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"Though I know society is dead brain, I start thinking in circles, following their games"

Class C

Main Category: Mood Music
Also applicable: Avantgarde, Art Rock, Prog Rock, Pop Rock, Hard Rock
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,
The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day




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All right, ladies and gentlemen, let us now turn our attention to one of the weirdest bands that ever existed on the planet - a band that was considered weird even for its own Krautrock scene, and a band that was more innovative in their career as the entire mainstream American rock scene post-Chuck Berry. To be fair, I am no terrific Krautrock expert - I know my Can (fabulous) and my Kraftwerk (patchy, patchy, patchy) and my Faust (without having to be Mephistopheles), but then there are tons of these lesser known, "second-rate" outfits like Popol Vuh, etc., who are also said to be important. But I'm really not going to get that deep - out of all of them, I chose Amon Düül II as the most representative, arguably the most creative, and arguably the most popular.

Even the formal story of this experimental German outfit is weird: Amon Düül II were the "offshoot" of Amon Düül, a revolutionary musical and political "commune" of bohemian German intellectuals that formed in the late Sixties. They occasionally released albums, too (most of them derived from the results of one enormous marathonian jam session that lasted for several days (I think) and provided them with a lifelong supply of material). The name was taken from the Egyptian Amon (the sun god) plus Turkish Düül (word for "moon"), so as not to sound neither English nor German. It is said that some of the material of the original Amon Düül is worth the while, but usually it is condemned as nothing more than wild freaking out with heavy emphasis on trippy percussion. Anyway, around 1969 a part of this commune, led by Chris Karrer (main guitar player for the band), separated itself from the "main body" to pursue a more direct musical career, and since they did not want to quarrel about the name, they just called themselves Amon Düül II. Both 'communities' have a long and twisted history, with further outbranching and lots of different projects under the names Amon Düül, Amon Düül II, and sometimes even Amon Düül III that have nothing or little to do with the "Classic Amon Düül II" material I'm discussing here - namely, the material that dates back to the 1969-75 years.

Like most 'classic' German Rock, the music of Amon Düül II was dark, depressing, cold and mechanic. However, all of these classic German bands practiced their darkness and depression in a different way, and Amon Düül II were no exception. These guys' main specialty was being able to construct an entire fantasy world of their own, with lengthy, complex conceptual albums all revolving around themes of death, doom, and mystery, with a multi-layered, echoey, sci-fi sound that was more futuristic than anything around at the time. They were, if you wish, the closest German analogy of Yes, their main concern being not the music itself, but rather the special 'otherworldly' feeling induced by the music. And while the band certainly loses to Yes in the technical department (I can't deny the band's obvious professionalism, but they did not have a guitar or keyboards virtuoso of the Steve Howe/Rick Wakeman category), as well as in the commercial department (the band could never even hope to achieve Yes' level of popularity), they definitely overdo Yes in the dedication department - I mean, it's always possible to understand where exactly the ADII music is heading to.

The fact that Amon Düül II was a 'community' rather than a stable band does have certain advantages: the band's multi-instrumentalism, for one. Sure, gritty, jagged, hard-rocking, and at the same time colourful and extremely expressive guitars are always at the heart of this music, as well as various synthesizer tones, but you'll meet pretty much everything on their records - accordeons, violins, flutes, saxes, etc. In all respects, this music is always huge: the band never relied on minimalist tactics, so beloved among other Krautrockers. As for the music itself, it's pretty good. Sure, the band got carried away by its own weirdness at times - the noisy instrumentals on the second disk of Yeti are still a complete waste of time as long as I'm concerned - but even so, even the weirdest, most discordant compositions are often salvaged and elevated to high status simply because they have a sense of purpose ('The Marilyn Monroe Memorial Church', for instance, is a masterpiece of 'musical-fantasy-sequence-writing'). Usually, however, the band was always concerned about hanging together - however dissonant and rambling the music might seem, it is almost always underpinned by tight and solid melodies. For instance, a song might be based on a couple complex guitar riffs that provide the solid base, on top of which they pile up almost everything - 'cosmic' synthesizers, weepy violins, speedy metallic solos, or spooky vocals. The first impression, then, is that of a complete mess, but the solid foundation of the song eventually makes it easier for you to appreciate the material. And once you do, you're hooked - a single Amon Düül II album might be more exciting than the whole Lord Of The Rings taken together.

To top it off, the band's lyrics range from scary and thought-provoking to consciously nonsensical - which is to say, completely adequate. When they sing about death and torture, the music fits the words completely. When they sing about nonsense, you just don't notice the lyrics at all; another advantage over Yes and Jon Anderson's puffed-up graphomaniac excesses. And - the band members always sing without or with only the slightest German accent, which saves them from the laughable intonations of the like of, say, Eloy's Frank Bornemanne.

All of the above relates to ADII's so-called 'classic' period, during which they wrote their acclaimed masterpieces (primarily Yeti and Tanz Der Lemminge). Like all innovative and experimental bands, however, the band chose not to stagnate, and later on - again, like most other Krautrock bands, primarily Can - moved to a more accessible and even 'commercial' brand of sound, cutting down song lengths, eliminating scary dissonant instrumental passages, simplifying the melodies and yet managing not to sacrifice the basic uniqueness of their music. Thus, those who are willing to be initiated into the world of this band but are afraid of crude, cruel, mind-boggling experimentalism, can start from their mid-Seventies period, which I myself am still only vaguely familiar with (so yeah, my collection is only starting, so sue me!). Vive La Trance, for instance, would be a perfect departure. Carnival In Babylon might also do - for me, the album was a disappointment (formulaic and stale), but it might do as a reasonable first try. Whatever. Make your own choice. Make your move. Risk it.

Special warning must be passed out against the band's post-1975 stage, when they lost a few crucial members and became really, really sucky. Not just "commercial", but "suck-commercial". Buyer beware. On the other hand, after reconvening in the mid-Nineties, Amon Düül II managed fairly well to prove they still had enough sharp teeth left by successfully merging their classic sound with modernistic influences and making music that, in my humble opinion, could compete fairly well with their best material of the past.

I'm not particularly inclined to write on the band's lineup, as it shifted constantly, but at least several crucial band members must be mentioned. Chris Karrer was one of the main founding fathers, and his concepts and violin playing are crucial for the band's early period. The musical heart of the band, though, seems to have been guitarist John Weinzierl, whose riffs and solos are the real meat. The wonderful female vocals on most of the classic records come courtesy of Renate Knaup-Krotenschwanz. Peter Leopold is the band's main drummer. The keyboard players were, however, usually different - Falk Rogner on some records, Karl-Heinz Hausmann on others. Same unstability goes for bass players, and I'm not even gonna start about other part-time members and guest musicians. For more and more detailed information, just visit the Amon Düül II unofficial homepage. Now let's move on to the records.



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Somewhat pointless and even 'stripped' in comparison to what would follow.


Track listing: 1) Kanaan; 2) Dem Guten, Schonen, Wahren; 3) Luzifers Ghilom; 4) Henriette Krotenschwanz; 5) Phallus Dei.

From today's perspective, there's hardly anything that shocking about Amon Düül II's debut album. Back in 1969, though, a title like Phallus Dei must have been pretty offensive. And I do mean pretty offensive: if the band had simply dubbed the album 'God's Cock', this might have passed as silly hooliganry, but a Latin title like that suggests a deep meaning, you know. Phallic philosophy. Tantrism. Sexual mysticism. Whatever. Pretty scary!

The music itself is pretty mediocre, though. All the seeds of Amon Düül II's further success are here already, but they're nothing but seeds. Trademark deep bass rumbles, echoey Mellotrons and organs, schizophrenic vocals, paranoid improvisation, you name it. But there are several problems as well. First of all, they haven't yet worked out a stable principle of instrumentation: the multi-layered apocalyptic nightmares of Yeti or the hallucinogenous otherworldly visions of Tanz Der Lemminge you will find not, simply because the sound is too scarce and too rough to allow any truly serious musical impressionism. Most of the time it's just your standard rhythm session and one or two guys messing with their instruments (guitars or keyboards) over it. Second, the vocals flat out suck. No, I have no problem with the band members singing in German; after all, it's their native language and furthermore, in some cases singing in German only helps when you're working in the Krautrock style. But the problem is, they don't sing that much in German - too often, the lead singer just switches to some stupid, ridiculous gibberish that's more clownish than impressive. Plus, where's that beautiful operatic voice of Renate Knaut-Krotenschwanz? Again, it wouldn't make a true appearance until the next album. No, I definitely do not appreciate the vocal stylizations of this album.

Third and most important, the songs just don't work. I suppose that should be the end of this point, but my conscience urges me to press on, so I will press on. Take the title track, for instance. It occupies the entire second side of the LP and goes on for more than twenty minutes, but what does it DO? Nothing. Apart from going on for twenty minutes, of course. Essentially, it's just a jam. Just A Jam. And when we're speaking of jamming, I will certainly turn my attention to Can, at least, when we're speaking of SIMPLE jamming. 'Phallus Dei' isn't a psychedelic, or a futuristic, or a hallucinogenous, jam. It's just a bunch of guys playing music that they probably consider very evil-sounding or at least grim-sounding, but which sounds rather dated thirty years on. John Weinzierl's guitar solo near the beginning looks pretty neat at first, but then you find out that he's just ripping off the standard bluesy intonations of either John Fogerty or Alvin Lee. Maybe both of them. Lots of different sections ensue, but it's just some serious rhythmic stompage accompanied by "spooky" noises and more of that ridiculous gibberish. There's not even any particularly interesting riffage around! The riffs that Weinzierl plays are neither well-syncopated enough to show us the guy knows how to "rawk", nor 'robotically tight' enough to show us the guy takes this whole business seriously - like Michael Karoli, for instance. And no cool operatic strings-enhanced sections or synthesizer battles or anything. Okay. Move on.

