The most hated Krautrock band
by Chris Moon
Even before I knew anything at all about Krautrock, I knew to stay away from Amon Duul (as opposed to Amon Duul II). Friends of friends of friends who had heard that big bongo sound were quick to warn me to stay clear of this awful group. Today as a common visitor of the electronic news group for progressive rock, I still hear this sentiment. Indeed the most common clever slam for Amon Duul is to refer to their third album Disaster as appropriately titled. So, as an unbiased observer, I had to conclude that Amon Duul in truth had nothing to offer, and out of that great body of music called Krautrock, Amon Duul had just been a big mistake.
But the moral of the story is that the great majority of prog-rock fans can be, and often are, wrong. I had been carefully avoiding Amon Duul for a year (which wasn't hard, since at the time they were only available as Japanese imports), when a friend of a friend loans me this tape of Amon Duul called Disaster.
Now I should definitely mention that were it not for the events preceding my acquisition of this tape, like many other 'prog' fans, I might have completely blown off Amon Duul. But right before I received this tape, I was present at a local gathering of out-there musicians who had a free-form jam, which all present participated in. Under such conditions, the listener is truly liberated from all the conventions that music companies have spent most of this century attempting to create. The music is again returned to the people and to some extent evokes its ritualistic origins. This is hardly what 'prog' fans are interested in. Contemporary (industry controlled) music speaks to some elevated level of rationality while this music I speak of communicates somehow to our more primitive animal past.
Clearly, these tribal-like improvs/jams serve an entirely different function than the majority of music released today which I refer to simply as 'product'. This was my preparation for Amon Duul 1. More competent than the performance I had attended and certainly more spirited. Occasionally beautiful, almost always raw and intense. Amon Duul was originally a commune of 10 to 12 musicians committed to creating political art (or so says Cope in his new book, Krautrocksampler). And perhaps this is why I hear the commonality between the meeting of artists locally and Amon Duul. Above all else stands a commitment to art, not profit or product. And so, it was probably because I had been to this art-gathering that I grasped how great Amon Duul was, but for whatever reason, I found them very exciting and experimental, as I still do today.
Now Amon Duul were responsible for four albums and finally with their reissue on Spalax, I can actually review them all. As stated above, Amon Duul was a rather largish commune, but after the split (1968 I believe), Amon Duul was reduced to about seven people. All of the original albums by Amon Duul (if you go shopping for them) are listed without a 1, so be careful to avoid albums by the later and totally unrelated Amon Duul II. Two additional points before I describe these four great albums: I have omitted the umlauts in Duul, as the anglofied version would be Dueuel, which is both cumbersome to write and virtually indistinguishable from Duul in pronunciation. Secondly, Amon Duul is something which may be difficult to understand outside of its context within a larger body of work called Krautrock. I have assumed that the reader is already familiar with some of this, however, I am not unprepared for the possibility that you, the reader don't have a clue what Krautrock is.
The first three Amon Duul albums come from one jam (presumably in 1968 right after the split). The line up on all of these albums is as follows: Peter Leopold, Ullrich Leopold, Rainer Bauer, Ella Bauer, Uschi Obermaier, Helge Filanda, Angelica Filanda. Other members referred to on Psychedelic Underground are Krischke and Eleonora Romana. The first album, Psychedelic Underground (Metronome, 1969) takes their improvisations and cleverly intersperses it with all sorts of studio effects. The first track "Ein Wunderhubsches Madchen Traumt Von Sandosa" (strangely marked as the third on the spalax release) is probably the definitive Amon Duul sound. It's an all out 17 jam with some surprisingly melodic vocals (for Amon Duul anyway). Of course the sound quality is wretched but this is true on all but the Ohr release (discussed later). At Psychedelic Underground's most clever, the album contains fake skips, the stereo channels going in and out, and interference from a classical radio station. Psychedelic Underground is 41 minutes long.
Collapsing (Metronome, 1969), oddly credited to Amon Duul, singvoegel rueckwaerts (songbird backwards?) & Co., is perhaps a bit rawer (if that's possible) and this time the studio manipulation is a little more to the side. Often a track is initiated with a sample of some sound or other, and the rest of the track is untouched. Generally speaking if you enjoy Psychedelic Underground you will enjoy Collapsing. Collapsing is 36 minutes long.
Disaster was released in 1971, following Amon Duul's demise, but in fact comes once again from their 1968 jam. All studio manipulation is gone, but Disastersomehow feels a little less turbulent and closer to the real spirit of a live jam. The fact that Disaster is a little calmer than the proceeding albums suggests to me that some of the more aggressive guitar and other sounds may have also been added with studio manipulation. Fortunately, because Disaster was a collection of material left from the jam, Basf actually made Disaster a double album, and IMO it makes great use of its extended length. At times, the bass/bongo lines are accompanied by primal vocals as well as flutes, piano and some sort of stringed instrument--violin et al. is audible... much of this subtlety is lost in the first two releases. I can never figure out why this album is hated so much because it's a great one. Disaster is 67 minutes long.
Now Paradieswaerts Duul is an entirely different thing than the first three releases. Releases by Ohr in 1970, hence predating Disaster, Paradieswaerts Duul is a primitive folk album that dwells in about the same region as the Velvet Underground's third album and Love's Forever Changes, but not as complicated as either of these releases. The album contains only three songs. "Love is Peace" is a beautiful 17 minute long piece that as Julian Cope notes in his Krautrocksampler, bares resemblance to "Sandoz in the Rain" on (Amon Duul II's)Yeti and not much else. This is also true of the third song on the Paradieswaerts Duul, "Paramechanische Welt". Straddled between these two is a guitar and drum instrumental "Snow Your Thurst and Sun Your Open Mouth". In its totality its a beautiful tranquil album that doesn't belong in our modern society. It certainly isn't rock, but it is Amon Duul at their most stunningly beautiful. Packaged along with Paradieswaerts Duul (both on the Spalax and Japanese version) is the "Eternal Flow" single, two songs of the same caliber as Paradieswaerts Duulbut a little shorter. Indeed one of them is a completely different version of "Paramechanische Welt" ("Paramechanical World") that is one of the only songs that I know of that has the same emotional impact as "Sandoz in the Rain". Credited on Paradieswaerts are Ella Bauer, Lemur (?), Ulrich Leopold, Dadam (?), John, Noah, Chris, and Hansi (?). The Eternal Flow single credits Ulrich Leopold, Rainer Baumer, Klaus (?), Helge Filanda, Angelika Filanda, Ella Baumer, Alle (?). Paradieswaerts if 35 minutes long, the "Eternal Flow" single is 10 minutes long.
In addition to these, an album called Experimente has been released. By rumor it is likewise culled from the 1968 jam and is of bootleg quality (how this differs in sound quality from the other albums is unknown). Since I do not own this album and have never seen it, nor do I know anyone who has, I can neither recommend it, nor warn against it.*
With all of this said, I hope that I have moved a few of you from fearing this band the way so many do to approaching it with an open ear. I think if bands were ever judged on their enthusiasm, spontaneity and commitment to art itself, Amon Duul would have to be one of the finer examples in music.
* Editor's note: This was indeed reissued as an import. The album (originally issued as 2 LP's) is mentioned (and recommeneded) in Chuck Eddy's book Stairway To Hell.Also see our interview with Amon Duul guitarist John Weinzierl
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