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BLOOD CEREMONY The Eldritch Dark Album Cover The Eldritch Dark
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PURSON The Circle and the Blue Door Album Cover The Circle and the Blue Door
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STRAY Stray Album Cover Stray
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PSYCHEDELIC WITCHCRAFT Sound Of The Wind Album Cover Sound Of The Wind
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GRAND FUNK RAILROAD Closer to Home Album Cover Closer to Home
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Kingdom Of Oblivion
Album
MOTORPSYCHO
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MOTORPSYCHO Kingdom Of Oblivion

Album · 2021 · Heavy Psych
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lukretion
At the start of the year, Norwegian prog-rockers Motorpsycho announced a new full-length album, which they described as a return to a more direct "heavy" sound akin to some of their 1990s output. That intrigued me. Although I liked a lot the all-encompassing prog rock extravaganza of their most recent albums (2020's The All Is One is an absolute masterpiece), I missed the simpler heavy rock of some of their earlier works. Kingdom of Oblivion was eventually released in April, sporting the same line-up responsible for Motorpsycho's last couple of records, with Bent Sæther on lead vocals and bass/guitar/keyboards, Hans Magnus Ryan on lead guitar and keyboards, and Tomas Järmyr on drums. Swedish guitarist, and long-time collaborator of the band, Reine Fiske is also listed as a contributor on the record.

The first time I listened to Kingdom of Oblivion, two things immediately stood out for me. First, as promised, the music is indeed more metallic than before, edging on the heavy/space rock side of the progressive scale, with generous echoes of Black Sabbath and Hawkwind running through the album. Songs like "The Waning", the title-track, and "The United Debased" all develop from simple but effective bass grooves or guitar riffs that are repeated obsessively as the song builds and builds amidst seas of distortion and trippy keyboards. Järmyr's drumming is perhaps less spectacular than on the previous couple of albums, but it's effective and keeps a good groove, which is what the songs really need. The vocals are often edgy, almost angry, at times channelling the spirit of an Ozzy of time past.

The second aspect of Kingdom of Oblivion that stood out is that, Motorpsycho being Motorpsycho, this couldn't "just" be a heavy rock album. Things were bound to get weirder. And indeed they do. The third track "Lady May" marks the first deviation from the promised heavy sound of the album. It's a pastoral little piece with acoustic guitar and ethereal vocals that could have been lifted from a 1970s Canterbury record. The following track "The United Debased" goes back to the heavy rock canon, deceiving the listener in believing that, perhaps, "Lady May" was just a sporadic interlude. But no, things just get weirder and weirder after that, with "The Watcher" and "Dreamkiller". The first is a soundscape made up of ambient noises, whispers and a hypnotic bass line. "Dreamkiller" develops from a psychedelic vocal choir into a hellish dreamscape built around a sinister guitar riff and a magnetic and trippy mellotron motif. By the time the acoustic instrumental piece "Atet" comes by, the listener has all but forgotten that Kingdom of Oblivion was supposed to be a simple heavy rock album.

The last part of the record marks a return to the initial metallic sound, but without forgetting all the weirdness that has passed by. It's the best of both worlds, exemplified by tracks like "At Empire's End" (probably the best song of the record, built around a formidable guitar riff), the oddly mutant "The Hunt" (starting all gentle and pastoral with flutes and acoustic guitars, before a groovy guitar ostinato makes space for something that sounds like a hissing teapot - I kid you not!), and the aptly titled "The Transmutation of Cosmoctopus Lurker". If you are wondering what the hell a cosmoctopus is, I'll tell you: it's the bastard child of Tony Iommi and a creature that came out from Alice in Wonderland, all spaced-out and dazed.