Move on to the first side, actually, where the band's talents shine in a more effective way. 'Dem Guten, Schoenen, Wahren' ('To The Good, Beautiful, and Genuine') could indeed be considered the first of these signature tunes that denote Amon Düül II for all its worth. A dreary, gruesome bassline onslaught accompanied by mind-blowing Mellotron astral noises and demonic laughter, at times alternating with what seems to be some stern German martial anthems. The Mellotron work is by far the most significant of the composition's elements: I mean, while much of this is indeed ripped off from the dark cosmic fantasies of Pink Floyd, that futuristic keyboard sound was never really developed fully enough by the Floydsters. This is the kind of stuff that really made people drop their jaws to the ground and never bother all that much about picking them back up again. Two other epics - the opening 'Kanaan' and the lengthy 'Luzifers Ghilom' - also have a much denser sound than 'Phallus Dei' and thus pack in a lot more of that precious atmosphere, although they also seem pretty poor compared to the glory of Yeti. And 'Henriette Krotenschwanz' is just a grotesque two-minute long throwaway (another war march accompanied by goofy falsettos).

Don't get me wrong, Phallus Dei was indeed a daring and innovative record for its time. In retrospect, however, it mostly sounds like a half-assed repetition to the real artistic triumphs that would follow. And I know what I'm talking about: nobody loves bringing semi-obscure 'unassured' debut albums by great albums to the forefront like me. (See From Genesis To Revelation or Gentle Giant or This Was, all of which are much better than usually presented by the general critical opinion). But all of those 'unassured' debut albums were slightly different from the corresponding band's usual style, which is what explains their being so generally underrated - you see, so many people tend to confuse 'different' with 'inferior'. Phallus Dei, on the other hand, isn't all that different from Yeti - but it is far less elaborate, and misses a lot of key elements that were put in the general mix less than a year after its release.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Well worth it if only for the first disc - imagine Can on an "epic" scale?


Track listing: 1) Soap Shop Rock; 2) She Came Through The Chimney; 3) Archangels Thunderbird; 4) Cerberus; 5) The Return Of Ruebezahl; 6) Eye-Shaking King; 7) Pale Gallery; 8) Yeti (Improvisation); 9) Yeti Talks To Yogi (Improvisation); 10) Sandoz In The Rain (Improvisation).

Yeti is one of the band's most famous albums, and certainly its magnum opus in terms of epicness and ambitiousness (not in terms of name, though - that honour falls to Phallus Dei anyway). The guy on the album cover does look pretty similar to a yeti, indeed, although in reality it seems to have been one of the band's sound engineers. Ah, those crazy Germans with their warped sense of humour...

Anyway, Yeti is a double album (thankfully, now on one CD), half of which is supposed to be 'polished' studio recordings and half live improvising. Contrary to first impression, there is a difference: on first putting on the 'polished' part of the album, you'd think the music is so erratic and messy that... well, "if THIS is 'polished', then what's the next part look like?" And then you hear the next part and say, 'oh sure, THAT was polished, indeed'. This sound, neither on the first nor on the second album, is practically undescribable because it... well, it is nothing to be described. It's like in the old folktale about the girl who had to appear neither naked nor clothed, and put on a fishing net instead. Yeti is all a big fishing net. At times I think the music (I am now speaking of the first disc only) is complete chaos and crazy psychedelic jamming, and then I hear distinct riffs and melodic lines - not even dissonant, plain simple good melodic lines - that shine through and have to change my mind. Sometimes the music becomes kinda bluesy, and then they start to delve in the operatic elements (by the way, 'Soap Shop Rock' indeed features some of the earliest attempts at rock/opera merger, a full four or five years before Queen popularized the idea). One moment they're playing a silky medieval acoustic instrumental, and then they suddenly change around and deliver a ferocious electronic piece of "astral boogie", all within the same four-minute track. And yet they cannot be called "completely unpredictable", either - they have that aura of gothic weirdness around them that covers most of the numbers.

There exists a certain Can similarity, but there are also sheer differences. On Yeti, the band goes for a thick, full-fledged, multi-layered sound with dense instrumentation and a certain epic vastness. Can, on the other hand, were mainly attractive due to their amazing professionalism - they were taking simple (albeit innovative) ideas and running them through the filter of their technical virtuosity, resulting in a spare, but wonderfully economic and catchy sound. Amon Düül II members aren't virtuosos - the playing is pretty good, but no band member in particular is able to drive me off my chair in awe. But they compensate for it with heavy atmospherics and their amasing visionarism.

'Soap Shop Rock', the lengthy fourteen-minute long suite, is my favourite on the record, if only because it's so large and diverse, going from fat, burly riff-passages ('Burning Sister') to the already mentioned 'operatic' components ('Halluzination Guillotine') to terrifying slabs of proto-goth ('Flesh-Coloured Anti-Aircraft Alarm'). This is Krautrock in the full mass of its power: huge, towering, dark and completely devoid of any happy optimism, just like the typical soul of a German philosopher. And the lyrics? Gory, yes, and a little crude in their creepy medieval glory, but they more or less fit the music, and you can't really distinguish what the hell the band is singing anyway, not without the lyrics sheet. Yeah, I thought I would hate something like this, but with my mind properly trained by listening to Can and especially Nico records, I find no problem in digging that atmosphere - not to mention that this track, as well as most of the others, really rocks, quite unlike Nico. And it is not at all electronic, which saves us the displeasure of soaking in all those robotic horrors a la Kraftwerk.

Later on, softer and harder tracks intersperse with each other - 'She Came Through The Chimney' (what is this, a parody on 'She Came In Through The Bathroom Window'?) is acoustic and full of slithery, slightly dissonant violins - well, at least they're not distorted; and 'Cerberus' bounces along like an upbeat folkey dirge (I know that hardly makes sense, but what the hell, this whole experience hardly makes any) before being transformed into an astral boogie. And 'Pale Gallery' is proto-ambient, if you know what I mean, which is fun - at this time, not even Can were doing proto-ambient music.

The harder tracks, meanwhile, do a fine job of sending you to the depths of despair - 'Eye-Shaking King' is, in particular, one of the creepiest pieces of music I've ever heard (and so far, I've heard quite a few). The entire death metal scene 'rests in peace', as we would say in Russia; all these death metal bands are a ridiculous joke, this is the real music of death, and I wouldn't recommend it to anybody with an unstable nerve system. Sometimes I actually begin to wonder if all those anti-rock speaking priests and wise dudes from the government are right? 'Eye-Shaking King' could certainly lead quite a few people on the brink of suicide, acting as the final straw. Oh well, such is life. As a person with a stable nervous system (so far, at least), I proclaim the track to be a sonic marvel.

All in all, the album would get a solid 13, if it were not for the improvisations. Damn bunch o' stinkin' crap, and I ain't jokin'. 'Sandoz In The Rain' starts out pretty, but is soon engulfed in a sea of vocal dissonance. Everything else more or less recreates the same atmosphere as the first record, but without the melodies, without the riffs, without the cool operatic ideas, without anything. Just chaotic jams and a lot of lumbering instruments that don't really know where to go. I do agree that this might be an acquired taste (so I don't really lower the album rating that seriously - have to listen yourself to determine), but I fail to see any objective artistic value in the interminable 'Yeti' that occupies an entire side of the album. Bah. Goodbye, one point of the rating - you will be sorely missed. That said, if you're not afraid, go out and buy the album still, as both records are short enough to fit onto one CD - a major blessing for the buyer.



Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

Control over chaos! Total control over chaos! Bring out the spellbooks!


Track listing: 1) Syntelman's March Of The Roaring Seventies; 2) Restless Skylight-Transistor-Child; 3) The Marilyn Monroe-Memorial Church; 4) Chewinggum Telegram; 5) Stumbling Over Melted Moonlight; 6) Toxicological Whispering.

I don't know exactly if this album was released before Can's Tago-Mago or vice versa (both came out the same year), but there's a distinct parallelism in between the two which is impossible not to notice. Both are paranoid, deeply disturbed, dark, ominous records with a fine balance of traditional and innovative elements - and both are also voluminous, lengthy double albums with super-extended psychedelic jams. Of course, Can tend to go in the 'astral', sci-fi side, while Amon Düül II tend more towards the "goth" side of affairs; but it's still hardly a coincidence that these two albums, usually considered by critics as absolute peaks for both bands, came out at about the same time and reflected more or less the same approach to music. Cheers.

Anyway, I don't enjoy the high points of Tanz as much as the high points of Yeti, mainly because to my ears it doesn't contain a whole lot of innovation: basically, the band had said almost everything it had to say on the previous record, and Tanz is nowhere near as daring or diverse as its predecessor. Yet it also wins out for being a more even record - it is consistently listenable (yes, even the noisy third side which I'll get around to in a moment), and contains no serious put-downers like the title track to Yeti. So I end up giving this one the highest rating - it works perfectly well as an essential introduction to the band's sound, and lacks its worst excesses. Many fans consider this the band's peak, too, so I'm not alone on this one.

