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German Oak - German Oak [Aka: Down In The Bunker] CD (album) cover

GERMAN OAK [AKA: DOWN IN THE BUNKER]

German Oak

 

Krautrock

3.66 | 48 ratings

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Modrigue
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Krautrock inside the bunker

Let's see... A black and white cover art representing a German officer from World War I or II... Track names such as: "Airalert", "Raid Over Düsseldorf", "Swastika Rising", "The Third Reich"... Not very attractive, is it? Nonetheless, despite all this, you'd be unwise not to give this record a listen. Don't be fooled by this repelling exterior, this album is in fact one of Krautrock's best obscure gems, both figuratively and literally.

This first and eponymous release by Düsseldorf instrumental quintet GERMAN OAK features dark extended psychedelic/space rock jamming around repeated main themes. Another copycat of ASH RA TEMPEL? Well... There is a noticeable difference.... In 1972, rarely has a record sounded this dark, claustrophobic, tortured. Like SUBARACHNOID SPACE, but 25 years ahead. The music possesses an unique atmosphere, crafted by the massive usage of heavily distorted and fuzzy instruments, original sonorities, as well as unusual samples for a psychedelic record: falling bombs, air sirens, and even a short extract from a Hitler's speech! Don't worry, the German youth of the 60's-70's developed their own musical genres and built itself against and strongly rejected the values and the political orientation of the former generation. With "German Oak", the band wanted to denunciate the war atrocities and "dedicated this record to their parents which had a bad time in World War II" (as written on the sleeve note). So two opposite worlds collide: psychedelia and WWII. The approach was for sure risky, but the result is pretty interesting and original.

The disc is structured around two long krautjams. After the dark psych introduction "Airalert" appears the main title of the album. Like its title suggests, "Down In The Bunker" was actually recorded in an old WWII bunker. This is truly an unique and impressive experience, both for the musicians, who could nearly sense ghosts of the past while playing in this forgotten place, and for the listener. The ambiance is thrilling, threatening, as a sensation of suffocation, summoning spirits waiting during the bombings or fallen in combat. The drumming reminds PINK FLOYD's "Set the Controls..." at times. A bit monotonous, but easily one of the darkest Krautrock titles of the 70's! On the contrary, "Raid Over Düsseldorf" is more accessible. A lighter kraut/space rock jam with distorted instruments. the sonorities used in the ending section are quite uncommon. "1945 - Out Of The Ashes" is a organ- driven psych outro representing hope and reconstruction.

The 3 bonus tracks included on the Witch & Warlock reissue features are also worth the listen. The two first ones consist in variations around single musical patterns. "Swastika Rising" is heavy and powerful, whereas the psych rock jam "The Third Reich" opens with a short extract from a Hitler speech. More original, "Shadows Of War" is divided in two parts. The first section is almost post-rock, due to its beautiful ambient saturated keyboards, weaving impressions of desolation. Another speech makes the transition for the experimental second section composed miscellaneous sounds.

"German Oak" is an obscure little gem with a surprising thematic, a psychedelic trip into the horrific past, a descent to the abysses of war, a meeting with tortured soldier spirits. There are a few drawbacks: some lengthy passages, a little lack of variety and the poor sound quality. But all these are largely compensated by the dark atmosphere the music delivers, sinister and beautiful, enhanced by unusual sonorities and saturated instruments. Ambiance is the key.

It's a shame this record didn't received the success it deserved, certainly due to the adopted approach, too radical, and the controversial WWII concept. The band has original musical ideas and sounds for its time, that will be more structured in the their next release.

If you don't like long improvisations built around a simple main theme, this album won't change your opinion. Nonetheless, if you enjoy ASH RA TEMPEL, SUBARACHNOID SPACE and extended krautrock psychedelic jams, then "German Oak" is an essential listen! Prepare to go down for an unique sonic experience...

Modrigue | 4/5 |

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