Kingdom of Oblivion is yet another great album from the Stakhanovs of progressive rock. With 24 full-lengths over 30 years of career, the Norwegians are surely one of the most prolific rock bands on earth. Astonishingly, they also almost never ever drop the ball: the quality of each new album remains high, release after release. Kingdom of Oblivion is no exception. It's not a super-easy album to get into, because it's weird. But I grew to love it because of this. It's one of those records that take you by hand and lead you on a trip where nothing is like it seems, and where everything is allowed to grow, develop and mutate into something else. We need more albums like this: metallic and heavy, but also adventurous, challenging, and daring. In four words: a work of art.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

GIFT Gift

Album · 1972 · Heavy Psych
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siLLy puPPy
The birth of Germany’s progressive Krautrock scene took many roads with some bands focusing on the farthest out psychedelic trips possible, others tackling the technicalities of jazz-fusion, some more engaged in catchy crossover pop hooks while others merged the heavy psych 60s with the hard rock 70s. The Augsburg based GIFT was one of those bands that took the last option and crafted an interesting take on the heavier aspects of the earliest sounds of what would be called heavy metal. GIFT is actually the German word for “poison” and what you get with the band’s first of two albums that emerged in the early 1970s is a venomous sting of infectious early heavy metal that cranked up the speed, volume and prog complexities of the heavy psych sounds that flooded the latter part of the 60s.

This band was obviously inspired by Amon Duul II’s classic debut album “Phallus Dei” because the then school band formed in the same year of 1969 and took on Phallus Dei as its band name. After a few years of practice and the recruitment of new members the lineup featured on the band’s eponymous debut was Uwe Patzke (bass, vocals), Helmut Treichel (vocals), Rainer Baur (guitar) and Hermann Lanze (drums, percussion) after being discovered by Munich producer Otto Hartmann who signed the band to the Telefunken label. Considered one of the more adventurous heavy Kraut bands of the German scene, GIFT wasn’t exactly the most popular on the scene but gained a loyal cult following for its dedication to dexterous compositional flow that adopted the excesses of progressive rock without sacrificing the heft of a bantering display of guitar, bass and drums. It’s also notable that guitarist Nick Woodland was listed on the credits but actually quit the band before recording began.

GIFT’s debut is an excellent display of no nonsense hard rock with a brilliant juxtaposition of cleverly crafted compositions that feature strong melodic hard rock hooks with heavy guitar riffs and an excellent rhythm section that features hairpin turn time signature changes and unexpected twists and turns in the musical flow without sacrificing the underpinning of what makes a hard rock song work so well. The Krautrock scene was filled with heavier bands but not all of them could pull it off but GIFT did so with seeming ease with a particularly strong emphasis on the drumming and percussive accoutrements that give the album that extra special something. Add to that the strong confident vocal ability of Helmut Treichel and it’s easy to declare GIFT’s debut release as one of the most competent heavy psych releases of the early 70s.

Perhaps not quite as heavy as contemporaries such as Lucifer’s Friend, GIFT certainly took the established heavy psych sounds of the late 60s to their limits before the scene moved on to the hard rock and heavy metal that would soon become the more popular style of the 1970s. While compared to the fellow German band Hairy Chapter, GIFT was similar to many other bands such as Captain Beyond and Twenty Sixty Six and Then but due to the talented members on board managed to stand out as an original all its own without deviating significantly from the established heavy psych sounds of the era. This one doesn’t seem to get as much love as the more psychedelic Kraut bands of the era and gets lost behind the harder bands from England and the USA but for my tastes GIFT successfully cranked out a wild ruckus of an album for their debut. The band would change its sound by adding keyboard sounds for its sophomore album “Blue Apple” but for this first offering GIFT was a powerful beast of heavy guitar driven rock music.

DIES IRAE First

Album · 1971 · Heavy Psych
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siLLy puPPy
One of the lesser known earliest German Krautrock bands, the Saarbrücken band DIES IRAE adopted the Latin phrase with means “Day of Wrath” as its moniker when it formed in 1968 and stuck around for five years before calling it a day. The band consisted of Andreas F. Cornelius (drums), Robert J. Schiff (bass), Harald H.G. Thoma (guitar, vocals) and Cord Wahlmann ( lead vocals, harmonica) and retained the psychedelic rock attributes of the 1960s while adding the hard rock sounds that had become popular by the time the band’s sole album FIRST hit the market in 1971.

