Amon Duul II - 'Wolf City' (1972)


Background

Wolf City is probably the most popular and well known of all Amon Duul II albums; it’s also their most critically acclaimed.

This was the second LP released in the fruitful year of 1972, after Carnival In Babylon, and features a similar structured way of songwriting that almost leaves behind the improvised jams found on the first three records – though there are still some occasional less scripted passages.

Made in the same year and with the same producer Olaf Kubler, Wolf City continues to lay down the folk influences but uses a rich tapestry of Indian sounds such as the tablas, sitar and tambura: all elements found on the seminal and exotic Yeti album. At times the sound finds the familiar Gothic horror that they’re renowned for, though it remains an uplifting, transcendental record most of the time.

Personal changes and a move round on instrumentation culminated in the biggest lineup yet, as even more musicians and friends added whatever they could to the proceedings.

The usual hardliners make up the bulk of the writing and playing but were accompanied by an outer circle, including the musicians Jimmy Jackson on organs – who famously played in the band Embryo -, Al Sri Al Gomer on sitar, Liz Van Neyenhoff on tambura, and Paul Hydra on violin.

The now familiar Falk U Rogner not only produced the cover – a glorious tripped out gatefold that’s very much in keeping with Dance Of The Lemmings artwork – but he also had another go on the keyboards; whilst studio engineer Peter Kramper received his first credit for some synthesizer work on the track ‘Jail House Frog’.

Mainstay Renate Knaup–Krotenschwanz gets to sing a lot of lead vocals again, and is joined by the interesting character Rolf Zacher, actor and haphazard character, and bandleader John Weinzierl who leads alongside foil Chris Karrer throughout.

Just to add confusion, a side project was recorded at the same session entitled ‘Utopia’, led by Lothar Meid and Kubler. It also included many of the same players on this recording. This was an attempt to produce a more international sounding LP that even included a re-recording of the track ‘Deutch Nepal’, though it became chaotic for all involved and Amon Duul II regrouped and went on tour to escape the debacle.





Championed at the time Wolf City soon became an underground classic, unfortunately this encouraged them to move towards a more commercial sound as they found themselves being dragged along rather then leading the scene. The next LP would be a live one, recorded in ’72 but not released till the following year. Viva La Trance their next album sounded way out of sorts with anything they’d recorded and sounds like a glam rock eurotrash parody in places, but more of that in part six.

A return to form is the usual crap that’s always rolled out but to be honest apart from a few low points all their albums to that point are great. This grande opus is just perhaps their most complete work, short but majestic it stands as one of the period’s best albums of acid and psychedelic space rock. In fact it’s much better then say Can or Neu! who never managed to sound quite as uplifting or joyous and always seem to carry a sniffy attitude; in a way Amon Duul II had more in common with the UK head scene and West Coast music scene of the US than their German compatriots did. Unfortunately for them they tend to get a bad press and even get ignored for there more respected and popular peers, though I would swap them any day for the coldness of Faust or the monophonic tones of Kraftwerk, though I do still love those groups almost as much, they don’t hit the soul in quite the same way.

Review

1972

United Artists

Gatefold LP

Side A

  1. Surrounded By The Stars (7:47)

  2. Green Bubble Raincoated Man (4:53)

  3. Jail House Frog (5:06)

Side B

  1. Wolf City (3:20)

  2. Wie Der Wind Am Ende Einer Strasse (5:45)

  3. Deutsch Nepal (2:58)

  4. Sleepwalker’s Timeless Bridge (4:53)

Personal

Danny Secundus Fichelscher – Drums, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, vocals

Chris Karrer – Guitar, violin, soprano sax, vocals

Renate Knaup – Krötenschwanz – Vocals

Lothar Meid – Bass, synth, vocals

Falk U Rogner – organ, clavioline, synth, artwork

John Weinzierl – Electric guitar, vocals

Jimmy Jackson – Choir organ, piano

Olaf Kubler – Vocals, soprano sax, producer

Peter Leopold – Vocals, synthesizer, pauken (timpani)

Al Sri Al Gromer – Sitar

Pandit Shanker Lal – Tablas

Liz Van Neienhoff – Tambura

Paul Heyda – Violin

Rolf Zacher – Vocals

Peter Kramper – Sound engineer, synthesizer



The epic shimmering of ‘Surrounded intro By The Stars’ kicks in like a reworking of all the best parts from Carnival In Babylon mixed with a sprinkling of the palatial space found on Yeti, before the rolling drums break out into a cosmic jam of soaring proportions. Renate leads the way with an harassed torch song of ethereal mystique.

The feverish violins and bass guitar make for an even more psychedelic version of the English folk-psych band The Trees before the halfway mark is taken over by some dark moody sounds from a laboratory somewhere in the deepest ravines of the Carpathian Mountains.

That macabre Gothic tone is laid on thick as Renate brings us back in with her tales of a troubadour lover leaving town with his violin slung over his back, he walks away on a star laden carpet surrounded by some aura that leaves our singer open-mouthed, like the biblical Judith in Gustav Klimt’s painting masterpiece: the lost lamented romantic exasperation laid bare.

Our song ends when it fades out into what sounds like a welcome return to their best sweeping ambient tones, as ‘Green Bubble Raincoated Man’ emerges. Another Renate led tune, beckons with its immense beauty and sweet, sweet melody that cannot be faithfully put into words but can only be merely transcribed as the essence of a glide through the cosmos on a see through zeppelin.





