Kraan – Let It Out (1975)

Kraan_LetItOut3.5 out of 5 Stars!

This rather inventive German group popped onto the scene back in 1972, and for a decade, released a series of seven above-average albums that incorporated highly rhythmic, even funky, Jazz-inspired Prog-Rock with the experimental Krautrock sounds of the era, making for some generally high-energy material.

Take Let It Out (the band’s fourth album) for example. Here, the title track, plus tunes such as “Bandits in the Woods,” “Picnic International,” “Luftpost,” “Prima Kilma,” and the truly strange “Die Maschine,” seem a quasi-merging between groups such as Passport, Return To Forever, Amon Düül II, Frank Zappa, and Hatfield and the North.

Although the band returned in the ’90s after an eight-year absence and released several additional albums, then again released even more material in the new century, Kraan’s early work, such as the more adventurous musical escapades found on Let It Out—even though this is probably not even Kraan’s best album during the first half of the ’70s—still remains special simply since, in those days, few bands played this type of material. Fun stuff!

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Guru Guru – Dance of the Flames (1974)

GuruGuru_DanceFlames4 out of 5 Stars!

Guru Guru, and I say this with admiration, has to be one of the more “goofy” Krautrock bands to have emerged in the early 1970s, and (with, I believe, one original member, drummer Mani Neumeier, still at the helm) continues through to the present day (although I’m unfamiliar with the band’s material after the early ’80s).

Dance of the Flames, the group’s sixth studio album, is one of my favorites in the band’s vast catalogue of releases since it includes the wonderfully silly track “Dagobert Duck’s 100th Birthday” (the song that actually introduced me to Guru Guru long ago), slamming and highly avant-garde (and mostly instrumental) tracks such as “The Girl From Hirschhorn,” “The Day of Timestop,” and a wicked, almost free-form jazzy piece called “God’s Endless Love for Men,” all of which left me reeling upon initial hearing.

The impressive guitar work (both electric and acoustic) from Houschäng Nejadepour, along with Hans Hartmann’s wild bass runs and Mani Neumeier’s frantic drumming includes the seemingly perfect degree of strangeness and jaw-dropping Prog-magic.

Generally speaking, Guru Guru was nothing if not creative through the years.

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Eloy – Eloy (1971)

Eloy_14 out of 5 Stars!

When German group Eloy burst out of the starting gate back in 1971, the band’s debut album showcased a sound/style that had much more in common with fellow Krautrockers/Heavy Prog groups such as Birth Control, Epitaph, Night Sun, or Jane—or even British bands such as Deep Purple or Uriah Heep—displaying nary a trace of the Pink Floyd-inspired Symphonic Prog/Space Rock that would encompass the majority of its albums in years to come.

Still, with tracks such as “Dillus Roady,” “Something Yellow,” “Song of the Paranoid Soldier,” “Isle of Sun,” and “Today,” this is one of my favorite Eloy albums and I really enjoyed this riff-oriented period of the band’s history, even though this debut album seems fairly dismissed (and dissed) by many long-time fans of the group’s more famous and polished era.

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Epitaph – Outside the Law (1974)

Epitaph_OutsideLaw4 out of 5 Stars!

During this band’s early years, and especially on Outside the Law, the group’s third album, Epitaph seemed almost a German version of Wishbone Ash, with exceptional twin lead guitar riffs, the hint of Progressive Rock on some arrangements, and the album’s overall production/atmosphere. Indeed, I dare anyone to pay attention to the guitar arrangements on tracks such as “Reflexion,” “Big City,” “Tequila Shuffle,” or the title track itself and not hear the spirit of Wishbone Ash in every single beautiful and blazing note.

Regardless, the vocal melody lines and guitar riffs on Outside the Law are all quite catchy, the musical performances from all involved lively and amazing, and based on this collection alone—which rates as highly as the album Argus in my opinion—the band should have enjoyed the same degree of acclaim bestowed on Wishbone Ash instead of remaining in the frustrating realm of obscurity.

And oddly enough, both Argus and Outside the Law were the third albums of each band…coincidence?