This one is just a groove record - three lengthy side-long grooves and three 'shorter' grooves on the fourth side. It is pretty much all instrumental: sure, there are some male voices blabbering out pure gibberish in English and occasionally German from time to time, but the lyrics hardly mean anything at all this time around: not even a single creepy story about burning sisters or something, just meaningless wordplay which was later suitably appropriated from the German guys by Brian Eno for Before And After Science. Furthermore, the singing itself is obviously meant as just another one in a row of "instrumentation details" that make all these jams turn from self-indulgent to something truly atmospheric. So I suppose that even if every track on this album was to be accompanied by vocals, I'd still have a full right to call it "instrumental".

Are these grooves cool? Well, yes, they are. They are certainly dark - dark guitar tones, dark synthesizers, creepy whistles, grumbles and flutes all around. They are also steadily rhythmic: these guys didn't give a damn about weird tempo changes and prime atonal messes, and so it's very easy to give yourself in to what's happening around. They aren't very guitar-heavy, unfortunately; and yet, 'Restless Skylight-Transistor-Child', the suite on the second side of the album, contains its fair share of ass-kicking crunchy riffs and blistering solos, which is why it's my favourite tune on here. They are multipart - they know more or less exactly when a certain groove should begin and when it should end so as, on one hand, not to irritate the listener, on the other hand, make him get the sweet taste of the groove in question in all of its splendour. A typical example is the album closing track, the seven-minute 'Toxicological Whispering', built on a robotic, lifeless, yet strangely attractive riff - I must be a masochist! - that goes away exactly when it's already starting to get on my nerves. Because all of these seven minutes, I just wonder at how subtly they mount their tension: first they give us a smack of the riff itself, and then there's all the "melody-diluting" - with spacey synth solos and stuff like that. It may not exactly be the most entertaining music in the world (except for freaks who think Soft Machine's Third is the best thing ever written, of course), but it sure as hell is addictive if you give it a try.

That said, I'd like to add a few words in defense of the 'Chamsin Soundtrack', subtitled 'The Marilyn Monroe Memorial Church' (what a cool title). Out of all the noise chaos I ever heard as produced by any German band, this just might be the best thing. Normally, "noise epics", as far as I see it, can be written with one (and only one) of three purposes: a) mindless experimentation - "let's see how many noise we can get by turning these knobs"; b) audience-mocking - "let's freak these stupid brainless audiences out!"; c) creative research - "let's create a realistic fantasy world of our own". 'Memorial Church' obviously falls into the last category. It's like a tense, grappling journey through... through the micro- or the macrocosm, whichever you like the best. "A whole new world", as Aladdin would say. It alternates astral synth whirls with bits of martial drumming, soothing snippets of organ solos with squeaky percussion onslaughts... whatever. It's hardly possible to describe, but whenever I listen to it, I really get the feeling of being descended on Mars or an even more faraway planet and soaking in all the noises and life activity and contemplating all the bizarre things going on. And this is far more than I could say, for instance, of Can's 'Aumgn', which to me always seemed written mainly with the purpose of (b).

Taken together with the album cover and all the surrealistic artwork, it can easily be seen why so many people regard Tanz as Amon Düül II's masterwork. And it goes without saying that this record (as well as its predecessor) is an absolute must for just about any fan of industrial, electronica, New Age, post-punk alternative, etc., etc. In quite a few respects, it also renders all these genres useless - it says everything they said and much more than that. (In the same way, of course, as the Stooges render ninety percent of punk rock useless - keep in mind that it's only an opinion...).



Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

Relying a bit too much on atmosphere, but the atmosphere itself doesn't always work.


Track listing: 1) C.I.D. In Uruk; 2) All The Years 'Round; 3) Shimmering Sand; 4) Kronwinkl 12; 5) Tables Are Turned; 6) Hawknose Harlequin.

A catastrophe of sorts, baby. Sheez, and I had such high hopes. By 1972, the band's formula was reduced to... to a formula. This is still a distinct Amon Düül II record, and it is obviously a Krautrock record as well - all the elements are firmly in place, with the guitars, keyboards and other instruments joining in in hellish dirgey choruses, and plaintive vocals telling stories of pain, disillusionment, dark mystery and all that jazz. But this time around, it's just a bore. After my second listen to the record, I remember myself just staring blankly at the CD Player and saying: 'That's it?' It was hardly possible to separate one track from another, much less to remember even a little distinct melody or something.

Essentially, the band just mess around with their instruments and not doing anything particularly worthwhile with them. There's a lot of electric guitar on the album, but Karrer mostly just plays it in a detached, Grateful Dead-type of way, which is only enjoyable if you're completely stoned or just need a suitable substitute for hash. And not a single hook in place - and by 'hook' I don't just mean 'catchy ditty', I mean nothing to cling on to, nothing that would be melodic and memorable. Only after an innumerable number of listens something actually climbs out, like the bouncy rhythm of 'Kronwinkl 12' or something like that. But this is also when you start to realize the real reason this sucks so much - the band is not really experimenting any more, not at all. This stuff never really goes beyond standard, generic R'n'B and psychedelic melodies; with a little bit of mood shift and some arranging modifications, the record could just as well come out of San Francisco or psychedelic London.

In fact, one could go even further and say that Carnival In Babylon is the band's 'pop record' - superficially, most of these tunes are quite accessible, and they never hang like a heavy burden on your shoulders, not usually, at least. But the band was never used to making pop songs: their forte was (a) their dreary gothic mood and (b) their crazyass instrumentation and arranging techniques. Without both (and the instrumentation on here is pretty generic - guitars, mostly, and the synths and Mellotrons were not novel any more at the time), their melodies loose most of their primitive charm. And they probably think they're still doing something spooky and mind-boggling, but this time around I'm not at all overwhelmed. Maybe it's the production or something like that, or maybe I just got used to it and the novelty factor doesn't work any more.

That said, here's the good news. The tunes are all indeed highly accessible, so, if you want to introduce your girlfriend to the charms of the Krautrock scene without fear of losing her forever (and it is indeed a rare girl who won't leave her boyfriend after he'd submitted her to the improvisation pieces on Yeti - quite comparable to a sexual maniac's actions), this is a very natural and obvious choice. It works as intelligent background music if you're in a slightly gloomy mood. And finally, there are still some interesting musical ideas scattered around - I wouldn't quite call them "hooks", because you have to go and look for them, while "hooks" usually have to jump out at you themselves, but they are at least able to give you consolation for the loss of your hard-earned pay, like they gave it to me.

Thus, 'C.I.D. In Uruk' features an interesting "chorale" workout from the band, wisely interpolated into the dark, gritty, guitar-dominated texture of the song. 'All The Years 'Round', which I consider the album's highlight, eventually starts to attract you with its angelic vocal melody (good double-tracked performance from Renate Knaup-Krotenschwanz), and the heavenly guitar solos, although I actively hate the song's dissonant middle part and don't think it fits the main part at all. A good example of their drugged out Germanic psycho style, even if it never holds a candle to anything on Yeti's first half. And 'Shimmering Sand' actually rocks, although I never noticed that at first. Good bassline, steady little tempo, moody organ background, scary group harmonies, gritty lead guitar, groovy astral synth noises, what else do you need to form a genuine classic? Well, I need something more spicy than that.

Still, it all reaches an excruciating low point in the ten-minute suite 'Hawknose Harlequin' - it doesn't sound any worse than these numbers, actually, but it's much longer, and its several parts are just poorly-executed pieces of jamming, all going on for what seems like ages. Then one fades away, and as you're ready to breathe a sigh of relief, in comes another one. Dammit to hell. What happened to the old magic? I'm actually starting to doubt its former presence at all. Was there any magic in the first place, or was I just lulled by the first impression?

I still give the album an OR of nine, the highest rating I can afford to such a boring and unoriginal product, if only out of respect for the guys and girls. It's clear that they were still searching: while the first impression is that this is just a cash-in on past glories ("cash-in" in a metaphorical sense, of course, as they clearly never made much money out of it), subsequent listens bring out its essence more clearly and prove that there actually was some care and meticulous elaboration behind the record. But this elaboration never tried to bring Amon Düül II forward - in the end, it rather sounds like a regression from their two-year old masterpiece. Where Can, one of their most notorious concurrents, were pushing the musical boundaries forward with every new release of theirs at the time, these Herren und Damen seem to be quite content with what they already achieved, and in this particular case they allowed themselves to loosen up. A bad move. Really bad move.



Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Can this be Amon Düül II's "anti-utopia" or something?

Best song: WOLF CITY

Track listing: 1) Surrounded By The Stars; 2) Green Bubble Raincoated Man; 3) Jail-House-Frog; 4) Wolf City; 5) Wie Der Wind Am Ende Einer Strasse; 6) Deutsch Nepal; 7) Sleepwalker's Timeless Bridge.

A rebound of sorts, baby. Actually, I was very surprised to learn that Wolf City came in between Carnival In Babylon and whatever followed it, because its overall sound is certainly more grim and less 'poppy' than on either of those two 'compromised' records. If I might be permitted to put forward a hypothesis, I'd say this: Wolf City sounds like exactly the same band that was recording Yeti, only after it suddenly got off drugs for a second and started doing the same things with a cool, mechanical and serious approach. Now don't shoot me, this is just my personal impression. I have yet to do any research on the amount of drugs intaken by these guys (and gals) - hey, maybe they were adherents of a "just say no" policy, I just dunno. What I said were my personal impressions, right? There you go. It might actually help you make a clear notion of this record, so I'm not doing anybody no disservice.

