For a band to release one album then disappear off the radar almost entirely is really quite common. How many bands put out one record and break up or just vanish? Thousands by today’s standards probably, kids putting out albums with the advent of easy to use technology and cheap gear to record right there on your computer with a click of a few buttons on a program. But back in the seventies you had to go in to a studio and properly record and when time and money is an issue you do it fast and as cheap as possible!
1974 Germany was now full of bands in the full swing of the “Krautrock” movement from Munchen, Koln to Berlin and Dusseldorf and many other Deutsch cities that had evolved their own style of “Musik Arbeiter” (Music Work) stretching beyond the limitations of conventional sounds and utilizing experimentation to the umpteenth degree. The music was more refined by ’74 by most bands of the day; Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream etc but one band who released just one album and then dematerialize in to thin air was “Sand” with their album “Golem, Ultrasonic Seraphim”. A flash in the pan, dust in the wind, spark from a blown out light bulb was this album and extremely rare and hard to find actual vinyl copies now but easy to get digital versions and well worth it if you want something that’s not even in the park at times and far left field other times. This form of the genre is one of the farthest reaching points of Progressive Rock because it has often been debated as to whether or not it’s actually music at times and when it is, is it even Prog worthy. I say yes to it. It is Prog but the distant realms of the genre, a sub-sub-genre if you will and it’s one of the rarely spoken about facets of Prog and largely forgotten.
Music is clearly in the ear of the beholder and this album tests your limitations of what you consider to be music, nonsense and monotonous noise. It’s not for the lighthearted listener, that is an absolute must express connotation to you the reader. Deutsches Musik Arbeiter or German Music Work is a musical design that is unlike anything else that was out at the time and this album probably didn’t make a blip on the musical radar because by then like mentioned above most bands had now reformed themselves and polished their wares in to a much more organized sense of the word and moved on from the experimental phases of their lives with few exceptions like “Harmonia” and “Faust” who had moved out of the big cities to the countryside to get away from the bad influences of the surroundings and create sounds that would hold on to the now fading style.
Brothers, Ludwig and Ulrich Papenberg along with Johannes Vester formed the band in 1972 and in 1974 made their one album with Klaus Schultze of Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Temple, Go and Eruption fame produced their album for the Kunstkopf Delta-Acustic series of Lps. Perhaps to reignite the earlier times of the Krautrock movement but too little too late but an album that would be brilliant to use for an art gallery symposium or when you need to be outside your comfort zone for a while. There are no known live performances of this band anywhere to be found which is sad because it would have been an epically boring show or absolutely brilliant to hear. The album cover somewhat sets the precedent for the music contained in the vinyl on which it was pressed upon and we will now delve in to the album “Golem, Ultrasonic Seraphim” and the world in which it opened up but sadly was shut down just as fast.
The opening track, “Helicopter” almost makes one feel like they just put on the soundtrack to “Apocalypse Now” from 1979 with the swirling sound of Helo blades spinning. The oscillators become abundant very fast and sounds of of dive bombing guitar notes drop in for a very psychedelic experience of uncertainty right from the word “Go”. The guitar makes passageways of going up and down the neck within a few frets in a hypnotic trance like formation almost transcendental like. Vocals are more spoken mantra type words that bound in a mystical impression of a mad prophet on his latest campaign to convert the weak minded to some far off desert cave to nowhere. It has the beginnings of the Prog recipe but lean a bit more on the psychedelic side of things right now. Around the nine minute mark it alters the timbre to a more dirge like singing procession with swirling oscillator effects and softer guitar transitions between chords and individual notes. This refrain remains until the song’s fade away ending four and a half minutes later.
I have seen both titles to this album and not sure if the Ultrasonic title seems to be the renaming of it when it was re-released with bonus tracks. Either way we’ll use both titles for the sake of this blog. “Old Loggerhead” another drum-less song that swings tempos midway through and has another hypnotic guitar riff with spacey effects overlapping this ten minute trip through the mind complete with another prophetic vocal track. Opening the album with two lengthy spaced out tracks is a pretty Prog move. Gutsy and bold to do as well and they both follow the recipe in regards to length, tempo/timbre changes, offbeat structure and the sans drums and bass approach making it a new concept in the sub-genre of Prog. “May Rain” sounds a lot like early Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd from the Piper at the Gates of Dawn period with the whirling strings and faster paced “Careful with that Axe, Eugene” bass line almost. At half the length of the previous two at just 4:35minutes it’s a nice break from the farthest reaches of space and headspace continuum. An almost nursery rhyme styled song with what sounds like a harpsichord playing as the lead instrument and the vocals sung like a monotone lullaby create a sombre atmosphere adding to the Prog dynamic of the album. “On The Corner” a very interesting hurdy gurdy jive tune that’s almost as if it ended up on the wrong record! A mix of Bob Dylan meets The Pink Floyd meets a group of poetic protesters angry in some Parisian cafe on a Tuesday. Acoustic guitars, bongos, bass and an assortment of percussive bits that back up the twangy vocals singing about being soaking wet on the corner. Classic Prog there, singing about being soaked on a corner, where that is who knows but at this point it wouldn’t matter because the corner is anywhere, everywhere. The Earth is my sidewalk!
