Amon Duul II

The following back story and album reviews ran consecutively as parts 1 to 8 of my German Music Odyssey series in 2009.

 

Part 1 included my outline of the entire series and the initial beginnings of the band, with their debut album Phallus Dei being meticulously reviewed.

Thanks go out to founding father of the band John Weinzierl, who filled in a few blanks for me and cleared up some queries.


One Man’s Thoughts And Observations On Krautrock’s Golden Age.

By Dominic Valvona

PART 1 Introduction to the series and Amon Duul II.

‘Krautrock’, what a term, I mean when have we ever used this suffix to denote anything other then in spite or ridicule?! Lets just say, it’s hardly a term of endearment. No. Krautrock was coined in the sneering adolescent hotbed of British music journalism, back long ago when they needed to group all those interesting German chaps, who were busy changing the very landscape and boundaries of music, into a catchy title; a pigeon-hole categorisation was needed, and one particular journo did just that.
Hell, the Germans didn’t mind too much, they even included it in some of their song titles – though I’m pretty sure it was meant in the same context that contemporary German artists would use during the 70s and 80s – artists such as Martin Kippenberger whose legendary piss taking show titles and puns openly ridiculed his country’s dark past.
Any term is difficult as it’s impossible to lump all the many different bands and musicians together. As well as style, ideologies, even their ages…  Can for example, included three men already well versed and in their thirties and the one-time music student, Michael Karoli, almost a generations difference, there’s a notable chasm between most of these bands.

 

We can not understand enough the vast differences between these groups. Amon Duul II were socialist based and came from the communes of Munich, whilse Can were respected music composers and teachers, already in their mid thirties by the time they even made a record, in 1968. They picked up on the Situationists and Marxism movements’ rhetoric.

 

Neu! kept their heads down, moving ever forward with their subtle digs at the language and graphics of consumerism whilst Faust openly made an anarchic stand and chaotic disruptive chorus of dissent.

From manifestos to just a group of guys making some serene sublime soundtracks, I refer to Popal Vuh here, there were many reason why they shouldn’t even get on and indeed some didn’t.
The only real common thread was that some time in 1968, an explosion of collective minds spawned forth the first seeds of a German sounding musical phenomenon that pushed the very idea of what rock, pop, electronics, folk and World music could be. An unbounded energy, which was borne of its time; it was music made for the first time inherently by Germans without having to cover or rely on the UK and US.

 

By 1970 these groups had ploughed their very own furrow and it was everyone else who then copied and took notice. Make no mistake; these Teutonic sonic druids and cosmic composers changed the very fabric of music, they took your West coast Californians like the Jefferson and the Grateful Dead added your Cream, Hendrix, Mothers, Beefheart and then ran with it, ran with it till they’d had enough. And so they began to sprinkle some Pink Floyd and Hawkwind into the mix.

 

They added electronics to the equation and made themselves at home in the great classical composers of German folklore, whilst taking tea with Stockhausen. In fact so many of these musicians were taught or brought up with old Stocky that he could be said to have been the chief instigator of Krautrock: Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay, both of the already mentioned ireverent Can, studied with him as well as its believed Kraftwerk (who evidently are not really a Krautrock group as such), among legions of other German musicians, who would go on to form the key bands of this period.

 

OK so what we are looking at is the golden period between 1968 to 1975, anytime after and we’re at the dog-eared end of the scene where God knows what some of them were thinking.
I also want to concentrate on these groups in particular who are:-

AMON DUUL II
CAN
FAUST
GURU GURU
NEU
POPAL VUH

The great Julian Cope has extensively covered most of these, and has written the ultimate tome on the genre, The Krautrock Sampler, which had a limited couple of runs and is not to ever be reprinted again due to Cope’s own wishes. So you may have to search high and low, otherwise there are a multitude of great little sites dedicated to particular groups worth finding.

Before we go any further just a few points.