But let's face the facts anyway. Just like Carnival, Wolf City is a single LP, and a short one at that. ('Medium' standards were obviously not invented for this band). But just unlike Carnival, all of these songs, or at least most of them, rule. The sonic landscapes are back. The full, landscape-creating production is back. The jamming is either concentrated, or it is not there at all - even the instrumentals are cool riff-based ditties that never overstay their welcome. And the 'poppy' bits, with Renate's acid-tinged vocals, get catchier and more atmospheric.

And yes, the album cover and title are absolutely perfect. When I saw the Babylon cover, I thought this was going to be a messy, druggy, 'orgiastic' record with a lot of shock potential, and I was overtly disappointed at the slightness of it all. Wolf City, with its scary title and cover, presupposes something stren, cruel, gothic and desperate, and that's what you get: a set of stern, cruel, gothic songs. But these aren't the songs that bring traditional images of whips and chains and torture and inquistion and Bruce Dickinson to mind. No, these are very realistic songs, replete with real human feelings and sometimes even half-optimistic vocal melodies, replaced by even more of those severe pounding guitars as optimism turns to desperation. A touch of black humour from time to time. Endless diverse takes on that 'grim' mood - the songs all sound the same, and yet no two songs sound exactly the same. And above all that, some really good melodies. What else do you want? This is impressive, economic, immaculate Krautrock at its best.

'Surrounded By The Stars' opens the picture with depressive guitar riffs, synth-heavy backgrounds, ominous violins and catchy operatic vocals - all in the good tradition of Yeti, only the song isn't as drawn out as the best stuff on Yeti. 'Green Bubble Raincoated Man' is even more wonderful, starting out as one of those quiet, introspective, melancholic chants that are supposed to plunge you into meditation, until suddenly midway through they add a wild wah-wah solo and change the mood from pensive to over-aggressive in a fit of genius inspiration. Such is the power and terror of Wolf City!

Things get more 'traditional' and fun with Weinzierl's 'Jailhouse Frog', the album's most riff-heavy tune... for a couple of minutes, until it gives way to a cheerful piano melody with swampy overtones. Ever tried to picture a frog's life? Here's a perfect soundtrack to you. What a fun song.

But the real coolness is still ahead. You're still unaware of the title track, arguably one of the band's highest achievements in the entire genre of... well, in the entire genre of Amon Düül II rock. You know, it actually takes effort and genius to make your guitars sound so desperate and suicidal, but these guys improve in that respect every time. Death and destruction just seem to spread their wings over that song... and over its follow-up, 'Wie Der Wind Am Ende Einer Strasse' ('Like The Wind At The End Of A Street'). At least, over those creepy introductory synth notes, because later on the song evolves into a pleasant little pseudo-folkish shuffle with obligatory violins and sitars.

'Deutsch Nepal' establishes a prime Goth mood, except that whoever sings or 'declamates' on it significantly undermines the awe and horror by overacting - what's up with that endless coughing? 'In Deutsch Nepal... cough... cough...'. See, these guys could be funny about their work, too. What generic Goth band would allow itself to undermine the "icy cold" feel of its songs by adding laughable vocals of a guy with a sore throat? Not a single one. And what generic Goth band would allow itself to end a record on a cheerful note? 'Sleepwalker's Timeless Bridge' is almost like a hippie anthem, for God's sake!

I'm not calling this record "perfect", you understand. God is perfect. Sgt Pepper is perfect. My bank account is perfect (since it doesn't exist). Wolf City is not perfect. There's a bit too much self-repetition on here to call it 'perfect'. But as far as good, listenable, innovative and intelligent records go, well, count me happy on that one. And... yes, I think that with a little bit of strain, we could call it the only true 'concept album' Amon Düül II ever had, of course, only if we take the album cover in consideration. Strong anti-utopic themes on this one, or so it seems. Not that I've ever tried deciphering the lyrics - it's the general impression, see? It's just the general impression. Nothing more. So sue me if I'm wrong.



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Kind of a minor twin brother to Wolf City, you know - almost as charming but with no independent purpose of its own.


Track listing: 1) What You Gonna Do? 2) The Wolfman Jack Show; 3) Alice; 4) Las Vegas; 5) Deutsch Nepal; 6) Utopia No. 1; 7) Nasi Goreng; 8) Jazz Kiste; [BONUS TRACKS:] 9) Surrounded By Stars; 10) Let's Feel Alive; 11) Deutsch Nepal/Rolf Zacher ve.

A weird and little known project that wasn't even originally released as an Amon Düül II record, because what it actually was was a bunch of Amon Düül II members working on a record by several of their colleagues (Olaf Kübler and Lothar Meid), so the album was credited to the band Utopia (not to be confused with Todd Rundgren's Utopia, of course). Since then, the record was re-released under the "Amon Düül II" moniker, though, and not without its reasons, as for all I know, it sounds pretty much like Amon Düül II are supposed to sound, or else my name is Renate Knaup-Krotenschwanz.

It's a pretty solid listen all the way through - after all, the band was just hitting its "accessible peak" with Wolf City, and Utopia is very much in the same style, sacrificing the mind-blowing avantgarde psychedelia of the early records for a more compact approach, with the band's Gothic stylistics at its peak and all. And speaking of Gothic stylistics, the album should definitely be heard by any Amon Düül II fan if only for 'The Wolfman Jack Show', perhaps the band's best ever take on this kind of mystical crap. The simplest of ingredients - a stern, disciplined vocal melody, a gruff three-chord guitar riff, and a moody organ backdrop, and the stage is set for a song you won't be forgetting any time soon. The guitar and sax solos are somewhat ordinary for such an emotionally hard-hitting piece of work, but that hardly mars the overall effect.

That said, the direct Gothic style is mainly limited to this particular track, as well as to an alternate version of 'Deutsch Nepal' found here (and if you remember that one right, 'Deutsch Nepal' isn't supposed to be at all scary what with the lead vocalist's coughing fits and all). The rest of the album is surprisingly warm and, uhm, humane even, I'd say. I mean, a track called 'Nazi Goreng' might be thought to be hideously sounding, but it's not - if you axe me the unsuspectin' reviewer, I'd bluntly state that it reminds me partially of the mildest music of Pink Floyd ('Echoes', for instance!), and partially of Hendrix's positively-toned psychedelic experimentation (such as found on Electric Ladyland).

Thus, if you pardon my generalization, I'd say Utopia presents a compromise between Tanz Der Lemminge (presentation of a bedazzling space fantasy, but without the extended ten- to twenty-minute workouts) and Wolf City (short atmospheric pastiches, but without the aggressive, inhuman cruelty and solemnity). In that way, radical fans won't need it, but moderate fans would get their kicks for all they're worth. Because every song has something to offer. I've already pointed out the major highlight, but there's much more: 'What You Gonna Do' almost equals power-pop, or, at least, amply demonstrates the band's poppier side without leaning to the 'glam/decadent' side of things; 'Alice' is even more surprising, a soft piano ballad that you'd probably find more suitable for Donovan or, at the least, Nick Drake, than for a German band of psychedelic weirdos; and 'Las Vegas' mixes modern jazz and Latin rhythms with... err.... okay, let's say it mixes modern jazz with Latin rhythms and throws a couple typically German solos on top.

It's not like I'm raving, don't get me wrong. When you've already heard all of the band's output from 1969 to 1972, such a lighthearted compromised album as Utopia won't be causing any great shakes. But then again, this is also the band that had released Carnival In Babylon, a sour and bland record stripped of all of the band's personality, and now they're stripping themselves of their personality again, just as they had regained it with Wolf City. Will it? Does it work? It does, because the band gets along with this surprising diversity (for such a small album, a Gothic epic, a piano ballad, a power-pop song, a couple jazz instrumentals, and a psychedelic trip /'Utopia No. 1'/ sure seem like a pretty spiffy combination), and while they're not exactly breaking cardinally new ground, there's musical research going on, and that's good. I do get a little bit tired towards the end ('Jazz Kiste' is a pretty boring way to end the album, I think), but it could have been much worse, and I actually got more than I expected.

I also got the bonus tracks which rule but which also break the rules because, believe it or not, the actual songs do not coincide with their naming on the CD! (And no this should NOT be blamed on Russian pirates, as I've read the official band homepage complain on just the same issue). To quote whatever they're saying on there, the first bonus track is called 'Surrounded By The Stars', but it's in fact 'Wolf City', and the second bonus track is called 'Let's Feel Alive', but it's in fact 'Surrounded By The Stars'. And the third bonus track is called 'Deutsch Nepal/Rolf Zacher ve', but it's in fact 'Landing In A Ditch' from the band's Live In London LP. Add to this that the first two bonus tracks, as you already probably understand, are lifted directly off Wolf City (they don't even look like alternate versions), and you got yourself one pretty weird music publisher. Granted, the CD edition is limited to France, if I read the info correctly, so maybe it was some kind of anti-German joke on the part of their friendly neighbours, but don't quote me on that. Just find the CD and solve this out for yourselves.



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

A full transition to 'short-song' scale - with mixed, but generally interesting and pleasant results.