“Sarah, parts 1 & 2” sounds more like a horror movie soundtrack than anything else. The repetitive bass line and haunting synth sounds over top with a chilling vocal calling out the name “Sarah” throughout makes it a headphone dream for those who wish to go further than before with the audio head acoustic experience. “Part 1, Passacaille” goes until about 6:50minute mark then “Part 2 Per Aspera Ad Astra” begins with the ghostly sounds of what comes across like vocals harrowing their last call to the eternity from the synths as the bass line begins a pulse rhythm and it picks up ever so slightly. The vocals return to relate that Sarah is gone now and is very much an epitaph song that could be done well as a theatrical piece. At 10:33 it fills out the rest of the album closing with the line, “Sarah is gone”. There isn’t a lot of blending to the songs on this record, no double tracks, no instrument solos and pretty much no drums except for some percussion based bits found in “On the Corner”. This is a bare bones 8-Track recorded album and certainly retains some strong Prog elements within it. Krautrock being a sub-genre of Progressive Rock often comes at the cost of not being recognized or heard and this is one of those obscure records that applies here perfectly. Certainly Prog in the sense that it’s not Pop music, not classical but more a Brothers Grimm escapade feel to it, if not, definitely a dark album of great Kunstkopf-Stereophonie (Artificial Head Stereo Sound)
THE BONUS TRACKS/UNRELEASED ALBUM OF 1975
The re-release of the album in 1996 came as a double Lp with a load of bonus tracks that were written and recorded by Johannes Vester in the 70’s. These songs continue along the theme of the first album but were never released for some unknown reason but were recorded in 1975 in Berlin, Hamburg and Wilster with Manfred Schunke as the producer who Johannes met in 1973 in Berlin. These songs were more personally written and contained more musicianship to them involving added musicians and instruments.
With more lyrics and shorter songs, tighter arrangements and structure, the bonus tracks provide a break and an alternate mix to the original record of you split it up between long and short songs. The opening track, “From Born at Dawn“(aka Vulture part 1) eludes to the “Golem” Lp with just a synth pulse and oscillator reverberating for five and a half minutes. “Doncha Feel” finally opens up the troubadour style of singing and drums are first heard here. Semi-acoustic Prog with shift tempo/timbre timing and tonal changes making a favourite of mine and glad it got released eventually. Interesting thing about the song not being released until ’96 is that the chords for when the song’s titled is sang the chords are practically the same as Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath” from 1971’s Aqualung Lp, (Em, G, D, C). It’s six minutes of Proggy goodness. Like a lot of German bands the lyrics on the original album and the bonus tracks are sung in English.
“Moonlightlove” falls back to the Syd Barrett era Floyd/solo compositions with a sweet little acoustic refrain in the innocent lullaby Syd style of songs. “Burning House” continues on with an almost punk like bass line but in a softer sense as it carries the song until the acoustic track comes in over top. A short two minute jaunt of a song about people running out of their house that’s on fire. Simple, effective and straight forward, done. “Vulture Part 2” slips back in to the original album feel with swirling sounds and electronica delights that would make early Kraftwerk fans drool. In the essence of a follow up to Kraftwerk’s “Russtock Gondelero” from 1971 this piece is a robotic dream coming in at just over 14 minutes. “May Rain (1)” a truncated version of the original at half the time except this version has more prominent vocals. “Desert Storm” a ten minute plus track about being stuck in a sandstorm with a very Middle Eastern guitar track. Groovy Prog-like track with some changes in it to give it some diversity and swing to it. Following the Prog recipe nicely by utilizing different tonal sounds from different parts of the world and creating a song that sounds like it should have come from Egypt etc.
“Sarah“, “Old Loggerhead” and “Helicopter” all make reappearances on the bonus album longer than their original selves but aren’t much different than they were in ’74. At almost 20 minutes, “Power Station” is a whirling Dervish acid trip in to sound and experimentalism. This track could easily be another one of those theatre soundtracks to a dark play or as an opening track with a very interesting film backdrop. Most of the instrumental music on the two albums are easily “film noir” soundtrack songs; dark and elusive with uncertainty and unknowing tension releasing a fury of sounds and electronic mayhem all over at any time. As the last song in the bonus album it returns to the original album’s style and sounds and shuts down just in time for you to realize it’s 2016 and you’re on earth.
“Sand” is truly a forgotten hero in the Krautrock sub-genre of Prog and the album is definitely one you should have for just such emergencies in case you need to go somewhere really far in to the depths of your mind or explore areas you don’t know about. Their apparent YouTube channel claims new music for 2016 and has two videos up as of now but the music isn’t much like the 70’s experiments that were recorded in dark basement studios on Caludiusstrasse in Berlin. Highly recommended and definitely enjoy this great album and the bonus tracks as one of the long lost records of Germany’s experimental scene.