Sunday, January 18, 2015

German Oak - 1972 - German Oak

German Oak
German Oak

01. Airalert (1:55)
02. Down In The Bunker (17:57)
03. Raid Over Duesseldorf (15:42)
04. 1945 - Out Of The Ashes (2:13)

Total Time: 37:47

Witch & Warlock CD bonus tracks:
05. Swastika Rising (4:55)
06. The Third Reich (10:18)
07. Shadows Of War (5:54)
-a. Rain Of Destruction
-b. V1 To London

- Wolfgang Franz Czaika / lead & rhythm guitar
- Ullrich Kallweit / drums, percussion
- Harry Kallweit / bbass, voice
- Manfred Uhr / organ/fuzz-organ, voice
- Norbert Luckas / guitars & noises

A free form rock band founded by a small community of 5 German hippies / "avant garde" artists back at the beginning of the 70's (Wolfgang Franz Czaika, as Caesar, is credited with "Lead- & Rhythmguitar", Ullrich Kallweit, known as Ulli "Drums/Percussion". His brother Harry Kallweit known as Harry, contributes "Electric bass/voice", Manfred Uhr AKA Warlock on "Organ/fuzz-organ/voice" and Norbert Luckas AKA Nobbi on "Guitar/A77/Noises"). Their self title effort was published in 1972 in Düsseldorf at Luftschutzbunker (Air Raid Shelter) studio. The cover of their self title album (a militaristic image which is a portrait of the third Reich military force) provides an illustration of anger expressed by the WWII's young generation against their parents. By consequence German Oak's music is very eerie, dark and weird, dominated by heavy, "distorted" guitar solos & raw bluesy rhythms. The background creates "shadowy" & "ambient" sequences thanks to delay echoes, electronic "fuzzy" noises & repetitive bass lines. A funkadelic/jazzy felt punctuates with discretion this grandiose, "creepy" instrumental album.

 A conceptual album? Maybe. Anyway this self title album is all about the II world war and its denunciation. This album is an electrified and original kraut improvisation with many weird, strange atmospheres injected into it. "Airalert " is an illustration of a military march. The electric organ stresses the tempo on it. "Down In The Bunker" can be seen as a funeral hymn related to chaos and the tragic consequences of war. A dark, creepy ambient atmosphere prevails, sustained by rolling drum parts, heavy, crying guitar lines and some frantic repetitive bass lines. Imagine something somewhere between TD's "electronic meditation" and Kluster but with more emphasis on the "dark" side. "Raid Over Düsseldorf" is an impressive, catchy "psych" heavy rock tune with lot of wha wha guitar effects and an outstanding contrast between a moody ambiance and a bluesy rock instrumentation. The rhythm is perpetual, systematic and guides the listener into an "acid" rock avalanche. "1945 - Out Of The Ashes" is a similar theme than the first track, based on a plaintive electric organ with an obsessional rhythmic. The 3 bonus tracks on the new CD reissue express also very interesting musical moments with some aggressive rock tunes, punctuated by inspired meditative, repetitive organ arrangements and concrete noises. A beautifully sinister musical adventure. Very fine and one of my all times favourite 70's rock item.

Let's see... A black and white cover art representing a German officer from World War I or II... Track names such as: "Airalert", "Raid Over Düsseldorf", "Swastika Rising", "The Third Reich"... Not very attractive, is it? Nonetheless, despite all this, you'd be unwise not to give this record a listen. Don't be fooled by this repelling exterior, this album is in fact one of Krautrock's best obscure gems, both figuratively and literally.

This first and eponymous release by Düsseldorf instrumental quintet GERMAN OAK features dark extended psychedelic/space rock jamming around repeated main themes. Another copycat of ASH RA TEMPEL? Well... There is a noticeable difference.... In 1972, rarely has a record sounded this dark, claustrophobic, tortured. Like SUBARACHNOID SPACE, but 25 years ahead. The music possesses an unique atmosphere, crafted by the massive usage of heavily distorted and fuzzy instruments, original sonorities, as well as unusual samples for a psychedelic record: falling bombs, air sirens, and even a short extract from a Hitler's speech! Don't worry, the German youth of the 60's-70's developed their own musical genres and built itself against and strongly rejected the values and the political orientation of the former generation. With "German Oak", the band wanted to denunciate the war atrocities and "dedicated this record to their parents which had a bad time in World War II" (as written on the sleeve note). So two opposite worlds collide: psychedelia and WWII. The approach was for sure risky, but the result is pretty interesting and original.

The disc is structured around two long krautjams. After the dark psych introduction "Airalert" appears the main title of the album. Like its title suggests, "Down In The Bunker" was actually recorded in an old WWII bunker. This is truly an unique and impressive experience, both for the musicians, who could nearly sense ghosts of the past while playing in this forgotten place, and for the listener. The ambiance is thrilling, threatening, as a sensation of suffocation, summoning spirits waiting during the bombings or fallen in combat. The drumming reminds PINK FLOYD's "Set the Controls..." at times. A bit monotonous, but easily one of the darkest Krautrock titles of the 70's! On the contrary, "Raid Over Düsseldorf" is more accessible. A lighter kraut/space rock jam with distorted instruments. the sonorities used in the ending section are quite uncommon. "1945 - Out Of The Ashes" is a organ- driven psych outro representing hope and reconstruction.

The 3 bonus tracks included on the Witch & Warlock reissue features are also worth the listen. The two first ones consist in variations around single musical patterns. "Swastika Rising" is heavy and powerful, whereas the psych rock jam "The Third Reich" opens with a short extract from a Hitler speech. More original, "Shadows Of War" is divided in two parts. The first section is almost post-rock, due to its beautiful ambient saturated keyboards, weaving impressions of desolation. Another speech makes the transition for the experimental second section composed miscellaneous sounds.

"German Oak" is an obscure little gem with a surprising thematic, a psychedelic trip into the horrific past, a descent to the abysses of war, a meeting with tortured soldier spirits. There are a few drawbacks: some lengthy passages, a little lack of variety and the poor sound quality. But all these are largely compensated by the dark atmosphere the music delivers, sinister and beautiful, enhanced by unusual sonorities and saturated instruments. Ambiance is the key.

It's a shame this record didn't received the success it deserved, certainly due to the adopted approach, too radical, and the controversial WWII concept. The band has original musical ideas and sounds for its time, that will be more structured in the their next release.

If you don't like long improvisations built around a simple main theme, this album won't change your opinion. Nonetheless, if you enjoy ASH RA TEMPEL, SUBARACHNOID SPACE and extended krautrock psychedelic jams, then "German Oak" is an essential listen! Prepare to go down for an unique sonic experience...

This album was reissued in 2017 as a triple LP + 3 CD edition, and at the band's request, the Nazi speeches included on Manfred Uhr's Witch and Warlock German Oak CDs have been removed, and, at [Wolfgang Franz] Czaika's request, the songs have been retitled... Czaika and the band didn't choose the titles given to their songs when Uhr initially released them... On this anthology, the two long songs from the original German Oak album have been pitch corrected to play at the speed that the band recorded them; Manfred Uhr sped them up for the album's initial release...

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