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Amon Düül II
by Noel Jones [orig. published Record Collector, June 1993]

(Noel Jones retraces the career of one of Germany's finest acid-rock bands; additional information by Phil Burford)

Although there is a tendency to equate German avant-garde bands with the sound of keyboard minimalism, Amon Düül II completely blow such pigeonholing apart. Can may occasionally have embraced one-note bass-lines and simple beats; and Neu certainly took musical repetition to some kind of conclusion. But their contemporaries Amon Düül II
provided a kaleidoscopic miasma of sound, fired by exemplary musicianship and colourful lyrical imagery.

The group's origins can be traced hick to 1967 when, as Amon Düül, they caught the mood of love and freedom full in the face and formed a living commune.

After appearing at the Song Days Festival in Essen, in 1968, on a bill that also featured the Fugs and the Mothers Of Invention, Amon Duul split into two communes - one political, the other musical. The musical wing became known as Amon Duul II, although the political wing, Amon Duul, also found its way into the recording studio from time to time.


This political collective recorded four albums, three of which resulted from one marathon 20-hour studio freak-out. These, to put it kindly, are rather heavy going. The often atrocious sound quality and production doesn't help, although this was hardly surprising as no producer was deemed necessary! Amon Düül debuted with "Psychedelic Underground", issued on Metronome in 1969, and reissued first as "This Is Amon Duul", and more recently, as "Minnelied" in the Rock On Brain series. Completists may wish to seek out the American edition on the Prophesy label, issued in 1974, long after the band had folded.

The band's second and final album for Metronome was "Collapsing - Singvögel Rückwärts", which they followed with an uncharacteristic single release, "Eternal Flow"/ "Paramechanical World". Issued on Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser's legendary Ohr label, neither of these political folk songs sung in English has appeared in this form elsewhere. A different
version of the B-side reappeared on the band's Ohr album as Paramechanische Welt". That LP, "Paradieswarts Düül", is probably Amon Düül's best work, and strong hints of acid-folk mark it out from the rest of the band's catalogue. But if the psychedelic mayhem of their previous two albums had gone, the highly repetitious percussive rhythms had not.

"Paradieswarts Düül" was effectively the last Amon Düül LP, for the loose-knit group had little to do with the release of "Disaster - Lüüd Noma" on the BASF label. This was merely a retrospective of their rather messy past - a double set released in 1973 containing demos and out-takes from the "Psychedelic Underground" sessions. The bugbear of poor sound quality had returned in a big way, and this album was by no means a positive epitaph. Despite that, it's reappeared a couple of times since then, first on Rocktopus in 1981, then repackaged and retitled as "Experimente" in the Timewind series. Negotiations are currently taking place which will hopefully see the release of Paradieswarts Duul" (plus "Eternal Flow") and "Disaster" on compact disc.

Amon Düül II were a different musical proposition. Apparently influenced by the American West Coast acts, this band housed their albums in mysterious sleeves swathed in hallucinogenic vistas and colourful collages; while their concerts were bathed in swirling lights and slides. Throw in their unashamedlv lysergic lyrics, written in the main by Falk
Rogner, based on a diet of Edgar Allen Poe, and you have a particularly potent brew: certainly, the group's acid vision was far removed from the blues and country-rock styles favoured by the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service.

The line-up of Dieter Serfas (drums), Peter Leopold (drums/percussion), Shrat (percussion/ vocals), Renate Knaup-Krötenschwanz (vocals/ percussion), Jolin Weinzierl (guitars/bass),
Falk Rogner (organ) Dave Anderson (bass), plus guests Holger Trulzsch (percussion) and Christian Burrchard (vibes) debuted with the enigmatically-titled "Phallus Dei" in 1969, which immediately gained a U.K. release on Liberty. The second side was given over to the title track, a sprawling, drum-driven Pagan romp with cawing violin and weird, warbled vocals, prompting the British underground magazine, 'International Times', to describe the group as "a kind of mammoth amplified Third Ear Band". The recording of the album was the subject of one of the first German rock documentaries, a 30-minute film by Rudiger Nuchtern titled 'Amon Düül II Spielt Phallus Dei'.

The LP reappeared a few years later on the budget Sunset label, and has since been transferred to CD, firstly on the French-based Mantra, and more recently on Repertoire.

This psychedelic landmark was followed by the "Yeti" double-album, issued in 1970. Disc One formed the basis for the band's live set for years to come, containing their inimitable brand of space-age rock, though "Yeti" is probably better known for the second disc, which was completely improvised. It was an impressive set, particularly in terms of the members' playing abilities, though by this time, the line-up had already altered. Dieter Serfas had left the band, and little was heard of him until recently, when he turned up in Christian Burchard's Embryo. Dave Anderson returned to England to join Hawkwind, subsequently, forming his own trio, Amon Din. Meanwhile, Shrat left to form Sameti whose various line-ups included other ex-Amon Düül II members. "Sandoz In The Rain" featured two members of the original Amon Düül, Rainer Bauer and Ulrich Leopold, as guests.