Anyway, I also look upon this platter with nostalgic fondness since it brings to mind the days when Chicago had one FM station that used to have a 2-3 hour show at least one night per week called “Sounds From Across The Big Swamp.” The station broke from its normal format to feature obscure or underground bands from, despite the name of the show, both Europe and America. Through that single radio program I discovered dozens of albums I continue to cherish, and this is one of those musical treasures. Indeed, the station was so integral in my own musical enlightenment, that I used as much as I can remember of the overall concept as a template when developing my Prog-Scure radio show. If I can steer music lovers toward bands like Epitaph they may not have previously discovered, then I’ve succeeded at my job!

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Gomorrha – I Turned to See Whose Voice It Was (1972)

Gomorrha_ITurned4 out of 5 Stars!

Gomorrha was yet another German group that kept getting better and better with each new album, yet sadly disappeared from the music scene way too soon for my liking.

Of the three albums Gomorrha produced during its short duration in the early ’70s, I Turned to See Whose Voice It Was—the final collection—is probably my favorite. The ten-minute opener, “Dance on a Volcano,” immediately showcases the band’s strengths in a rather funky Heavy Prog/Heavy Psych style, and with the fuzz-guitar, and Hammond-drenched arrangement, occasionally reminds me of Gomorrha’s fellow countrymen Birth Control, Night Sun, Lucifer’s Friend, or early Eloy, as well as non-German acts such as Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, and Bloodrock. For the most part, this style and appropriate comparisons continue through the remaining five tracks, being especially captivating and effective on “Dead Life,” “I Try To Change This World,” and the oddly named “Tititsh Child.” Only on the title track does the band break from the norm with acoustic guitar driving the proceedings, along with extra percussion instruments, to create a mesmerizing Psychedelic atmosphere.

Overall, I Turned to See Whose Voice It Was is where the band seemed to have discovered the perfect balance of genres to encompass its overall sound, showing the group at its creative peak, which is why it’s such a royal shame Gomorrha disbanded so soon after this collection came out.

(And have I mentioned recently how much I loved Germany’s Brain Records label?)

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Krokodil – Getting Up for the Morning (1972)

Krokodil_GettingUp3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Although formed in Switzerland, the obscure band Krokodil often got lumped into the Krautrock category of music, and on several of the band’s releases, it’s easy to see why. Sure, Krokodil focused mainly on Heavy Psych and Blues Rock, but it also tossed hints of Progressive Rock and Folk Rock with some fun experimentation into many of its tracks, using everything from harmonica and flute to Mellotron and synths, and therefore ended up being a nice cross between U.K. and German bands of the same era.

Despite the truly lame album cover—”pretty boys” is hardly a term that springs to mind for these guys, huh?—Getting Up for the Morning (the band’s fourth studio release) is quite enjoyable overall, especially for lovers of tasty, bluesy, trippy guitar from one of the most exciting periods in rock ‘n’ roll history.

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Grobschnitt – Rockpommel’s Land (1977)

Grobschnitt_RockpommelsLand4 out of 5 Stars!

Grobschnitt has to be one of my favorite Krautrock bands from the ’70s, especially because the creative group incorporated various styles into its repertoire, from Space Rock, to Avant Prog, to Symphonic Prog, all typically underscored with Python-esque humor.

But beginning with Jumbo, the band’s third studio album, Grobschnitt started honing its style, dropping some of the Space Rock elements to focus instead on more structured songs within the Symphonic Prog realm.

Rockpommel’s Land—the fourth release, and probably the album I turn to most often from the band’s catalogue—shows Grobschnitt fully embracing this shift in styles, delivering one of its best platters, a fairly solid concept album that would set the band on an equal plane to acts such as Genesis, Yes, etc. Indeed, many of the guitar fills and instrumentation on the lengthy “Severity Town” and “Ernie’s Reise,” and especially on the twenty-one-minute, side-long title track, often remind me of what appeared on albums of the era from groups such as Yes, Flash, and Starcastle, although the various synth tones and keyboards have a more unique flavor. Moreover, the band’s tongue-in-cheek humor still pops up from time to time, while the recognizable yet heavily accented vocals further set Grobschnitt apart from its contemporaries.