1. This is not meant to be the most comprehensive guide ever to ,either, the genre or the bands themselves. In fact its more of a guide to the most enjoyable and best LPs of this period ,and it is also a personal series of my thoughts and reviews on these very records, which I hope you can in turn share with others. If you’re new to this then it acts as a beginners guide of sorts, if not you may find it a useful reference.

2. There are bound to be people and stories missing, as I said it’s a personal set of reviews and writings on my favourite music of this genre. Cope does a sterling job of mentioning some obscure acts so if you need to delve deeper he’s your man. Though deeper and obscure is not always good, in fact when you get into people like Edgar Fosse or Brainticket you start to tire.

3. Hopefully you will be able to find these LPs yourselves, most never sold heavily when they came out but I have been able to come across these records in second hand shops quite regularly, the only problems are usually Amon Duul II Yeti and Phallus Dei which really are like finding hens teeth. Spalax and Spoon do great reissues of many seminal Krautrock groups on vinyl.

On CD you should now be able to find most LPs no matter how obscure.
Each issue I will feature one LP, with a piece on its content, musicians who played on it , label, track list everything in fact that is worth mentioning.

The first 8 parts will be dedicated to Amon Duul II (my particular favorites).

Amon Duul II in all their glam.
Amon Duul II in all their glam.

AMON DUUL II

Background:-

Amon Duul II is said to have derived their name from the Egyptian sun god ‘Amon’ and the Turkish word for Moon, ‘Duul’, though some members of the band have come up with a whole myriad of meanings for the semi-mythical moniker.
The Duul arose from the Munich communes of the 60s and started off as one giant hippie spiritual pseudo collective, before splitting into the two groups ‘Mk I’ and ‘II’. Apparently so the story goes, some of the more with-it and serious musicians noticed that they had something and wanted to branch out. In fact those same commune ideals spread inevitably to the music allowing anyone to play in the band, even the kids, which varied in degrees of success from pointless to plain old shit.

Founder member Chris Karrer and drummer supreme Peter Lepold decided to form a more structured band and had guitarist John Weinzierl join them as well as former teacher Renate Knaup, on vocals. A little later artist turned organ/bass player Falk-Urich Rogner and former Kippington Lodge roadie Dave Anderson, from the UK, joined – Dave was later to appear in Hawkwind of course; a logical leap.
In 1969, Phallus Dei (see review below) was the first album proper though most of it was made up of loose jams and edited together to form the basis of the record. With the odd extra guest – such as bongo and violinist player Shrat, who is famously pictured on the Yeti cover waving a huge scythe – later to become their logo – they made quite a dramatic impact on the German scene. For one thing the LP title translates as ‘Gods Cock’, so you kind of announce yourselves with some controversy straight away. And they were among the first bands to look beyond not only the traditions and cultural heritage of Germany, but of Earth itself, as they attempted to construct an entirely new language, aspiring to protest peacefully and reach the stars. Those earthly concerns, though defining the band, became politically dangerous; at one time, not by choice, they harboured members of the fugitive Baader Meinhof group, Renate remonstrating and telling them to fuck off out of it.
The music found on this LP was progressive and even dare I say almost heavy metal, in fact a reviewer said of their live album that they shared a common sound with Led Zeppelin.
They signed onto Liberty overshoot United Artists which was run by some very forward thinking young chaps who also signed Hawkwind – who very quickly found they were kindred spirits.
Big in Germany but relatively untouched in the UK, the group didn’t wait around long before going back into the studio.
After this shocking debut came the most well known, and arguably loved, album Yeti in 1970, which followed on from some social upheaval amongst the commune with members dropping out not long after finishing recording. John Peel instantly loved it and gave it heavy radio play; it was certainly an improvement on the last with more structure and direction.
Unfortunately the golden line up disintegrated with Shrat sodding off to form a bongo frenzy band called Sameti, while Dave Anderson left for the UK.
Even dear Falk-Ulrich dropped out though strangely kept on doing the bands artwork.

