Amon Düül II

Phallus Dei
Tanz Der Lemminge

Phallus Dei (Repertoire ‘69) Rating: B+
There was also an Amon Düül , but it is Amon Düül II who are remembered as a legendary krautrock band today, perhaps trailing only Can and Kraftwerk in terms of accolades received from that scene (though other bands like Ash Ra Tempel, Faust, Popol Vuh, Tangerine Dream, and Neu! have their fair share of supporters as well). But this is an album review, not a history lesson, so let's turn our focus towards Phallus Dei, the band's first studio offering. First of all, naming your debut album God's Cock took balls (pardon the pun), and the music is equally audacious, though "adventurous" and "good" aren't always one and the same. Don't get me wrong, parts of this album are very good, but the results are hit-and-miss. "Kanaan" starts the album and is a definite hit, led by the band's captivating tribal beats, gothic chants (Renate Knaup was something of a secret weapon for the band, vocals not typically being a strength of most krautrock bands), and some piercing guitar work, not to mention the song's mysterious overall aura. Also notable is the atmospheric, hard rocking, extremely rhythmic "Luzifers Ghilom," on which annoyingly wacky male speak-singing is counterbalanced by Knaup's operatic female vocals and some otherworldly violin outbursts. "Dem Guten, Schonen, Wahren," which starts in an almost ambient-like state, is also marred by annoying male vocals despite its appealingly moody Mellotron-led doodlings, memorably heavier drone grooves, and hard-hitting guitar solo. Still, the first three songs are flawed but highly worthwhile, whereas "Henriette Krotenschwanz" is largely forgettable despite its martial rhythms and more operatic interjections from Knaup. Still, that last song is only two minutes long, and as such it's the 20+ minute title track that makes or breaks this record. Unfortunately, the largely improvised song is too unfocused to totally live up to its potential; it takes almost four minutes to even start in earnest, and though there are some really good parts - guitar/drum duels, more gothic chants, an almost waltz-like section, a drum solo (ok, not so good), the strong groove near the 14-minute mark, some exotic violin and the intense buildup towards the end - the end result, though utterly strange and at-times intoxicating, isn't completely satisfying. Although highly original even by today's standards, Amon Düül II's first album isn't quite all there yet, either songwriting or sound-wise, though both areas would be strengthened considerably on the band's next recording.

Yeti (Repertoire ’70) Rating: A
Whereas Phallus Dei was generally interesting but too often frustrating, Yeti is consistently fascinating. Side one (songs 1-6), the composed, structured side, certainly is, starting with the multi-sectioned "Soap Shop Rock" (13:47 divided between 4 parts). Featuring great, heavy riffs (especially for 1970), an unstoppable forward drive, and repetitive drone grooves that likely influenced the later likes of Stereolab, the song also features wild (but not annoying) male vocals and haunting, ethereal female vocals from Knaup. Peter Leopold’s drums simply pummel, while Chris Karrer and John Weinzierl deliver excellent guitar work throughout. Other notable attributes of this strange, atmospheric, and flat-out rocking song are its gothic chants, spiraling guitar parts, chaotic yet mesmerizing jam sections, and exotic violin, and though perhaps the song is a tad overlong it nevertheless is an utter masterpiece of hard rock muscle intermingled with intoxicating atmospherics. The rest of side one, comprising three instrumentals, is far more modest (the songs range from 1:41 to 5:40) but also uncommonly strong. One such instrumental, “She Came In Through the Chimney," contains mellow, almost jangly guitar parts that are quite pretty, as well as exotic, tribal percussion and strange violin textures (unsurprising as both elements are key components to their overall sound), resulting in a song that's both pretty and spooky at the same time (the violin especially sticks with you). "Archangels Thunderbird" continues with a comparatively straightforward rocker led by its lurching hard rock riffs and Knaup on vocals, which again disappear on "Cerberus," a low-key, groovy instrumental jam, and "The Return of Ruebenzahl," a short instrumental that’s all about its heavy, metallic riffs. The latter song perfectly leads into "Eye-Shaking King," the album’s other standout track that’s memorable primarily for its extremely exciting punctuations from time to time, as HEAVY, monstrous riffs regularly follow either guitar solos or bizarre, simply impossible-to-describe (trust me) vocal climaxes. Now, as you can probably tell, this music, which many would describe as “space rock” or simply “drug music” as well as “hard rock,” won’t be for everybody, but those who like their music “different” and rocking should definitely give this innovative album a try, as I’ve become damn near obsessed with it recently. The improvised side (songs 7-9, 33:30 in total, or about half the running time) is decidedly more hit and miss but has its fair share of outstanding moments as well, making Yeti an album that’s definitely deserving of its status as an underground classic.

Tanz Der Lemminge (Mantra ’71) Rating: A-
Although this is sometimes cited as Amon Düül II’s masterpiece, I like Yeti better for several reasons. For one thing, Renate Knaup, whose beautifully haunting female voice had been the band’s secret weapon, barely appears but for brief moments on "Restless Skylight-Transistor-Child." Then again, at least the heavily accented, Bowie-ish male vocals (mostly Karrer I think) are much better this time, and most of the album is instrumental, anyway. As for the music, it’s more abstract and much less heavy than Yeti, instead delivering a looser, more expansive, rhythm-based brand of spacey mood music. The album starts with three amorphous, multi-sectioned songs ranging from 15:50 to 19:33 in length, before being followed by three shorter, more direct, and generally more consistently rocking tracks that my friend Trevor describes as "dance music for aliens." Then again, “Toxicological Whispering” isn’t exactly short at 7:48, and in general this isn’t the type of album you put on when going for a short ride to the corner store. Instead, this is an album that rewards repeat plays and a careful attention to detail. The album may not sink in at first, but these deceptively complex, intricately layered compositions, which feature all sorts of instrumentation such as sitars, mellotron, acoustic guitars, pianos, celestial organ a la Rick Wakeman, electric guitars/bass, and exotic percussion, eventually make sense. More than Yeti, this is a mood album and I for one found it more difficult to get into, as a track like the almost ambient "The Marilyn Monroe-Memorial-Church" starts slow and doesn’t really do all that much throughout its 18-minute duration. "Restless Skylight-Transistor-Child" also meanders and is boring at times, but fortunately the bulk of this wildly original (and often flat-out wild) song is terrific. Better yet, the flawlessly multi-colored "Syntelman's March Of The Roaring Seventies" packs more interesting ideas within its almost 16-minutes than most bands can muster in an entire career, and the band occasionally lets loose with those jammy guitar-heavy blitzkriegs that made the best parts of Yeti so thrilling. I wish that this album was better focused, but I've come to appreciate its "far out" ambiance, as again Amon Düül II have created their own otherworldly universe (perfectly captured on the surreal album cover) that is not only addictive, but which gets better the more you get to know it.

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