Regardless, Rockpommel’s Land contains some impressive material overall—I have the version with the instrumental “Tontillon,” an enjoyable “bonus” fifth track—with terrific cover art surprisingly not created by the magnificent Roger Dean, but by Heinz Dofflein instead, although it obviously has a similar vibe.

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Jane – Together (1972)

Jane_Together3.5 out of 5 Stars!

From Hannover, Germany, Jane introduced itself to the world with Together, a six-song collection that featured a fairly decent merging of blues-inspired Hard Rock and rather “jamming style” Progressive Rock, not unlike other Krautrock groups of the early ’70s, including Birth Control, Gomorrha, Eloy, Frumpy, Epitaph, etc.

The balance between guitar and Hammond is rather even, with no one instrument truly dominating the overall proceedings, and the interchange between guitarist Klaus Hess and keyboardist Werner Nodalny is one of the band’s strengths. As a fan of these merged aforementioned genres might expect, the three shorter tracks (“Wind,” “Try To Find,” and “Together”) are more straightforward Hard Rock, whereas the longer tunes (“Daytime,” “Spain,” and “Hangman”) display Jane’s mild flirtation with a Progressive Rock style, where Psychedelic touches also infiltrate.

Note, I said “mild flirtation” since the band would further develop and include Prog touches more often on future albums, whereas on this debut, with mostly simple chord patterns, nothing too adventurous being performed, the Prog-Rock factors are less commanding, reminiscent of how other principally Hard Rock groups such as early Lucifer’s Friend, Mountain, or Wishbone Ash, for example, also toyed with the Prog-Rock genre.

Regardless, Together proved a fairly solid introduction to Jane, giving hints of even better things to come.

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Amon Düül II – Wolf City (1972)

AmonDuulII_WolfCity3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Amon Düül II was a rather weird-ass group from Germany that I initially heard and investigated back in the mid-’70s, about the time I started high school and, from one excellent “underground” Chicago radio station, gained exposure to “Krautrock” and the often-intriguing bands that were considered part of the genre.

Various Krautrock groups promoted by that radio station caught my undivided attention, but I also remember not being too enthusiastic about this particular band (again, too weird-ass for me, too psychedelic and wildly experimental with strange, strange, STRANGE vocals—plus, at import prices, the albums were way too expensive for me to simply grab on a whim from my local record store).

But in the past decade or two I’ve slowly grown to appreciate the group and its complete and utter strangeness and adventurous nature. Granted, Amon Düül II will never be one of my favorite bands by any stretch of the imagination, but some of the group’s earliest efforts, such as Wolf City—with spacey and tripping tunes like “Sleepwalker’s Timeless Bridge,” “Surrounded By The Stars,” “Jail-House-Frog,” “Wie Der Wind Am Ende Einer Strasse,” and the hypnotic, almost Brian Eno-esque title track—are nevertheless enjoyable whenever I find myself in a “weird-ass” mood…like today. 🙂

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Kraan – Wiederhören (1977)

Kraan_Wiederhören4 out of 5 Stars!

A wildly terrific German band that started in the ’70s and released a slew of funky, skillful, and adventurous Jazz-inspired Prog-Rock albums in its first decade of existence. Indeed, some of the band’s material reminds me of the Canterbury Prog-Rock scene in Britain…only sinfully manic, and on some damned-good acid.

Any of the group’s ’70s albums—including Wiederhören, the band’s fifth release—are highly recommended for lovers of the genres of Progressive Rock, Krautrock, Jazz-Fusion or Jazz-Rock. Seriously, the musicianship on display here (from the guitars and keys, to the sax, to the rhythm section) is unequivocally awesome…especially jaw-dropping on the tracks “Vollgas Ahoi,” “Let’s Take a Ride,” “Rund um die Uhr,” and “Rendezvous in Blue.”

The only area where Kraan “lacked” as a group (and where I lowered the rating by half a star) was in the vocal department, but since much of the band’s material is instrumental, and the vocals are “passable” overall, they are hardly a huge deterrent when it comes to savoring the outstanding musicianship and creativity on display.

And please hold the nasty comments and hate mail regarding my age, since I already know I’m going to sound like an “old fogey” by saying the following: “Today’s newfangled whippersnapper bands just don’t make music like this anymore…”  🙂

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