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German Oak - Nibelungenlied (1972-1976)


In the strange Olympic summer of 1972, the Dusseldorf instrumental group German Oak entered the Luftschutzbunker, or Air Raid Shelter, in order to record their eponymous first LP. Following in the footsteps of the percussive and organic Organisation and the remarkable Dom, German Oak had every reason to believe that this 3rd LP to be recorded by a Dusseldorf band would be warmly received. Unfortunately, German Oak were not only wrong in their assumptions that locals would embrace their music, but even local record shops rejected all the group's attempts to sell the albums in city outlets. Such was their lack of success that 202 of the original 213 copies were stored in the basement of the group's organist until the mid-1980s, when a thirst for undiscovered Krautrock finally brought German Oak back from the dead.

But what is the sound of a group that was so rejected during its time of recording? Well, imagine a brutally recorded, brazen and ultra-skeletal industrial white funk played with all the claw-handed crowbar technique of the Red Crayola recording their famous "Hurricane Fighter Plane," over which is superimposed the what-instrument-could-that-be rumblings of Gunther Schickert's G.A.M. meeting the Electronic Meditation incarnation of early-T. Dream. That is the sound of German Oak. Imagine Faust's reverb-y schoolroom in Wumme being party to a jam between Riot-period Sly Stone on itchy-scratchy bass and the pre-Kraftwerk ensemble Organisation (specifically "Milk Rock"), without their being formally introduced, and with all the hang-ups that this would entail. Again, this is the sound of German Oak.

It is a strangely skin-of-your-teeth genius. It is a toe-curlingly heartfelt method acting of the most in-your-face kind. In places it's a sort of gormless Gong, even a moronic Magma - a Teutonic tribe standing in the ruins of some Roman temple, playing barbarian riffs on classical instruments too sizes too small. Aerosmith's Joe Perry once said: "When all you've got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." He must have been listening to German Oak.



With German Oak, what seems, after two minutes, to be a simplistic and worryingly trite riff, becomes, after 8 minutes, to be the only real-honest-riff-in-town. Like the legendary death-blues of Josephus' (also 16-minutes-plus) epic "Dead Man", this is music which does not hit you instantly in the face, but is an accumulative groove, building and building on the endless repetition of some bog-standard soul-type "Please Please Please" bass line or rhythm guitar sequence.

There is a remarkable space within German Oak's music, which may have been caused by their ultra-rudimentary playing, or may have been because they just listened ultra-attentively to each other as each player struggled for the notes. But, whatever the reason, German Oak conjured up a mythical sound in the grand Krautrock tradition. And as a quintet without a lead singer, they were a rare five-piece who never got in each other's way. Throughout the music of German Oak, the bass and the lead guitar are frequently mistakable for each other, until the fuzzy lead will slowly claw itself out of the sonic mire of sound and drag itself arduously and inelegantly to the top of the heap. The drumming is often furious and even overplayed, yet it is often the single constant of the group.

Perhaps German Oak hit the nail on the head when they credited group members as the "Crew" and refused to give full names. Such was their sense of space that they often sounded like a trio and actually never like five people. Perhaps, like Can, they worked in pairs and recorded in parallel as opposed to one live performance. But somehow I doubt it. The recording quality and attention to sound separation is far too slack and haphazard. No, I'm sure the reason that the characterless "crew" credit sums up German Oak's attitude best, is because it conspires to make them all sound like the dwarves whose job it was to hold up the four corners of the Viking world-view. Separately they were nothing - together they were everything.

Wolfgang Franz Czaika, here known only as Caesar, is credited with "Lead- & Rhythmguitar". The busy flourishes of insistent drumming are by Ullrich Kallweit, here known only as Ulli "Drums/Percussion". His brother Harry Kallweit, just known as Harry, contributes "Electric bass/voice". This leaves the tail-gunners' places to be filled by the wonderfully-named Manfred Uhr AKA Warlock on "Organ/fuzz-organ/voice" and Norbert Luckas AKA Nobbi on "Guitar/A77/Noises". And, like the simple Amon Duul 1 credits, the friendly nick-names make the group appear even more mysterious and out-of-reach. [...] (source)

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