Welcome to Wolf City – Amon Düül II, Then and Now

amonThey were responsible for some of the most invigorating sounds in rock through the first half of the 1970s.

Singlehandedly, and certainly well ahead of the rest of the pack, they exemplified the notion of “Kraut Rock” to an inquiring generation.

And their example (for “influence” is far too weak a word) lit up ears as far removed as first generation punk, mid 90s industrial and modern post-conceptual clatter.  It is always absurdly hyperbolic to claim that “without so-and-so, the history of whatever would have been changed irredeemably.”  But, in this instance, we will make an exception.

Without Amon Düül II, all the hours that we spent listening to their first, most crucial, sequence of albums, would have been wasted listening to something else.  Something less invigorating.

Cleopatra Records, guardians for twenty-plus years of our space- and Krautocking souls, have twice the cause to celebrate.  Not only have they just unleashed a tsunami of antique Amon vinyl onto shelves that had been starved of such joys, but they have also engineered a new album too, the reformed Amon Düül II regrouping for their first disc in almost twenty years.

Düülirium! rounds up three of the group’s founding members – seismic bassist John Weinzierl, savage guitarist/violinist Chris Karrer, and preternatural vocalist Renate Knaup – and follows what Weinzierl claims has always been the band’s modus operandi.

“Amon Düül never used to present the same style on their albums. We like to develop our music into all kinds of directions and sometimes we don’t even know where it’s gonna lead us. We don’t follow a pattern only because it is successful. Since 2000 we’ve used lots of elements of world music, we had eastern influences, ethnological sounds, and of course we never forgot ‘sound painting’.”

Düülirium! is recognizably Düül, but only because nobody else could sound like them.  Trace their story back to the founding Amon Düül commune, in the revolutionary ferment of the late sixties German student community and, already, the players were fighting furiously against anything that was recognizably “rock” shaped.

Their generation had one, and only one, opportunity to create a new German musical PhallusDeisound, a noise that eschewed the Anglo-American norm that was everywhere, and they took it.  Amon Düül, Can, Brainticket, Tone Float, Tangerine Dream, one by one they rose into view, sometimes working in splendid isolation, other times linking with like minded souls to create communes and communities, a movement of minds that the English press would eventually title Krautrock, and so it has been dubbed ever since.  Its makers had no name for it.  Sounds that unique did not need a label… not the “space rock” that sundry other writers tried to foist upon them; not even the “cosmic music” that Amon Düül’s UK label of the time tried to float.

“Space rock is the kind of music that has been left in the old musical patterns, and it is only covered with a new packing.  Against this, Cosmic music liberates the listener in his own fantasia, and gives him the liberty of a voyager through time.”

Close, but no cigar-shaped spacecraft.

Düülirium! positions us at the ensuing journey’s most recent port of call.  But, for the first time in a long time, we can also investigate its earliest halts.  Five original Amon Düül II albums have been reissued, each one remastered specifically for vinyl, with 180 gram colored vinyl packaged in glue-on heavyweight chip board jackets, and sequentially numbered.

The original Amon Düül was essentially a German hippy collective that sundered after appearing, as an anarchic ensemble of bashing, crashing, revelers, at Essen’s 1968 Song Days Festival.  Also on the bill were the Mothers of Invention and the Fugs, but far from unifying the disparate streams of musical and political consciousness that ran through the commune, the impact of the visitors was to shatter them.

Amon Düül, the political wing, went on to release four albums – the first three (Psychedelic Underground, Collapsing – Singvogel Ruckwarts and Paradieswarts Düül) all recorded during the same non-stop twenty-hour recording session, and the fourth, Disaster – Luud Noma, culled from their out-takes.  Let’s say they take a little getting used to, although if you love the Mothers’ monster magnet, Amon Düül are for you.

If Amon Düül were crashing, crushing noise-makers, Amon Düül II approached their muse from a far more sober angle – although they retained their erstwhile colleagues’ fascination with banging things.  Phallus Dei, their 1969 debut and the first of the Cleopatra reissues,  credits five band members with sundry percussive duties!

The effect, comparable in places to the rolling drums that powered Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls” (although the International Times compared it to a “mammoth, amplified Third Ear Band”), was both hypnotic and disorientating, particularly when it was spread, as was “Phallus Dei” itself, over one full side of the album.

cover_140131222009Yeti, often regarded as the band’s finest hour followed.  A double album, packaged for its reissue in  a spellbinding lenticular jacket and limited to just 500 copies, Yeti is divided, emotionally as well as physically, into two very separate works.  Disc one is space rock (“inimitable space rock,” as Record Collector magazine put it, although chunks still sound remarkably earthbound – or Earthbound, as fans of the first King Crimson live album would put it), a deliberate evocation of alien landscapes and sound; but disc two is indeed cosmic, opening with a title track that really was equal parts “Interstellar Overdrive,” “Saucerful of Secrets” and the crushing intro to “2,000 Light Years from Home,” before resolving itself into a solid slab of improvisation from whose depths it was almost painful to rouse oneself, even if it was simply to turn the record over.

By the time Yeti appeared, however, this most potent incarnation of Amon Düül II had shattered, shedding two drummers (Dieter Serfas and Shrat – who promptly formed the disappointing Sameti), and 50% of their bassists, when Englishman Dave Anderson left to join Hawkwind.  Other defections (including several more to the treacherous Sameti) left Amon Düül II on the verge of becoming Amon Düül III.  But with surviving bassist Weinzierl and guitarist Karrer assuming shared control of the group, Amon Düül II journeyed on

1971 brought another double, Dance of the Lemmings, wrapped in a jacket that unfolded imagesto reveal a spectacular panorama of space, as viewed from the flightdeck of a spaceship.   The music, again divided between conscious compositions and two sides of improvisation, echoed that view, and honed in on the band’s strongest elements too.  Yeti thrilled bcause it was flying blind (as the sprawling, but sensational “Pale Gallery” proves); Lemmings had a map.

1972’s Carnival in Babylon is absent from the reissues – which is not necessarily a bad thing; it was the most disappointing of the band’s earliest releases.  But we bounce back with Wolf City, and 1973’s Vive La Trance, and though there’s a long gap trailing out between then and now, the knowledge that, as Weinzierl puts it, “the experiment is still on” means you can hunt down past artifacts in your own time, secure in the knowledge that the future will continue to take care of itself.

cover_2052161432010Amon Düül II are not a band whose name you see splashed across many T-shirts, or tattooed onto acolytes’ forearms.  Their posters do not hang in bedrooms everywhere, their faces do not grin out of trashy color pop magazines.  Never have and never will.

But their influence and their impact on so much of what we take for granted today is no less profound than if all that had come to pass.  Amon Düül II is more than a band, it is a lifestyle.

And six newly-pressed albums invite you to step inside.

Vive le Trance.

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