Track listing: 1) A Morning Excuse; 2) Fly United; 3) Jalousie; 4) Im Krater Bluhm Wieder Die Baume; 5) Mozambique; 6) Apocolyptic Bore; 7) Dr. Jeckyll; 8) Trap; 9) Pig Man; 10) Manana; 11) Ladies Mimikry.

A transformation of sorts, baby. Some call this the band's 'glam album' - a very strange definition, because Vive La Trance has no large-audience appeal whatsoever. It is pretty accessible, though, and signalizes the group's serious transition to short-song form. The particularly good news is that Vive La Trance completely leaves behind the formulaicness of some of the band's previous efforts (Carnival In Babylon, eh?) and branches out into new territory - namely, combining the traditional otherworldly sci-fi approach with the form of a short pop song, sometimes drawing on blues and folk influences. (Sometimes drawing on nothing in particular).

The bad news is that 'short pop song' is not really Amon Düül II's forte: most of the melodies are nothing special, without particularly obvious hooks or notorious guitar riffs. This is understandable, of course, since the band's specialty was always the raw sound rather than its strict moulding into shape, but occasionally it really gets on my nerves, especially when after the tenth listen I pick up the CD cover and cannot remember the melody of even one of the eleven tracks contained therein. Come to think of it, who can really prove this is that much of a departure? Take your Yeti or Lemminge stuff, slice it and comb it, take out some particularly wild passages, and there you got it. On the other hand, it's still better than just letting the former style run dry on something like Carnival In Babylon.

Perhaps the most obvious link with the past is the only song on here that transgresses the seven minute mark - the multi-part suite 'Mozambique', which goes from a very lightweight 'harmonious shuffle' to a fast, roaring rocker with all kinds of apocalyptic overtones piled on it, kinda like a 'Yeti Improvisation', but tighter and speedier. The exact relation of this song to Mozambique is unclear, but the thunderous bliss of the rocking part reminds me more of the Twelve Horsemen than of an obscure African country anyway. All the more interesting is the fact that the number is immediately followed by a six-minute track called 'Apocalyptic Bore', which begins just as gloomy and creepy, involving a few dreary Latin sentences, but then suddenly transforms into a lengthy folk saga achingly reminiscent of... Bob Dylan. Yes, you heard. Chris Karrer sings with an obviously Dylanish intonation, and the rhythm painfully reminds me of certain Bob numbers as well. Only the truly apocalyptic instrumental breaks, full of trademark Amon Düül II interplay (sort of like "intensely wailing violin meets wildly screeching synthesizer and gets drowned in a mastodontic heavy guitar line"), somewhat alleviate the 'parodic' status of the number. Now what the hell is all this supposed to...? Ya know.

Obviously, these two tracks (perhaps linked together with the third - the instrumental 'Im Krater Bluhn Wieder Die Baume', i.e. 'The Trees Go On Blooming In The Crater') form the 'super-artsy' center of the album, while the shorter poppy tracks are splashed all around this 'heart'. Now whether you take or leave these shorter tracks is completely up to you. I'd say that the tracks on here really get more and more accessible and poppy towards the end of the album. In the beginning, for instance, we have such a weird artefact as 'Jalousie', a strange goth-cabaret mix of bizarre psychologic character replicas from Renate (sung in her usual high, semi-operatic tone), and such a creepy, deep-breathing tune as 'Fly United', based on a wonderful near-Birdsey guitar jangle and graced by energetic, ecstatic guitar solos that I'd expect to see on a Clapton or a Rolling Stones (Mick Taylor era) record. They're poppy, and yet they're Germanic and lugubrious in some way or other. Not openly lugubrious, but deeply unsafe in their essence.

However, I could hardly say the same about 'Trap', a brilliant little quirky pop gem with a jerky guitar pattern that nearly predicts New Wave and excellent, smooth guitar runs in the instrumental sections. I don't feel any darkness or depression here, and neither do I feel them in 'Pig Man', a completely traditional blues-rocker that the band's fans were probably shocked at on first listen. Then, 'Manana' returns us to gleeful cabaret style again (sounds like something Bryan Ferry would openly embrace), and only the closing 'Ladies Mimikry' thrusts us back into the world of strangeness and madness, albeit with a slightly comic undertone this time - after all, all these jazzy saxes and goofy vocals can't be taken as meant to depress, now can they?

Aw, shucks. As you know, I don't usually have a problem when a formerly 'bizarre' or 'complex' band takes the fatal decision to make its work more accessible, not if this doesn't poorly influence the quality of the melodies. Yes, I believe that Vive La Trance could have been a better album if the band had incorporated more of its weirdness into the 'normal' structures of these songs, instead of mainly concentrating that weirdness in the first few songs and 'Mozambique', but even the current result is no slouch, either. Still, it's an absolute mystery to me why Amon Düül II's homepage calls this the band's 'glam-rock masterpiece'. Maybe it's due to the band members' "parade costumes" on the inlay photo? Or do they think that any time a band 'popularizes' its music, even in the slightest way, it can be dubbed as 'glam-rock' ( = harmless synonym of 'sellout')? Somebody enlighten me, I'm at a loss.



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

The weird thing is, it's not ALL that different from Led Zeppelin when you get to the bottom of it.


Track listing: 1) Archangels Thunderbird; 2) Eye Shaking King; 3) Soap Shop Rock; 4) Improvisation; 5) Syntelman's March Of The Roaring Seventies; 6) Restless Skylight/Transistor Child; 7) Race From Here To Your Ears; [BONUS TRACKS:] 8) Bavarian Soap Shop Rock; 9) Improvisation On Gulp A Sonata.

The band's first live album was released a little late - by 1974, they were way past their initial monster image, and so this recording of a late '72 concert at The Greyhound, Croyton, probably served as a nice little memento to those fans who were still treasuring the old jammy days over the new "glammified" Amon Düül II of Vive La Trance. Thirty years later, though, when the exact chronology has all gone blurred anyway, it's a gas to hear these performances, capturing the band in their real prime: all of the material is taken over from Yeti and Tanz Der Lemminge, with none of the 'compromises' of their later records evident. Not that I'd hate to hear the compromises, but there's a time for everything.

Quite obviously, the music here sounds slightly less dense and texture-packed than in the studio - after all, it would be harsh to demand the exact reproduction of all the New World Panoramas on Tanz with just two hands on the keyboards and four on the guitars, with the band crammed inside a venue of unknown reputation with limited equipment. (That said, the sound quality is pretty damn solid for such a gig - they obviously were very keen on capturing all the nuances of their live sound). But that's hardly a serious complaint when we're discussing a live show. Unlike many other prog/art rock combos, the point of Amon Düül II wasn't really to demonstrate how they actually could reproduce all their buzz onstage - their point was pretty traditional: to get their audiences going.

And did they ever succeed. On Live In London, they don't really come out as brilliant innovators/"Europeanizers" of rock music, because deep down inside, you know people don't come to rock gigs to listen and make little mental notes like "it is my opinion that the guitar passage from 6:39 to 7:15 into this song is heavily influenced by Wagner, which means I am currently witnessing an important event in the history of musical interaction". They might make these little mental notes when listening to your records, but onstage, you gotta go for the guts. And for the guts they go, concentrating on the more dynamic, rockier parts of their catalog, with really few vocals (who needs 'em?), but heavy guitars, a mammoth rhythm section, and a violin player who makes his violin sound like a warped guitar better than Jimmy Page can make his guitar sound like a warped violin.

And the Jimmy Page analogy isn't just gratuitous: these guys do sound, at least on the first side, like the German equivalent of Led Zeppelin - dark, mystical, gruff, heavy on the jamming part, and above all, certainly rock'n'roll. Come to think of it, they were probably Krautrock's most "traditional innovative" band: even Can only occasionally did what could be called 'rock'n'roll', let alone Faust or Kraftwerk. But Amon Düül II just rock. Check out how they do this shortened seven-minute of 'Soap Shop Rock'. It sounds like a friggin' Nugget for the first two minutes! Straightahead, simple, even catchy, and fully within the tradition of the American/British hard rock scene. However, the more you listen to it, the more subtle nuances you're noticing: the mindblowing acid guitar leads, Renate's operatic vocals, Chris Karrer's freaky violin - these are all trademarks of this particular band.

Which means they're not really 'compromising', just rearranging their compositions to kick more ass. And this is visible from the very first seconds of the concert, when the two drummers start up a complex, R'n'B-ish pattern, and then Meid joins the frenzy with his heavily fuzzed out bass pattern. 'Archangels Thunderbird' is short and up to the point: three minutes of fuzz and frenzy to warm up the feelings. For some reason, this version reminds me of Jefferson Airplane: wouldn't these guys begin their stage show likewise - with overdriven, ecstatic female vocals (Grace Slick) and a complex, overwhelming bass riff (Casady)? And isn't it fun to pick out these little similarities?

Easily the biggest highlight on side 1 is, of course, their rendition of 'Eye Shaking King'. It's nowhere near as creepy and horrorific as the Yeti version, but where it lacks in atmosphere, it gains in (predictably) sheer live power, with more of these fat basslines, "poisonous" guitar and violin tones, and a magnificent wah-wah solo from Weinzierl, while Renate is adding her little yelps and wails to help the proceedings. It's interesting, actually, that while, technically, Renate might just be the band's weakest link (her vocals are far from perfect, and she doesn't play anything), it's exactly her contributions that elevate this kind of music from your basic, if technically perfect, psychedelic jammings onto some sort of different level. Just don't forget to turn the volume up really loud.