The next LP Dance Of The Lemmings (though its often referred to as Tanz Der Lemmings) was seen as a disappointment – not only to some fans but the members of the band too -, this atmospheric double album included huge sways of ambient sound-scapes, mystery and esoteric prog with the odd ferocious bout of drums and vocals. Derided but actually a magnificent piece of experimental music for 1971. Anyway it made few new converts but the band themselves were motivated to return back to the drawing board.

1972 brought back Renate and a more song structured set of tracks, which made up the brilliant Carnival In Babylon, unfortunately tensions remained from the previous record and members left. This LP was popular in the UK and made way for a tour, which led to the legendary Croydon Greyhound gig – much dismissed by Cope, the fool.
A resulting stunning, vibrant and heavy as fuck Live In London – resplendent with the menacing  German helmet wearing insect, devouring London –  was a thoroughly decent record, capturing the guys as they venture back to their roots; performing tracks off the first three LPs.
The same year brought out the critically acclaimed Wolf City – one of their finest and most praised. Again the structured songs played prominence and the band were now becoming a slick productive outfit.  Running concurrently at the same time was a confusingly stripped-down version of the band, which released the  side project Utopia – an  Amon Duul II LP in all but name that even featured a reworking of Wolf City’s ‘Deutsch Nepal’, though I’m omitting it from my very own reviews.
Next up came the so-called glam period which resulted in the sketchy but still good LP Viva La Trance; an often toe-dipping Euro nonsense experience which steps into parody.
The next two albums saw them move to ATCO and an assault on the Americans.
Hijack was another inspired piece of tat – though I’m quite fond of it – with its illusions to Mott The Hopple and stolen lines from Bowie, this record really did it for most fans.
Following on from this came the seminal, though often ridiculed, Made In Germany, a Teutonic rock concept opera that took in the history, folklore and myth of their homeland and spawned a double album’s worth of what can only be described as genius. Every genre is touched on this, their truly last big furor.
Unfortunately they cut it in half and repackaged it, as it was thought to be too much for, especially, the US market.
The original has the band line up wearing all manner of Bavarian and Kaiser inspired regalia, tongue firmly held in check.
Sadly this experience culminated in a fall out but we won’t go there.

Amon Duul II in short were pioneers and made from the start their own brand of fantasy, folk, myth, politics and spiritualism that resulted in some of the best playing ever put on record, and the most brave conceptual records. Everything to an extent was a concept to them, they didn’t care what anyone else was doing and just got on with it , sometimes they led, sometimes they were out of step but always they made something worth listening to.

Read on below the first in the series as we look at the debut LP Phallus Dei.

Phallus Dei
Phallus Dei


Year: 1969
Label: Liberty/United Artists – Sunset (uk)

Line Up:

Dave Anderson – Bass
Chris Karrer – Guitar
Renate Knaup – Vocals
Peter Leopold – Drums
Falk Rogner – Keyboards
Dieter Serfas – Drums
Christian Thierfeld – Vocals, Percussion, Violin
John Weinzierl – Guitar, Vocals, Violin

Track List:

1. Kanaan (4:01)
2. Dem Gutem, Schonen Wahren (6:11)
3. Luzifer’s Ghilom (8:33)
4. Henriette Krotenschwanz (2:02)
5. Phallus Dei (20:43)

Grabbing your attention with some inspired bongo and tabla enchantments, ‘Kanaan’ is halfway between the Stones ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ and George Harrison’s spiritualism left unchecked, all being demonically sowed beneath the bedrock, which will eventually form heavy metal.

The first vocals announce some pseudo black rites initiation ceremony before the most beautiful ascending guitar hook and accompanying bass riff seep into the following track ‘Dem Gutem, Schonen Wahren’, or for those who don’t speak the German tongue that’s: ‘To The Good, Beautiful And Genuine’. This is a melodic touch of class, which stands as the first proper hint of ADII unraveling musical manifesto. Renate’s first vocal echoes can just be made out as Weinzarl’s almost hysterical and goofball outpourings burst forth like some escaped loon whose been let loose on Dr.Galigari’s medicine cabinet; a cabinet that includes just as much uppers as downers. I have no idea what they’re singing, it could be some jolly ditty on the benefits of eating yogurt or some Third Reich era workers swan song, whatever it is I’m convinced it’s interesting and slightly exotic (I say exotic but its actually possibly because it’s delivered in thick German accents almost bordering on authoritative Prussian).

