Renate Knaup – Krontenschwanz – Vocals
Peter Leopold – Drums, Percussion
Lothar Meid – Bass, Vocals
Falk- Ulrich Rogner – Keyboards. Organs
Christian Thierfeld – Vocals, Percussion
John Weinzerl – Guitar, Vocals, PianoGuests –
Jimy Jackson – Organ, Choir Organ, Piano
Al Gromer – Sitar
Henriette Kroetenschwanz – Vocals
Rolf Zachner – Vocals
The grand opener ‘Syntelman’s March Of The Roaring Seventies’ comes in four sections, the first being ‘GlassGarden’ which oscillates a haunting intro of psychedelic settings before some soaring build up delivered via a military tattoo band comes crashing in. Folks…we have arrived at our first cosmos inspired destination.
More of the choral like haunted tones backed with the guitar work of Yeti announce Karrer’s opening gambit vocals, an evocative lyrical start point with which to kick off proceedings.
“Pull down your mask, wolf in the sheepskin” is sung with a wry and knowing accent: if we were in any doubt of the theme then they have made it quite apparent.
Part two of act one continues with its wise pronouncements ‘A dollar a day keeps the fuss away’ and a heroic chorus of more Germanic Gothic choirs bring us to a crescendo before we reach a slight breather as the record changes direction with the bongo heavy introduction of ‘Prayer To The Silence’.
The ever-present psychedelic tripped up guitar licks set the tone again whilst Leopold’s drums hold the whole piece together, a instrumental pause that acts as a segue way before we get a heavy dose of acoustic folk and new boy Lothar Meid’s bass rumbles into the centre for the first time. Like the Moody Blues hiding in the dark fairytale forests of Bavaria whilst attempting to compose an ode to Hansel and Gretel.
So far we have followed the blueprint of Yeti and Phallus Dei as well as dipping into the odd bit of Yes musicianship – especially their acoustic guitar work.
‘Telephone Complex’ the last act as it were on side A, starts with a bass solo frenzy before both the piano and lead guitar decide to grab a piece of the action wrestling control from each other at every turn.
It all ends in what sounds like the band falling down a steel flight of stairs as someone decides its best to call it quits.
Flipping over we are given a most presumptuous second act title ‘Restless Skylight- Transistor – Child’, like some reading of the themes found in Kubrick’s 2001 by an MA student or some sub heading nightmare found in the sort of lectures that I imagine Wittgenstein the philosopher delivered.
Musically we have a rock guitar playing alongside Meid’s menacing bass line before abruptly changing into an all out progressive jam. Again everyone takes part, the true commune spirit in effect, as we fly past ‘Landing In A Ditch’ and ‘Dehypnotised Toothpaste’ before our sensibilities are given room to take in the bubbling broth of folksy and Far East influences.
Lines about Mona Lisa and and time traveling are bounded around as the sitar and theatrical operatic choirs play like some Hammer Horror film set in the Capuchin mountains.
Show stopper, and a tune I always try and add to any mix I do, is the enigmatically titled ‘A Short Stop At The Transylvanian Brain Surgery’, a whirling and thunderous dose of both Sabbath and Led Zeppelin fighting it out in the beer hall of Beauwolf. Multiple effects and a harrowing hysterical vocal sung in vibrato fashion sounds like three different tracks playing at the same time. ‘The bank of Babylon is closed’ and other such intriguing lines are lost in quagmire of utter deeply disturbing backing where Leopold’s drums constantly disappear then mysteriously reappear out of nowhere.
The chaos finally ends as ‘Race From Here To Your Ears’ story arc gets going and ends up in another far flung out there space jam, solos chug in and out yet again as members drop by. The vocals come on like some kind of voodoo rites as we play catch up; the familiar themes of the LP so far are reintroduced as Renate delivers her brief backing vocals into the pyre, much appreciated but almost so small a part as to hardly bare a mention.
‘Riding On A Cloud’ features the narration style vocals of John Weinzierl, who acts as some kind of Edger Poe like storyteller as lashings of phaser heavy effects give it a cosmic feel, our ship has ploughed into the abyss.
It sounds like Klaus Kinski riffing through passages of Parsifal whilst taken a sip from the electric kool aid, a veritable three minutes of epoch acid rock.
Side two is brought to a conclusively psyched out end.
Our third side is the experimental soundtrack epic that over two sides features whole tracts of almost nothingness whilst the odd jam like intentions make fleeting appearances.
Tangerine Dream and Can along with fellow mates Popol Vuh make guest appearances in both influence and camaraderie. A soundtrack to a movie that was never made is the best way to describe this.
Our journey begins on the lunar surface of the Forbidden Planet as our astronauts attempt to play in zero gravity, Moebius as purely music.
We find ourselves suspended in some kind of animation as the good ship Amon Duul is swallowed into the belly of some higher universal being, like that bit in Star Trek the motion picture when the Enterprise is drawn deeper towards Voyagers giant mother ship and Spock tries to mind meld with the machine.
Back to Earth and our ship lands in a dark lagoon where we languish in a humid and windless seas before our intrepid hosts break us out of our slumber and hit us with some deconstructed piano and what can only be described as lasers start to rock our ship.
In the vast emptiness Leopold’s drums gallop along and act like Queegueg’s coffin, our only hope to cling to in the ocean of space left by the band.
The final side continues along the same route, though it begins with a prompt jam session before it quickly fades out of sight. It becomes pretty evident that it’s all pasted together, which is where the turmoil within the group shows.
The heavy drums sure show off Leopold’s skills as he adds his break beat style to the abstract ambiance, this all pours into a quasi- funky jam session via Salem rather then Detroit.
Returning to more of those segue ways before we come to the interrupted session of ‘Toxicological Whispering’, which sounds like we’ve come in half way through and missed the beginning.
Slow and calm grooving played along the lines of Woodstock era Jefferson Airplane, the LP starts to sound very much like the best of Phallus Dei Every riff is pulled out of the bag as Ginger Baker plays on in the background uninterrupted, almost blues rather then the progressive, its as if the band are really together on this and play a real tight and harmonic jam. This the final track plays out as possibly the most joyous transcending moment of the whole album, its as if their problems have been set aside for a brief five minutes.
We find a difficult third LP that most critics believe is a blip, though it seems harsh. Dance Of The Lemmings is a really good album and is a snapshot of the band member’s mindset during 1971. Problems aside it documents a free spirit and progressive direction for which the band never really returned to, Carnival In Babylon would see a more song based pathway for the band as well as a coherent structure.
The soundtrack elements may sometimes grate but its well worth picking this LP up for the steering and Herzog inspired movie themes that Popol Vuh would later become renowned for.
By all means it is not the most important work in there cannon but no collector or general interested music fan should be without it.