A sudden change in tempo nudges us onto a busy 12-bar bass solo that accompanies a funky little improvisation before Weinzierl leads us through a clear path with his whammy effects heavy lead guitar; all underpinned by some acute textured keyboard work. Renate sings her blessed self-confessions of sharing burdens and doubt before a synth heavy fuzz riff whirls its way through the misty Gothic hues, that sweep over the song and end back in the mountains of some Transylvanian ominous landscape.

Next up is ‘Jail-House Frog’. A Weinzierl vocal – though he narrates more then sings it. That Germanic heavy prose timbre is accompanied by a strange bubbling brook sound montage, where a lonely piano plays an old show-hall tune from some Bavarian drinking den in honor to some Prussian victory. Lonely and quite sad it is saved by the ever-increasing looming mournful choir before the triumphant return of a drum break and a wail of Egyptian esoteric saxophone.
The sinister but heroic chorus of German myths and esoteric beliefs keeps side one together at all times, references can be found a plenty from Hegel to Goethe.





Side two has the title track ‘Wolf City’, the powerhouse menacing behemoth, again an almost narrated or read from scripture like vocal.

Not quite a hit record but close to a single as they can possibly get, ‘Wolf City’ bounces along on a hypnotic and heavy grooving riff.

Lumbering along on some tight musicianship the titular track is stopped by the abrupt Clockwork Orange intro of ‘Wie Der Wind Am Ende Einer Strasse’;an Indian raga jam that has another superb bass line (one of my favourite of all time; simple but magical and ascendent) from Lothar Meid that you could float on: A dreamy and trance meditation journey that Harrison would be proud of, India via Munich in one leap. Our trip across Goya is cut short as our players decide they’ve had enough of that and before the terrifying tomb of a tune ‘Deutch Nepal’ kicks the commune doors down unannounced; a police raid from the darkest corners of the inferno.

Slow and carrying the dead weight of centuries of conflict, our proto-Heavy Metal ditty offers nothing but suffering. Like Black Sabbath if they were led by Aleister Crowley instead of some delinquent with long hair and tattooed knuckles from Birmingham.

‘Deutsch Nepal’ carries some air of esoteric wonder as our Indiana Jones type Nazis dig for the signs of the uber primal ancestor from under the Tibetan mountains that never existed, a frightening narration by Rolf Zacher pictures him addressing the mongrel hordes or delivering a sermon in front of the ark of the covenant before his face is melted by the angels of death; scary shit indeed.





Finally our LP ends with the bright and uplifting ‘Sleepwalker’s Timeless Bridge’, another Indian influenced jam that sounds like Traffic jamming on a Santana tune. The backing is tight but filled with space and the timing is spot on: the repeated riffs never tire.

The free expression drumming and bongos form a link back to ‘Sandoz In The Rain’ era Amon Duul II, which culminates in the most rewarding part of the whole album as Fichelscher blissful magnificent vocals raise the track to another plain entirely. It’s as if everything hippie, so far in German music, has been working to this point, no one else will agree with me but it always makes me nearly weep as I recollect the entire catalogue of all Western music till that exact moment.

I could seriously loop that part all day and not get bored.

It’s all such a disappointment when it all has to end rather quickly with some nice ambient mystical effects.

Far too short in my view Wolf City does what all the best albums do and that’s leave you wanting more. Unfortunately they never could quite follow on from this and struggled with trying to break the States with the ill fated Hi-jack and Made In Germany LPs.

If you had to purchase just one Amon Duul II record then this is the one; an encapsulation of all the best playing and songwriting they ever did, though please don’t actually just do that as you will miss loads of other great moments on the rest of their catalogue.

Amon Duul II are German music’s heroic explorers who should be admired for their perseverance in the face of such hostility and ignorance. Keep your uber hip Can and dead cool Neu!, these guys are far more real.

5 Responses to “Amon Duul II ‘Wolf City’”

  1. Well that’s a nice RaRa! for one of my favorite bands!

  2. EmpireX said

    I actually love ‘Wolf City’ but you might be the only person in the world who thinks AD is better than Can or Neu! Sorry, but NO.

  3. One of my very favorite ‘krautrock’/’kosmische’ albums. This one is ear candy. By far the best-produced album AND with the highest caliber of playing. Great variety of instruments, players and sounds/textures, really the peak of the band’s penchant for exploring atmosphere. I especially am appreciative to Danny Fichelscher for the deep psyche ‘Sleepwalker’s Timeless Bridge,’ which has an escapist esoteric charm.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this review! A couple nit-picky corrections–you have the titles for ‘Green Bubble Raincoat Man’ and ‘Jail-House Frog’ reversed in relation to your descriptions. And the end of ‘Jail-House Frog’ is a soprano sax solo rather than guitar. Finally, the credits here are interestingly different than the one at http://www.progarchives.com/album.asp?id=4721 which credits violin to Chris Karrer rather than to Weinzierl, and credits the soprano sax on ‘Jail -House Frog’ to Chris Karrer and that on ‘Wie der Wind am Ende einer Strasse’ to Olaf Kubler.

    • Peter Lawson said

      Wolf City is a wonderful album, which I’ve played regularly for the past 35 years, but better than Can? No way, Tago Mago is arguably the greatest album ever made….

      • domv said

        I do rave about Tago on the site in my Can section. But not sure it is even their best album, let alone best album ever. As a complete suite, Future Days does it for me.

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