As soon as you get used to this vocal barrage someone steals a megaphone and this is where the rites of passage campfire ritual really kicks off as the swirling sounds of the mellotron announce an otherworldly presence with a layer of oscillating effects that are notched up to a factor of ten, a fitting end to the second track indeed.
Next up is ‘Luzifer’s Ghilom’ an amazing title if nothing else, but as you may find yourself chuckling, a break beat drum intro and Turkish themed epic tome on the bongos rolls up to invade your personal space.
The backing is a full on groove that sounds almost like the first glimmers of heavy rock, this is broken by the narrated vocals, which err towards the ludicrous though this is soon brought to a halt as a second jamboree of drums descend us into the prehistoric worlds of Conan Doyle and the primordial soup at the beginning of time.
Side one is brought to an end with the curio ‘Henriette Krotenschwanz’, a short two-minute piece for the vocals of Renate who swoons delicately over the military opening. Kind of a forgotten tune but it has some interesting aspects, which reflect the main undercurrents of the LP so far, yet it feels almost like its been shoehorned in, like an extra hidden track rather than a flowing continuation of the tracks thus far.

Side two is made up entirely of the album title track ‘Gods Cock’, sorry I mean its Latin name ‘Phallus Dei’.
The first murmurings and moaning bars bring us a twenty-minute abstract and soundtrack like opus, which features the eerie sound of doors creaking, and the band members standing on a cacophony of musical instruments, all before the very first beating drums of a tune appear slowly from the background. Like Beefheart jamming on Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention if they’d stole aboard a boat to Hamburg, we find ourselves hurtling towards the Californian freak-out of The Grateful Dead or even The Fugs.
I swear that there’s the merest hint of banjo that brings to mind the Monks, who spent their US air force years based in Germany barracking anyone who would listen with jilted, awkward psychedelic hillbilly fucked-up rock’n’roll. All of this takes up the first half of the epic free form jam; along the journey so far we’ve heard progressive, heavy metal, ambient and psychedelic threads and there’s more to come!
The next section has a respite with some exquisitely enchanting violins, which are fed through some reverb and echo, a harmonious delicate little two minutes before we are interrupted by those ever familiar drums, though this time its tribal drumming ala Adam Ant or Bow Wow Wow, though it brings to mind those corny old movies that show some white hunter type tied to posts in some far flung savages village in darkest Africa, all waiting for their fate as a boiling cauldron menacingly bubbles away in front of them. The savages are Amon Duul II who’ve worked themselves into a fever and have gone completely native.
Again we find the old Beefheart influence coming back in as a riff not too unfamiliar to his Safe As Milk period rumbles along while fiddles preempt a brave attempt at a conventional song.
Weinzierl warbles to great effect, a precursor to his work on Dance Of The Lemming, an unsettled melodrama nonsense that could be pushing it a little too far now.
The last few minutes goes from the intricate bedrock of guitars, chimes and beats to a unsettling chord change that summons up the unholy army of the night before we are slowly left with nothing, the music is faded out and we come to the end.

Amon Duul II debut delivers a real classic of the genre and has been used as the stick to measure all others. To be honest I think its both been heaped with too much praise and importance, the later records are an improvement as Phallus Dei is really a cut and paste job that shows some positive seeds for future tunes but also luckily losses some of the more random noodlings that go nowhere.
Critics point to the vocals as problematic, but at the burgeoning of their career, its still all commune obsessed outpourings which probably felt right at the time but once recorded for posterity it sounds a little goofball and you never know if the old tongue is firmly in check.

 

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