What remained was the double-album format, used to house the group's next project, "Dance Of The Lemmings". Wrapped in a suitably colourful sleeve festooned with sinister skulls and folding out to reveal the view from a spacecraft's flight-deck, this 1971 set (titled "Tanz Der Lemminge" in Germany) continued to explore the possibilities first hinted at on "Yeti". Guitarists Chris Karrer and John Weinzierl each composed side-long suites of linked shorter pieces, while Disc Two provided another outlet for the group's improvisational prowess, most notably the vast, Cathedral-like dreamscape of "Chamsin Soundtrack (The Marilyn-Monroe-Memorial-Church)".

The album featured the unique sound of the choir-organ, a 20-year-old hand-made keyboard which sounded like a piercing, violent version of the more commonly-used Mellotron.
Jimmy Jackson was the only person able to play this monstrous machine, and therefore guested on a number of Düül releases. The guitarists were gelling particularly well by this time, both in their complex compositions and their fluid musicianship. It's worth mentioning that much of Amon Düül's more avant-garde work was reminiscent of the early Pink Floyd.


The group continued to pepper their releases with spontaneous improvisations, with 1972's "Carnival In Babylon" containing "Hawknose Harlequin", albeit with scripted lyrics.
Originally, this was to be another 20-minute improvisation, but after editing, the piece sounded like a series of jams meshed together in the studio. In general, though, "Carnival In Babylon" revealed a marked shift towards a more melodic style.

1972 also saw the release of what's probably the band's best-known U.K. album, "Wolf City", though by this time Amon Düül II's significance in their home country had waned considerably. The gatefold sleeve, depicting a striking piece of Dali-like strangeness, set the mood. Inside, several truly outstanding moments were on offer: the stumbling stampede of "Jail-House Frog", where the mysterious croaks, shrieks and bubblings of some primaeval swamp swell into a searing soprano sax solo courtesy of Karrer; "Surrounded By The Stars", with Karrer's electric violin augmenting Renate Knaup-Krötenschwanz's haunting vocals; "Wie Der Wind Am Ende Einer Strasse", where the sitars and tablas take the band into an ethnic style akin to contemporaries Popol Vuh; and the warm swelling and ebbing tones of the choir-organ, which brings "Sleepwalkers' Timeless Bridge" to a triumphant close.

Another track, the strong and decidedly strange "Deutsch Nepal", also turned up on Lothar Meid and Olaf Kubler's "Utopia" project which featured many of Munich's jazz and rock musicians, including members of both Amon Düül II and Embryo. The music, which features an epic-sounding choir-organ roaring out a march, sounds identical to the version on "Wolf City", though Rolf Zacher's barking vocals had been replaced by a high-pitched squawk! His coughs and splutters remained intact, however.

Meid's relationship with Düül was somewhat informal. He'd been the co-founder of Embryo in 1969, and two years later, appeared on the debut album by jazz-rock band Passport, together with Lothar Meid and Olaf Kübler. He left and rejoined Amon Düül II several times, largely through his own choice: he was never fired, because his highly competent
musicianship was a great asset to the group. In 1973, he formed Achtzehn Karat Gold with Klaus Ebert, Joerg Evers and Keith Forsey, all of whom were or had been members of Amoin Düül II.


Meanwhile, the mother band's own music took a downturn during this period. 1973's "Vive La Trance" featured several shorter tracks, in what sounded like an attempt to broaden their appeal. But for all that, the album does have some final moments, including the unsettling, opener, "A Morning Excuse", the dischordant "Ladies' Mimikry", and between them, "Im Krater Bluh'n Wieder Die Baume", "Mozambique" and "Apocalyptic Bore". Before the album was released, Lothar Meid had already been replaced by new bassist Robby Heibl, but the rot had already begun to set in by then.

The band's seventh album was "Live In London", a limited edition of around 10,000 copies retailing for just 99p. This contract-filler, and consisted of old material - chiefly from the first discs of "Yeti" and "Dance Of The Lemmings" - recorded in 1972 by the classic line-up. One track, quite accurately titled "Improvisation", was a brooding, hubbling, electronic piece, helped to a close by the dual drumming of Peter Leopold and Danny Secundus-Fichelscher and seine piercing screaming from Renate. The real highlight, though, was "Eye-Shaking King", one of the "Yeti" tracks. Here in truncated form, it remains a classic example of German rock, heightened further by a beautiful but still hard-edged solo by guitarist John Weinzierl.

As a live band Amon Düül II toured Europe constantly during the late-60s and 70s with various line-ups, many of which never recorded together. They toured England three times, spring and winter 1972 and spring 1973 with basically the same line-up, with producer Olaf Kubler guesting on the second tour. In concert, Amon Düül II veered from shambolic chaos to pure genius, depending on the night you happened to see them, but when on form, few could touch them.

United Artists made the most of the group's departure by issuing "Lemmingmania", which compiled several less-than-successful singles issued in Germany between 1970 and 1975.