DIES IRAE was quite popular on the German live circuit and shared the stage with many of the bands that would become Krautrock legends but for many reasons DIES IRAE did not enjoy the longevity that many of its contemporaries have enjoyed with the resurgence of psychedelic music and therefore have been pretty much forgotten by all except the hardcore Kraut addicts who seek out the obscurities. One of the problems with FIRST when it was released in 1971 was that the occult lyrical content was extremely controversial and while other Kraut bands were receiving radio airplay time, this band was literally shunned.

However when a band becomes banned, there are always those who seek out the forbidden fruits of the music industry and therefore this band has enjoyed a cult following over the decades complete with CD reissues. Another problem with FIRST is that it is all over the place with the opening track “Lucifer” featuring a hard rock repertoire with bluesy rock and even a harmonica. Compared to early Black Sabbath, which is totally legit, the band totally abandoned the hard rock aspects in the middle of the album and with the track “Trip” drifts off into true psychedelic freakery much like Can did on “Tago Mago” and bands like Faust and Cluster did all the time.

Although the opening track “Lucifer” is rather silly and amateurish, the remaining heavier tracks remind me more of the Scorpions’ debut album “Lonesome Crow” which was basically a bridge between the psychedelic Krautrock of the early 70s with the more straight forward hard rock of the latter part of the decade. Unfortunately lead vocalist Rainer Gerd Walhmann doesn’t quite match the charismatic singing prowess of Klaus Meine but he does get the job done. The album’s bizarre inconsistency reminds me of those late 70s albums where bands were forced to stuff in a career’s worth of ideas because they knew they only had one shot and therefore FIRST seems more like a collection of tracks rather than a cohesive album experience but having stated that, it’s actually all quite pleasant and totally fits in with the Kraut vibe of the year 1971, opening track excluded.

Unfortunately first impressions do matter. The opening track “Lucifer” may sour this one for many and the unattractive barbed wire fence album cover evokes more of a concentration camp scene rather than a Kraut filled escapist’s paradise. Yeah, the DIES IRAE members were not masters of marketing by any means but with the right guidance this band certainly had the talent to take things a bit farther and deserved a couple more albums since the potential is obvious from the tight-knit musicianship and the effortless transition between lysergic floatiness to bluesy hard rock. The band did have a brief reunion in 1991 but no new album came from it so DIES IRAE remains one of those one and done bands that released a sole artifact on the timeline and then went bye-bye. This is one of those albums that’s a bit hard to rate. It’s not good enough for 4 stars yet is too good for 3 so i guess 3.5 stars is warranted.

HAZE Hazecolor-Dia

Album · 1971 · Heavy Psych
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siLLy puPPy
One of the many one and done obscurities from the early 70s Krautrock scene, HAZE didn’t leave a lot of clues about themselves. With some sources claiming their were from Germany and others that they were Swiss, this band will most likely remain a mystery unless former members spills the beans. Perhaps one of the newer reissues of the band’s one and only album HAZECOLOR DIA has liner notes that shed light on its origins but nevertheless HAZE is well known in the collector’s world for its album’s dynamic artwork sleeves designed by Walter Seyffrer who crafted it to look like a slide picture complete with a die-cut cover with an attached transparency photo center of the band on both sides of the album cover.

On the musical side of things HAZE deliver a strong dose of 60s inspired heavy psych which featured early Led Zeppelin inspired bluesy rock but also fit well into the early Krautrock scene with bombastic organs and hyperactive flute runs. While the compositions were fairly catchy and could rightfully exist in the world of hard rock, HAZE was clever in how they infused their songs with progressive touches fortified with a psychedelic haze. While the instrumentation of guitars, bass, organ and drums, the addition of the flute added a whole other level of psychedelia to the mix. I’m not sure if the original album featured credits for the flautist but he wasn’t featured on the cover and there seems to be no info regarding who it actually was. Another mystery indeed. This is a very soulful album with that German touch for sure.