Where the first side, apart from a little bubbly-synth improv at the end, is nearly all Yeti, the second side is nearly all Tanz Der Lemminge, and thus is a little bit less stimulating: since that record had a bigger accent on mood and "special effects" than guitar jamming, its material is certainly harder to adapt to live playing. It would be fun to hear them doing 'The Marilyn Monroe Memorial Church', I guess, but obviously it wouldn't just fit into the general context of their live show. However, there's still enough conviction left in their renditions of 'Syntelman's March' and 'Restless Skylight' to induce a trance-like state on the listener - and then it's a gas to see the hypnotized audience suddenly jump three feet high as the band, without warning, launch into the ferocious funkiness of 'Race From Here To Your Ears' (some of the album's wildest rhythm guitar is captured here) - and then see them "relax" again with the 'Riding On A Cloud' part.

The bonus tracks on the recent CD edition are a bit of a disappointment, though. The CD proclaims the two of them to be "live in the studio" performances, and the delusion is further propped up by overdubbed applause in select parts, but they really sound just like different mixes of the corresponding tracks off Yeti and Tanz - and definitely could not be done "live in the studio", given how radically different (and sonically more complex) they sound when compared to real live tracks. And however much I like 'Soap Shop Rock', I sure would prefer they'd dug up some more live rarities than having to sit through seventeen minutes of it again in a context where I'm really not supposed to sit through seventeen minutes of it. That said, a bonus is a bonus. The worst thing about the bonus is you're not supposed to complain about bonuses, because, rather like entry to the United States, it's your privilege to have one, not your right.



Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Accessible, yet bizarre; deeply German, yet Dylanish and Hawkwindish; conceptual, yet loose. One of their best - I could care less if it's a "sellout".

Best song: LA KRAUTOMA

Track listing: 1) Dreams; 2) Ludwig; 3) The King's Chocolate Waltz; 4) Blue Grotto; 5) 5.5.55; 6) Emigrant Song; 7) La Krautoma; 8) Metropolis; 9) Loosey Girls; 10) Gala Gnome; 11) Top Of The Mud; 12) Mr. Kraut's Jinx.

Friggin' great album - no, I mean, really, I was shocked by how good this was. Made In Germany has often been branded as the band's final phase of selling out, but ever so often, people tend to confuse "sell out" with "leaving the original established style". Come to think of it, what kind of a sellout is it if it never sold anything much in the first place? On the other hand, few Krautrock bands could make albums of such high quality as late as 1975 - apart from Kraftwerk (who are always apart anyway), most of the original Krautrock monsters were already either deceased, like Faust or Neu!, or were on a steady downhill ride, like Can. On Made In Germany, I can't find even a single trace of boredom, lack of ideas, or disspirited atmosphere.

Sure, few things have survived the "transition to pop" - Amon Düül II's wild extravaganzas of old are no more. In their place we see more conventional approaches to melody and instrumentation, but we also see incredible diversity, a stunning variety of styles and moods that throws us from poppy tangos to dreamy ballads to astral boogies to Dylan parodies to folk ditties to God knows what else; the album never becomes boring for a single second. All of the band's albums are supposed to be 'conceptual', but this one has much more of a concept than anything else - true to the title, it's quite Germanic, and just about every aspect of the concept I find cute or even fascinating, from the cover art (dump the front cover, it's the back cover that matters - there's something deeply touching and intriguing about the picture of the band members lined up in dark blue raincoats!) to the fact that several of the songs are centered around Bavaria, Munich, and King Ludwig the Second, the famous Mad King Ludwig of Bayern. In case you never heard of the gent, I'll spare you a historical excourse and take the opportunity to heavily promote Gabriel Knight II: The Beast Within, one of the best adventure games ever written (the other two, as you might have guessed, are Gabriel Knight I and Gabriel Knight III). There, you'll find much more about Ludwig the Second than I'll ever be able to tell you here.

Anyway, the bad news is that Made In Germany originally came in two versions - a double-LP extravaganza, complete with an overture and lots of different what-not, and a single LP edition. Perversely, it's the single LP edition that made it onto CD, which I deeply lament: all the songs are so good that I'm pretty sure there'd be very little filler on the double LP. Ah well, then again, I'm lucky enough to have at least this one - it's not that easy to find an Amon Düül II record in print, now is it?

The only reason this record gets denied a 10 is that, well, want it or not, it does betray some of the band's usual idiosyncrasy. But on the other hand, if you're scared shitless by the prospect of plunging right inside the band's least accessible records but would want to give 'em a try anyway, there's no better initial choice than Made In Germany. The 'operatic' and 'noise' sides of the band are all present here in toned-down, but still incredibly enjoyable forms, so choosing it as your first step to get acquainted with the marvelous world of Amon Düül II wouldn't hurt.

No bad songs on here - not a single one. 'Dreams' opens the record on a simple, but glorious note - it's one of the best variations on the basic tango structure I've ever heard, underpinned by a moody memorable guitar riff and featuring the catchiest in vocal melody. From there on, we venture into a three-song-long 'suite' dedicated to Ludwig: 'Ludwig', driven by mighty acoustic strumming and occasional violin riffage, is operatic beyond measure and presents the whole story of Ludwig's suicide in a terrific lyrical context; 'The King's Chocolate Waltz' is a short instrumental interlude based on soothing proto-ambient textures; and 'Blue Grotto' is a beautiful empathetic ballad with Renate Knaup at her gentlest.

The rockier side of the band comes next, as they launch into the overdriven guitar hell of '5.5.55' (my favourite part is certainly the frenetic guitar solo towards the end of the track - granted, Amon Düül II weren't a band famous for simple guitar jams, but how can I resist a simple guitar jam when it's done with so much verve and dedication and professionalism?). From there on, it's no problem to shift style and embark on a folkish journey with 'Emigrant Song', which some may slander for sounding more like the Eagles than Amon Düül II, but never in their life would the Eagles have thought of embellishing the song with such a romantic, beautiful organ melody and that ominous bass melody occasionnaly emerging out of the banjo thunderstorms. You get my impression, don't you?

'La Krautoma' is a real blast - the first track on the album that really truly sounds like the Amon Düül II of old, at least partially. Essentially a traditional composition re-arranged by Amon Düül II, it manages to suddenly change gear right in the middle and go from an inoffensive danceable tune (although why does the guitar sound so menacing if it's inoffensive?) to a gritty piece of riff-based astral boogie a la Hawkwind. If you ask me, it's nothing short of amazing that after four years of similar work and a relative "sellout" these guys were still available to come up with pieces like these, totally fresh and exciting. It might seem that we've heard it all before, all those bleeps and bloops and nightmarish noises coming out of the guitars... well, we did and we didn't. At the same time.

'Metropolis' is the obligatory "Renate as the awe-inspiring Sybil" number on the record - add to this that it's memorable and tight, and enlightened by this notion, you'll have no trouble assimilating the far more lightweight 'Loosey Girls'. Old Pink Floyd influences rear their heads here: it sounds very much like all those early Waters-penned ballads that can sometimes be so boring and sometimes so endearing. Fortunately, this one here follows the latter case. 'Gala Gnome' is a little noisy interlude; 'Top Of The Mud' is a solid, if not spectacular, rocker; and the album comes to an epic end with 'Mr Kraut's Jinx', a lengthy tell-tale epic that reminds me of Uriah Heep. Only Uriah Heep didn't have such excellent Dylanish lyrics. Or such a well-developed sense of humour. Or such ace musicianship. Or such a moderate, adequate singer. Heck, I don't know why this reminded me of Uriah Heep in the first place. See, this is just a lengthy folkish epic with strong Dylan influences and lots of surprises along the way - see, for instance, the wonderful incorporation of a masked 'Chuck Berry beat' in the final verses.

I don't actually think that the record is supposed to be making any kind of point. It is the most conceptual of all Amon Düül II recordings, yes, but it's also the least conceptual - when the Germanic/Bavarian/Ludwig concept is present, it's pretty compact, but when it isn't, it isn't, and it really isn't present on at least half of the tracks. Indeed, the record has a disjointed feel to it - no doubt, the double album was more coherent. But that doesn't mean that the individual songs don't work - they do, and if I wanted to, I could write a book on each of them. This is, simply put, together with Can's Soundtracks and - to a certain extent - Faust's So Far, the perfect place to disprove the common false belief that Krautrockers were only good at noisemaking and couldn't write excellent pop material. On the contrary, it is my sincere belief that only people who have mastered the pop form to excellency can have the right to advance to more complex musical forms. Don't believe me? Ask Mr Brian Eno, he's sure to know the answer to that one.



Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8

Apt title, although the "pyr" ("fire") part is metaphysically questionable.


Track listing: 1) Flower Of The Orient; 2) Merlin; 3) Crystal Hexagram; 4) Lost In Space; 5) Sally The Seducer; 6) Telly Vision; 7) The Only Thing; 8) Capuccino.

Okay, this is just nuts. I'm all for being accessible and stuff, but this is just not Amon Düül II. There's nothing even remotely Amon Düül II-ish about this thin, unimaginative, forgettable album. And the big question is - how in the hell could they go, over the course of one year, from Made In Germany to this? Did they really need to sell out that badly? Who the frig actually gave a damn? The weirdest thing is the record wasn't even released outside of Germany, even if all the songs were done in English. What, they thought hordes of American music lovers would rush over the Atlantic to take advantage of Amon Düül II's newly-found "commercial freedom"? No way.