But the record failed to revive interest in a band that had always retained little more thin a committed cult following.

Meanwhile, Amon Düül II signed with German label Nova and delivered two albums, "Hijack" and "Made In Germany", in quick succession. Both secured reasonable distribution in the States, something which was confirmed by their inclusion in the 'Rolling Stone Record Guide' - none of their other LPs was mentioned. Incidentally, that magazine's knowledge of Amon Düül II was so small that they were entered under the 'D' section!

Both records signalled the further disintegration of the group. The best material on the patchy "Hijack" was written by Lothar Meid, who left shortly after the sessions were completed.
His replacement was Robby Heibl, who'd previously played with the band on "Vive la Trance". Meid has subsequently released a number of solo albums and is in-demand as both a studio musician and producer.


The double concept album "Made In germany", was repackaged and relaunched as a single record in England and America. This was due to Atlantic/Atco taking exception to some of the content, which they (wrongly) felt was Anti-Semitic. Consequently, the concept was left somewhat incomplete, and disillusionment led to the departure of four members, including Renate and Falk. Between 1978 and 1985, Renate became a more or less permanent member of Popol Vuh - the band that had featured Düül drummer Danny Fichelscher, together with founder and leader Florian Fricke. Chris Karrer, who also contributed to a Popol Vuh album, went on to write and play for Embryo during the 80s and into the 90s, touring Africa, Japan and India. In fact, there was quite an exchange of personnel between these long-running Munich bands for several years.

Karrer and Weinzierl soldiered on with the name, which was just about all that remained by the time of the tenth album, "Pyragony X", where a dominating pop-keyboard sound was worlds away from the band's past narcotic glories. While punk rock was snarling and spitting its way across the globe, Amon Düül II persevered, remaining the antithesis to the new wave. Their eleventh album, "Almost Alive" (they said it), was an improvement on their previous two offerings, thinks to important contributions from Stefan Zauner and Klaus Ebert, and the incorporation of Spanish and Arabic folklore elements.

After this, it was the turn of founder member John Weinzierl to jump ship, leaving only Chris Karrer to carry the band's name onwards, for what it was worth. The result was the "Only Human" album, a jazzv, poprock, effort that wasn't too far removed from latter-day Genesis.

Amon Düül II finally disbanded as a working group in 1980, though within a year the original members had reunited for the rather disappointing "Vortex" LP. By that time, a bioraphy of the band, 'Tanz Der Lemminge', which was written by Ingeborg Schober, had been published in Germany, and its relatively limited print-run has made it an extremely desirable item today.

John Weinzierl kept the band's name alive throughout the 80s, with a line-up that recorded in Wales with Robert Calvert and one-time bassist Dave Anderson, later the owner of Foel Studios. Two albums were recorded by the band for Illuminated Records, "Hawk Meets Penguin" and "Meeting With The Men Machine", and were subsequently repackaged on Dave Anderson's own DemiMonde label and also by the Magnum Force subsidiary, Thunderbolt (usually credited to plain Amon Düül, just to confuse things). This version of the group has
become known as Amon Düül (UK), as the original Amon Düül II members totally disassociated themselves from it. And John Weinzierl did the same, after hearing the final mix and encountering release problems.

Since that time, two further sets have appeared in Germany, "Experimente" and "Airs On A Shoestring". Only Raw Power's "Anthology", a collection of recordings from the vintage era of the band, is really worth investigating.

These odds and ends which have surfaced during the 80s should not be confused with the markedly superior recordings made by Amon Düül II during their heyday, between 1969 and 1973. However, Windsong's recent exhumation of a BBC Radio 'In Concert' programme from 1973, had done much to restore the band's reputation.

On the live front, Amon Düül II played (at their own request) at the Robert Calvert memorial concert, which took place at London's Brixton Academy on 5th March 1989. Though they had just two weeks to prepare, and hadn't played live for almost a decade, the line-up of Renate, Weinzierl, Karrer and Leopold, plus guests Guy Evans (ex-Van Der Graaf Generator) and Brian Snelling, the group were well received and went on to play a two-hour set in Italy, this time with Falk Rogner in tow.


In April 1992, Amon Düül II went to court in Germany to protect the rights to the group name, after a businessman attempted to hijack it for his own purposes. They won the case, and have now reformed with a line-up of Renate, Karrer, Weinzierl, Rogner, Leopold and Meid. An initial recording session took place last September, although the results were not totally to the band's liking. However, subsequent remixing and overdubbing may result in the material being released. And by the time you read this, the group should have played a gig in Munich (June 9th) and spent further time in the studio.

Though it was always slightly out of sync with British progressive rock, Amon DüüI Il's brand of austere, out-there, acid-rock did admittedly operatic, classical overtones. But no-one should mistake them for a pomp-rock band: their music was much more in tune with the far-reaching experimentation of the late-60s than with their more symphonic contemporaries.

© Noel Jones | Record Collector - 1997

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