With thundering guitar riffs that also offer energetic drum rolls and heavy distortion, HAZE juggled the aspects of 60s heavy psych with 70s hard rock and the early complexities of progressive rock thus making an interesting listening experience however what really puts HAZE over the top for me is the exaggerated vocal styles of lead singer Christian Scherler who had the knack to sound like Robert Plant at times and then take on a rather male version of Janis Joplin and then wail out some ear piercing falsettos that prognosticated some of the excesses of 1980s heavy metal. Despite all these vocal gymnastics, Scherler dished out these antics quite well and added that extra dimension that would otherwise delegate HAZE to the endless pile of generic heavy psych bands that existed at the same time.

This was one of those bands that could alternate between sloppy garage band nonchalantness and technical precision which offered a starting contract but for the most part this was a blues rock oriented band with no nonsense composiitons that tackled social issues in the lyric department. The extended tracks such as “Fast Career” and the lengthiest track “Decision” displayed the band’s ability to add all those extra touches which allowed entry to the prog universe. Clearly a work of the era from which it sprang, HAZECOLOR DIA will probably not go down as one of the most original or coveted albums of the early Krautrock scene but is a lot better than i expected. Luckily the album has found a remastered reissue so this is definitely an album i would gladly pick up.

DSCHINN Dschinn

Album · 1972 · Heavy Psych
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siLLy puPPy
Another one of the many short-lived bands that jumped into Germany’s Krautrock scene in the early 1970s was the Marburg based DSCHINN which originated in a response to the Beatles-mania that took over the world in the 1960s. Starting out as The Hurricanes, the smitten group of Bernd "Capo" Capito (lead guitar, vocals), Peter "Eddy" Lorenz (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Silvio Verfürth (bass, vocals), Athanasios "Jacky" Paltoglou (drums, percussion) and Uli Mund (drums, percussion) were successful in scoring live gigs all throughout Germany including the famous beat clubs such as the StarDust in Hamburg.

All of this touring caught the attention of a successful businessman who became one of the band’s biggest fans and proceeded to fund a few singles but under the condition that the band changed its name to Dischas under which three singles were released including the first one "Here What I Say/Come Back To Me" which actually made it into the top 10 on the Austrian singles charts. Unfortunately the band was unable to continue the momentum and changed its game plan altogether as the pop rock beat and mod styles of the 60s were quickly falling out of fashion.

The band not only changed its sound to a more progressive style of heavy psych but adopted the more mysterious moniker DSCHINN or in English, jinn or jinni which in the Koran and Muslim traditions is a spirit often capable of assuming human or animal form and exercising supernatural influence over human beings. Likewise the band developed a more sophisticated sound and although lumped into the early world of Krautrock was in fact a hard rock band with heavy psych influences from the late 1960s. The band released this one self-titled album in 1972 with a trippy Dali-esque album cover which featured nine vocal oriented tracks that featured heavy bluesy guitar riffs, beefy bass lines, intricate percussion sounds and even a harmonica part or two.

Unlike much of Germany’s Krautrock artists who were entering the twilight zone with freaky tripped out sounds designed for a trip to the cosmos and beyond, DSCHINN was much more down to earth and in reality sounded much more like an Anglo / American hard rock band of the same era with lyrics about freedom, love and other everyday affairs. The music wasn’t particularly complex and instead revolved around catchy blues based melodies. While the music itself was fairly average by the era’s standards, DSCHINN did stand out in the fact that it had two percussionists and delivered strong polypercussive grooves that adopted some of the ethnic influences of the Middle East somewhat in the vein of Agitation Free only in the context of bluesy hard rock.

Another immediate standout was the vocal style of Peter Lorenz which sort of sounded like a more exotic version of The Guess Who’s Burton Cummings only with a slight accent. The band itself seems to have picked up a few tips from bands like The Guess Who or Grandfunk Railroad and was clearly looking to the English speaking world for inspiration. This all but forgotten obscurity from Germany’s diverse Krautrock scene may not go down in history as the most essential of artifacts from the early 1970s but it is an interesting slice of heavy psych laced with period pop rock along with a few Krautish elements that remind me of Amon Düül II at times but these are just accents and only complement the staunch blues rock worship. Not a bad album at all but not extremely creative either.

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