Granted, this really is a new look Amon Düül II. Renate Knaup is out, along with a couple other band members, whose places are taken by guitarist/keyboardist Stefan Zauner and bassist/guitarist Klaus Ebert, both songwriters and singers. And this is more than just yer usual average clean-up: these guys practically dominate the songwriting. Weinzierl contributes one track, Karrer contributes another, the entire band collaborates on a third one, and, unsurprisingly, these three turn out to be the best compositions on here. No, screw that - they turn out to be the only decent compositions on here. Believe you me, sometimes it does matter to put the proper accent in its place.

Because both Zauner and Ebert are perfect illustrations of that very, very unfortunate type of songwriters who like songwriting, particularly basic, traditional, poppy songwriting, but, unfortunately, got jammed in their toilet seats at the very moment God was dispensing the gift. These five "pop" songs they offer here are simply hideous. Well, not "hideous" in the primary sense of the word - there's nothing intellect-offending on here - but rather in the secondary, meaning you get so goddamn bored with this stuff that at a certain moment you start yearning for a truly hideous song to come on. This is something of a cross between mid-quality Eagles, mid-quality Styx (without the operatic vocals, though), and mid-quality Camel (and I'm not a Camel fan, not until they sold out, at least).

'Merlin', for instance, is supposed to be a "frightening atmospheric rocker" - that's the rather expectable conclusion I draw from hearing this mid-tempo song with overdriven bluesy solos and a hoarse guy singing in a hoarse "frightening" brawl. Umm, yeah, well, no dice, guys. 'Eye-Shaking King' was a frightening atmospheric rocker. This is poorly written, unmemorable pap which belongs, at most, on a Grand Funk Railroad album - actually, the guitar solo is extremely close to Mark Farner's style (the later, "cleaned up" one). What am I even doing, wasting precious lines of text on this silly thing. After all, web space is not infinite - otherwise, why would I be the only web reviewer to dedicate some of it to this miserable album?

The final blow comes with the cheesy synth intro to the atrociously titled 'Sally The Seducer' (what's that, a progressive cock-rocker? Spare me the necessity of locating the lyrics sheet!) - forget it, I'm not going to bother discussing this tripe any more. Let's just talk about the three decent (not great) songs.

'Flower Of The Orient' saves us just the tiniest bit of traditional Amon Düül II's moodiness, although, to be fair, they didn't use Eastern motives that often. It's still pretty tame, with the hard rock sound almost gone and the weird cooky effects of old non-existent, but the main melody is emotional and hummable, and over here the poisonous synthesizers sound rather ELP-ish than Styx-ish, so they add atmosphere rather than campiness. Mellotrons, too, at times. They say it was the only song off this album they retained a soft spot for by keeping it in their live setlists. Well, I can understand that; it would work well as a half-romantic, half-'exotic' breather in between the rough stuff.

Weinzierl's 'Crystal Hexagram', for the most part, is just a free-flowing, lazy, not particularly inventive art-rock instrumental, heavy on jangly guitars and light on astral synthesizer noises - solid background muzak with potential; exactly two times it gets to climax with a really pretty rising guitar melody that I'm sure George Harrison would envy had he ever heard it, which I doubt. It is surprisingly lightweight for such a guy as Weinzierl, but hey, at least if he's selling out, he's not making a complete ass of himself like these new guys. At seven minutes, though, there's just a bit too much pointless noodling to count it as an all-time classic.

And finally, Karrer's 'The Only Thing' is a surprisingly "flowerish"-sounding love song with lots of acoustic guitars and (a bit phoney) "happy" vocals, which also ends in a generic, but professional blues guitar solo. I'd even go as far as to say there really is a hippiesque vibe to it, something San Franciscan in the air, which is, of course, completely ridiculous given the year of the album's release. But maybe these guys were so out of it for such a long time, they sort of lost track of the years - not knowing what was commercial in the mid-Sixties. (Then again, given how badly Zauner and Ebert wanted to be clones of your average MOR band, this probably applies to the veterans only).

Considering these three songs are the lengthiest on the album, I can't honestly say that it was just moving from bad to worst all the time. But even these 'highlights' really only look like highlights against the trash that Ebert and Zauner are laying down on us. You know what they actually remind me of? Kayak. Yeah, that Dutch band famous for making sappy pseudo-complex art-pop. I hate that vibe. But at least I can admit that the guys in Kayak were solid melodists, and lots of their material, as toothless as it is, pass the "Paul McCartney Quality Test" - meaning if there's a gallant hook hidden somewhere in the mix, the vibe can be easily overlooked. Should be overlooked. It's all in the notes man. But there aren't any notes here! Or, if there are, I haven't noticed them.

Well, I guess every Krautrock band has its way of selling out. Can took the opportunity to pander to cheap "dance" instincts. Tangerine Dream wasted their talent on soundtracks. These guys became below-average Seventies' popsters. So much for the indomitable German spirit. The times they are a-changin'.

PS. Just an indication of how bad this album really is: one of the lines in 'Telly Vision' goes 'Ronald McDonald says: Big Mac to you!'. Yes, yes, it's supposed to be ironic, don't tell me that. It's still goshdarn awful. You don't meet lines like these on Alice Cooper records, doncha?



Year Of Release: 1995
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12



Track listing: 1) Castaneda Dream; 2) Nada Moonshine #; 3) Speed Inside My Shoes; 4) Sirens In Germanistan; 5) Lilac Lillies; 6) Kiss Ma Eee; 7) Carpetride In Velvet Night; 8) Black Pearl Of Wisdom; 9) Ca Va; 10) Guadalquivir.

Total. Fucking. Comeback. As I write out this overused and overrated word combination, I'm still finding it hard to believe how the hell have I gotten so much pleasure out of this album when initially I approached it the way you'd approach your long-lost uncle whom you last saw fifteen years ago lying passed out in the street with an empty bottle of cheap whiskey under his head and a huge pool of vomit under the rest of his body. But lo and behold, here he is - back and shiny, with an Alcoholics Anonymous badge on his coat and tons of plans for the future.

Now that I think of it, of course, with Knaup, Karrer, and Meid coming back together to make music again, they had to make something good. In the Nineties, a band of this kind of veterans couldn't even begin to hope for commercial success - which left them with no choice but to go ahead and try and make something musically relevant and interesting. The question was whether they'd be able to (a) keep up with the times instead of reveling in pure nostalgia, (b) still get the classic Amon Düül II vibe flowing, (c) make the album not entirely pointless and/or "mannerist". And yes, they can. In fact, not only they can - this is the fifth best Amon Düül II album ever, and that's saying something considering the other four were Yeti, Tanz, Wolf City, and Made In Germany.

In a way, they continue exactly from the spot where they left before the band's future was redefined as the "trashbin future" with Pyragony X; it is symbolic that 'Speed Inside My Shoes' is actually a reworking of one of the tracks from Hijack, their last "pre-catastrophe" album. There ain't a whole lotta 'psycho jamming' on here, even if many of the tracks exceed the eight-minute mark; the record is just as pop-oriented as their 1972-75 albums. But, of course, when we say 'pop' here, we don't mean it the Madonna way or the Fleetwood Mac way. We, essentially, mean that the record is accessible, and that's where its normalness ends. They also clearly want us to know they hadn't been spending their time in a musical vacuum, either: there's a lot of hip-hop, techno, and rave influences reflected in huge chunks of Nada Moonshine #. However, it never looks like they're enslaved by these influences - they make hip-hop and techno work for them, not against them.

Thematically, the album is said to be revolving around the practical doctrines of Carlos Castaneda (apparently, somebody was a fan?); I could really care less, because what little I do know of Castaneda's brand of mystical teachings has never gotten me intrigued into learning more. Then again, I was never overwhelmed by learning how 'Tomorrow Never Knows' was inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, either. The important thing when you're an artist, not a scientist, is not to get your inspiration from a "serious" source, but to get it - be it the Bible or Castaneda or Ren & Stimpy. And whatever the sources of inspiration were in this particular case, they obviously sufficed to make it a mini neo-art-rock masterpiece.

The songs may be long, but they're never boring. This is because way too often they aren't just "songs", but mini-symphonies, or, rather, mini-musical journeys that start out in one place and then, by the end, turn out to have ended up in some entirely different location. The title track, for instance. It starts out as a trippy electronic nightmare, with brutal samples of 'Wake up!' introducing the song and electronically enhanced vocals assuring you it's gonna be one of those robotic pseudo-dance numbers. Then, two minutes into the song, Renate (whose voice, by the way, has definitely improved with age - some of her passages here are quite beautiful, in a conventional way as opposed to the weird way on the earlie albums) starts singing a gorgeous artsy melody - counteracted by Karrer's (Meid's?) rapped vocals and then reaching climax in the visionary singalong chorus. It takes some time to realize some of the sections are repeated, because each time they are, they're enhanced with something entirely different - a pretty wall of chimes, a brutal bassline, a scary electronic guitar solo, something like that: the eight minutes are gone by in a flash.

