Amon Düül: A Young Person’s Guide 004

Yeti went down in the psychedelic annals as a movement defining juggernaut. The four sides that constituted the behemoth opened the gates of kosmische hell—the stamp of approval that acid-drenched weirdness could live on well past the 1960s, even if the adherents to such gospel were relegated to pop-music obscurity. As we know, however, any wound that festers will only become that much more lethal. And while Amon Düül II would never surpass the hellacious heights achieved on their sophomore output, the communal anti-formula that the group conjured up would leave them tethered to those peaks as they further reached into the cosmos.

With a legacy as convoluted and florid as Amon Düül’s, the highlight only further muddied those storied waters. The precision applied to the freeform discord on Yeti left the excellent debut of Phallus Dei looking like amateur hour down at the local café—subsequently leading to those essential first steps being lost in the shadow of the classic that followed. Retrospective masterpiece status has been applied to the second effort, leaving Amon Düül in a classic predicament of overcoming a pinnacle in the aftermath of the 1970 opus. It could be that the collective had the better judgement to avoid it, or that the freewheeling spirit impelled their stride, but, luckily, Amon Düül struck out a new path instead of trying to revive Yeti under a new title. On Tanz Der Lemminge, we’re greeted by the familiar echoes of psychedelia, but not as we’ve known it. 

Amon Düül prove, once more, that two sides can’t contain their longform stylings of space exploration and we’re gifted with another double LP. The hallucinatory cover art beckons as on the prior two releases, and further inspection reveals that the first three tracks take up the first three sides. Unlike, those two records, we see that the band has split up those long form numbers into various suites. Upon dropping the needle, we are greeted with an almost Terry Riley-like celestial organ, shimmering in the abyss before Amon Düül usher in “Syntelman’s March of the Roaring Seventies.” Chris Karrer’s vocals are nowhere near the maddened-court-jester level they were on the last two records, and one would almost believe that he was giving a serious go at the singer-songwriter approach if not for the slipping in and out of mock-German as he delivers his verse. Still consistent, there is noticeable demarcation from piece to piece within the sidelong suite. As the vocal exaltations come to a close, we have a brief silence before breaking into a cyclical jam. The result is almost similar to Caravan’s start-stop style, but alas, Amon Düül throw their own spin into the mix. The jazz-inflected song cycle begins a downward spiral, dipping into discord, and in a curveball for all, the upcoming freakout that is teased from the moment the tune began ceases to arrive and the group instead turns to a hazy acoustic interlude. In a showcase of the increasingly lethal compositional chops the band had been developing, the tune resumes its journey toward a climax of some sort—leaping between key and time signature like its nothing, mind you. At last we’re brought to resolution. The result isn’t the brutal Yeti-esque bombardment of molten fuzz and sludge, but far more organized (and blistering) guitar pyrotechnics. The band propels John Weinzierl’s now very-prominent six-string aptitude under a bouncy groove and he launches a full-on assault to wrap up the fragmented and rambunctious number.

This opening march showcases the direction that Amon Düül would take as they pushed further into their own pronounced ‘roaring seventies.’ Despite being a relentlessly original group, a wave of intricacy was sweeping over the world of Rock n Roll at the dawn of the 70s. Progressive Rock was still in its infancy at the time of Tanz der Lemminge’s release and most groups were simply experimenting with outside influences without necessarily trying to fit the label that was being washed over King Crimson’s neo-classicism and Soft Machine’s jazz-rock. The most prevalent approach to this experimentation on Tanz was the melding of near-classical composition with psyched-out aural hijinks. Amon Düül take it off the rails with the inclusion of the maniacally improvised freak outs perfected on their prior two records. To avoid letting these moments supersede the songs themselves (and essentially remaking Yeti), however, the band had to channel this energy. Instead of letting loose and charging full steam ahead for 20 minutes, the players could unleash their bombastic intentions for brief moments. Or better yet, let the listener believe that was the aim. Instead of arriving at the expected conclusion, the group can garnish a far-more visceral reaction from the complete absence of the foregone ‘heavy’ passage.

On “Syntelman’s March” and the following “Restless-Skylight-Transistor-Child” this idea is best utilized when the group trades the manic compositional acumen for blissed out folk moods. “Restless Skylight” feeds us an absolutely filthy blues riff played in repetition, finally incorporating electronic augmentation before an abrupt cutoff into nothing. Just when you’re wrapped completely in the infinite the group creates, they take it away; replacing the choogle with a fanfare of fuzz and brute percussive strength. And once more, as this next moment builds, we’re again left stranded in pause before sitar-backed psychedelia of the highest order takes us into a twisted folk music journey.

Instead of leaning into a ‘rambling troubadour’ or ‘bucolic bard’ mode of folk music, Amon Düül focus their efforts on acoustic quietude. The rabid drum circle around a raging pyre invoked on the prior records is swapped for something more sophisticated. Somewhere along the lines of a group of feral forest dwellers spread out across the landscape in communication only through their instruments. The wayward listener, lucky enough to happen across the aural scene, finds an equally haunting and beautiful conversation as a reward for their voyeurism.

Beyond this, Tanz Der Lemminge showcased an expanded ability to drop all these various modes and drift into nothing at all. This is no abrupt stop or suite transition, but an intentional building-into-emptiness. “The Marilyn Monroe Memorial Church” finds Amon Düül channeling the energy of Yeti’s second disk. Instead of relishing in the heaviness that the exploratory passages build to, as on the prior record, the group uses the side long piece to go absolutely nowhere. A constant drift along the universe where a never-arriving sonic catharsis denies the listener of the exposition they crave. It is within these conditions that Amon Düül illicit a near-physical wrenching in their audience. The piece is further a reminder of Amon Düül’s greatest strength: their spontaneous excellence. While Tanz Der Lemminge is primarily notable for the group’s expanded songcraft and experimentation within set structures, the highlight of the LP remains the improvised third side. The piece has far more in common with an arthouse soundtrack than it does with the rest of the record. And yet it fits in perfectly as a chance to let the group really reach out, while simultaneously offering respite from the visceral complexity that the band employs on the first two sides.

With Tanz’s fourth side, yet another feature is added to Amon Düül’s multifaceted personality: straight-laced (as they can be) hard-rockers. While the three cuts that make up the last bit of the record may seem like throwaways, this is likely due to the fact that they are so forward in their delivery. This is the group getting to dig into some grooves and offer some no-strings-attached Rock n Roll. Compared to the hour of music that preceded them, it is no wonder that these seem to pale in comparison. In spite of the brevity and restraint shown, the tunes still fit right in with the Kosmische profile that Amon Düül crafted over their first three releases. Phallus Dei, Yeti, and Tanz der Lemminge would come to make up the most cohesive continuity in the group’s tenure. The trilogy presented a logical development of an art that had not been explored before and contributed the lion’s share of an entire subsect of pop-music. As sporadic and differed as they may seem, the works that would follow – while still vital – would become nearly unrecognizable in retrospect. Over the course of the decade, sonic shapeshifting undergone by the collective would render Amon Düül’s reimagining several times over. | j rooney

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