Each and every one of ten songs has its own perfect individuality carved out, yet somehow they all mesh together quite well. 'Castaneda Dream' sounds like a rap band caught inside a dusky, foggy mirage - easily the perfect synthesis of hip-hop and art-rock I've heard (although, granted, a bit too repetitive in comparison to the other songs). 'Speed Inside My Shoes' is brimming with aggression - it's all Frau Knaup's major show on here, although the wild harassment of the "mass of brass" is a nice complement, and the cleverly masked reggae-like rhythm makes you tap your feet like there was no tomorrow. 'Sirens In Germanistan' is a kick-ass acoustic-based rocker - fast, with a cooky bassline, great energetic guitar playing, and what sounds like a kids' chorus singing harmonies.

'Lilac Lillies' is easily the weirdest number on here, starting out with what seems like John Lee Hooker gone adult contemporary - but watch out for the drums, who spend the first two and a half minutes of the song trying to "break through" and then finally bursting out in a frustrated techno beat, which turns the entire song on its head. As much as I hate the generic techno beat, especially when it's used by dinosaurs like the Moody Blues in order to bring 'hipness' into their world, this thing is totally ingenious and makes up for one of the strangest 'musical contrasts' within a song ever. Except, of course, for 'Kiss Ma Ee', another eight-minute epic with, this time, a soft techno chorus that goes 'LOUIE LOUIE KISS MA EEE!' chanted by Renate Knaup in a totally Arabic fashion (so that 'kiss ma eee!', whatever it might mean, sounds very much like 'Ishmail!'). This, of course, in no way predicts that the song will end as a beautiful operatic piano ballad that's more Zombies/Argent than Amon Düül II, but, believe it or not, that's exactly the way it ends.

Eastern motives are then reprised in the Sufi-dedicated 'Carpetride In Velvet Night' (Eastern orchestration vs. Spanish acoustic guitar - granted, the contrast is not so big considering how Spanish music actually grew out of Arabic one) and in the wonderful 'Black Pearl Of Wisdom', with subtle guitar flourishes I'd never have expected from this kind of band. I have no idea if the French chorus of 'Ca Va' is supposed to mean something, but, once again, the best thing here is how the moody, synth-and-brass-based first section of the song unexpectedly mutates into a full-fledged, knives-out rocker midway through, with the band galloping along like a mastodont in heat - the bass! the drums! the hard-rocking guitar! the angry nonsensical shouts! the goofy 'I feel GOOD!' sample! you thought these guys left their teeth in 1972? you got another thing coming!

And finally, as the band leaves you with their nice and emotional Spanish-flavoured farewell ('Guadalquivir' - one of the more generic stylizations, but catchy as hell), you're just left there with hardly any other desire in your head than to go out and share your happiness with someone else. Unfortunately, that's about the hardest part. In the long run, you're lucky to actually learn of this record's existence, let alone actually acquire it. These trusty old Krautrockers show they can still outplay zillions of subsequent "experimental" bands that grew up in their wake - as much as I can respect the Sonic Youth et al. school of musicmaking, I'd listen to Nada Moonshine # over EVOL any time of day. Yet nobody, except for a handful of dedicated fans that you can probably count on the fingers of your right hand, has ever heard of it, and even a few of the dedicated fans are complaining about how it's really hardly the Amon Düül II of old. Well, they're right. This is a new Amon Düül II, restructured and remodelled so as to present themselves as a Nineties band, and they still rule mah world. I dunno... go visit Germany. Getting this album is well worth making a visit to Germany.



Year Of Release: 1997
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Some of this is "pro forma", but you can't deny THE PRESENCE!


Track listing: 1) Nada Moonshine #; 2) Black Pearls Of Wisdom; 3) Dry Your Ears; 4) Castaneda Dream; 5) Deutsch Nepal; 6) Kiss Ma Eee; 7) Speed Inside My Shoes; 8) Lilac Lillies; 9) Wolf City; 10) La Paloma; 11) Flower Of The Orient; 12) Surrounded By The Stars; 13) Archangels Thunderbird; 14) Jam Hai.

What's a good studio comeback for if it can't be augmented with a nice live comeback? How can a creative outfit of such bulk function without confirming its reputation on the stage just as well as among all the mixing equipment? It can't. Oops, you thought this was for the money? Nah. Leave money concerns for Blondie and the Rolling Stones. These fellows can only release live albums for the fans. Particularly Japanese fans, of course! Those crazy Japanese will release (and tolerate) anything. Even such hopeless old whackos as Amon Düül II.

According to the liner notes, the album has been recorded in its entirety in the Tokyo club "On Air West" on April 12th, 1996. Lord bless the Nineties with their superb recording equipment, which permits us to hear this stuff in pristine sound quality (quite unlike Live In London, even if I never did complain about sound quality on that one) - including the funny introduction of the band by some unknown Japanese DJ. It's always nice to hear a Japanese introduction of a German band singing in English. Makes people realize just how small the world actually is. (And this time the guy actually DOES introduce them as "Amon Düül TWOOOO", with special emphasis - and special horrible Japanese accent - on the numeral!).

One thing that's immediately obvious, even before you click 'play', is that the band in no way intended this tour to be 'nostalgic' in origin. A quick glance at the tracklisting reveals that six out of fourteen tracks are taken from Nada Moonshine #, most of the rest being from their most "stage-ready" album, Wolf City, plus a couple golden oldies like 'Archangels Thunderbird' and a couple unexpected surprises. Oh yes, a good surprise is a performance of 'Flower Of The Orient', far superior to the wimpy Pyragony X original - wasn't, in fact, until I heard this powerful performance that I actually understood why they preferred to keep it in their setlist for such a long time. As far as sequencing is concerned, they mostly play the new numbers first and leave the oldies for last, but still manage to intertwine some of the stuff in a way that's supposed to signify some kind of "direct succession". This doesn't work too well - the old style definitely sounds very little like their new one, but that's not to say the old one is necessarily better, you know.

The Nada Moonshine # stuff is used sparingly upon the eyes of the listeners: most of the lengthy tracks have been slightly shortened, except for 'Kiss Ma Eee', which was too complex and multi-sectioned, apparently, to cut it down seriously, and that's alright by me, although, for some reason, they have substituted the original beautiful piano part of the tune for a more generic adult contemporary-oriented synth backing. What the fuck? They did have a keyboardist with them, didn't they?

On the positive side, this is probably the first time in my life I have ever witnessed a techno-beat-backed studio composition transferred to a live setting with a real live drummer. That's right, they do 'Lilac Lillies' on here, and midway through, drummer Wolf Wolff does launch into the required beat, and does it just as fast. This is a good spot to dedicate a few hundred pages to the deep philosophical question of why the kick-snare-kick-snare pattern is so much more aesthetically pleasing than the electronic techno beat, but I am afraid that even if I find an answer, it will hardly be acceptable for anybody but me personally, so let's just keep it alive as a matter of abstract personal belief.

Renate is particularly good throughout all the new numbers - the complex vocal parts on 'Nada Moonshine #', 'Kiss Ma Eee' are pulled off exceedingly well, and so is the aggressive delivery on 'Speed Inside My Shoes'; although, I guess, the wild screams of 'Revolution!' on the first track are a bit too overdone, especially considering they're addressed to a fucked up Japanese audience in a dirty little Tokyo club which is probably stuffed with Tatu clones most of the time these days. (Now why have I chosen to remind myself of that? Aarrgh!). I mean, come on, the time of revolutions has passed, now comes the time for elitist postmodern wanking. So give me elitist postmodern wanking instead! Like 'Black Pearls Of Wisdom'!

The Wolf City numbers are... well, this is friggin' Wolf City, man, what can I say. The best Amon Düül II album for the prog-rock hater. I miss the funny coughing on 'Deutsch Nepal', but that's about the only complaint. There's a little bit from 'Syntelman's March' ('Dry Your Ears'), unfortunately, mainly serving as the introduction for the band's newly bred Castaneda fantasies; a hilarious two-minute rendition of 'La Paloma'; and the obligatory 'Archangels Thunderbird', of course, plus a five minute jam at the end which is a wee bit disappointing because it functions not so much as a real jam as a background for Renate blurbing out a pretentious lyrical message (which nobody understands anyway, I guess, except for that bit where she talks about 'rich motherfuckers lying in the dirt'. Mmmm... yeah. I'm taking this out of context, but then again, so might these Japanese fans).

Instrumentally, special mention must be given to Karrer's guitar and violin wizardry - the old wolf hasn't lost one little bit; and, unless it's Karrer who plays all the really complex parts, new guitarist Felice Occhionero is also worthy of praise. Nothing else managed to strike me in particular, but then again, Amon Düül II were never about solo virtuosity - their main strength was in ensemble playing, and there's plenty of exciting ensemble playing on here.

Overall, it's a pretty damn good live album that fails to make the transition to 'great' not because the band are uninspired (they aren't), but because... well, you know, the time is just not quite right for that. In 1972, live Amon Düül II were a revelation; in 1996, live Amon Düül II are... well, an event. This, of course, gives no right to Stephen Thomas Erlewine complain in his AMG review that this album is nothing but a sterile nostalgia trip; like I already said, even one complete perfunctory listen to it inarguably proves the opposite (so much for the AMG, as usual). In fact, with stuff like this Amon Düül II do prove that they can be as powerful today as your average twenty-years-younger experimental outfit playing for elitist audiences in small clubs like this, all over the world. They are their equals, and they have managed to adapt well to new realities, without losing "honour" or "integrity" or any other abstract nouns with positive connotations. The one noun they might have lost, though, is "epochality" - provided I have a right to actually concoct this particular noun.


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