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Pinguin - Der Grosse Rote Vogel CD (album) cover

DER GROSSE ROTE VOGEL

Pinguin

 

Krautrock

4.29 | 8 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
5 stars Germany's Krautrock scene produced a score of incredibly talented and far thinking bands of great substance, but the decades that have elapsed since the first wave of progressive rock in the early 70s has yielded a scant few champions of the era such as Amon Düül II, Can, Ashra Temple, Grobschnitt and Popol Vuh just to name a few but many more were unsuccessful at all, hardly capturing any attention during the era not to mention in modern times have been seemingly forgotten and if lucky enough to find a repressing of any sort, instantly subjected to the bargain bins. My experience with such bands is that such humiliation is never incumbent on the quality of the product but rather due to the role of lady luck in the vast scheme of elements that require any given musical entity to rise above the crowd. The German band PINGUIN is one of those such bands that despite having more than enough original ideas and talent to pull it off, was buried deep beneath the heap and in the process utterly snuffed out and suffocated before it could even get its feet off the ground. Even to this day, there is scant information on this band but appears to be from the Cologne (Köln) region. The band consisted of seven musicians which included two guitarists, electric and double bass, organ, drums including bongos and tenor sax, flute and even the use of choirs.

The band started as the psychedelic rock band Talix and released one album titled "Spuren" (Traces) in 1971 on the Vogue record label before upping their musical game into the progressive rock world and changing their name to PINGUIN (German for "penguin"). The band emerged at the very moment that the Zebra label which was a new sub-label of Polydor was being implemented for more progressive music and DER GROSSE ROTE VOGEL (the big red bird) was the very first album to appear on the new fledgling label. The album is quite diverse in its sound and unlike most other acts that fall into the vast net that the term Krautrock falls under. The band has been described to engender a more international rock sort of sound that could bring similar organ dominated bands like Frumpy of Faithful Breath to mind that utilizes stunning passages of heavy rock that alternate with psychedelia, jazz and even avant-garde electronica. The album enjoyed one initial pressing on the Zebra label and then was lucky enough to receive a second release on CD by the Minority label which was also short lived and focused on the extreme obscurities of early 70s rock.

PINGUIN were masters at adapting many elements and creating a cohesive mix. All six tracks were written by organist Volker Plitz and because of that fact, are unified by a heavy organ-rich texture that strings everything together so neatly. The band quite skillfully display all the tenets of progressive rock ranging from unpredictable compositional approaches, time signature deviations and larger than life tangents that includes full-fledged freakouts, extended musical passages and bouts with dissonance that take the listener to the brink in a rather truncated period of time before finding resolution with catchy and easy-on-the-ears melodic resolution. The opening title track displays many of the band's carefully crafted songwriting skills. While it begins with a moody organ accompanied by a fluttering flute, the chant-like vocals are interrupted by heavy guitar outbursts and the two styles trade off in an exotic flair before the track becomes a heavy guitar led rocker with a steady beat and melodic march. While the lyrics are totally in German, which for 1972 was becoming rare (and possibly the reason they never extended beyond their borders), Klaus Gebauer delivers them with passion and precision. The track alternates between more progressive and catchy rock segments. Very addictive.

The beauty of DER GROSSE ROTE VOGEL is how each track differentiates itself from the other despite the psychedelic time-revealing organ runs remaining the focus and common thread of the overall sound. "Die Angst" (the fear) follows with a connecting organ run that is calm and placid but is punctuated by a frenetic heavy guitar driven rock segment that cuts in only to have the calm organ dominated part to return and blossom into more melodic developments. When the guitar parts return they display a slight dissonance that turns into a more normal heavy rock run with sizzling saxophone solos by Elmar Kast. "Der Frosch In Der Kehle" (Frog in the throat) begins with more of a folk rock feel even slightly Tull-ish with a beautiful flute run over the rock energetic beat and continues its excursion into a dual guitar attack with the flute smoothing things out. There is a nice organ dominated run before the flute led segment begins once again. The pattern is clear at this point that PINGUIN knew how to alternate patterns quite skillfully and each time a certain segment made its reprise the ante was risen ever so slightly all the while keeping the overall melodic march completely in tact. This track vocally reminds me a lot of the heavy rock / prog attack of Hanuman / Lied Des Teufels band that blended prog with the straight forward German rock scene. Track ends with some cool bongos and percussion outbursts including some intense talking drum workouts.

"Der Blaue Wind" (The blue wind) also begins with a flute but this one is more bizarre as high pitches erupt into an avant-garde soundscape but after a short while it completely transmogrifies into a beautiful melody. The track remains very chilled and as the organ counterpoint slightly elevates it into psychedelia, the vocals and song structure immediately remind me of the Goldring antics in the strange musical world of Gnidrolog which shows just how far PINGUIN's influences ranged. This one may be the most sophisticated tracks in terms of progressive rock with all instruments simultaneously creating interesting sums that when taken into the world of parts constitutes a very cool little spread of sounds uniting for a true cause. The organ runs on this are exquisitely textured to heighten a bizarre tension that clashes with the bass. The track becomes more loose and free form as surreality ensues and becomes ever more unstable. An organ run picks up the pieces and creates a rather pastoral medieval feel. "Die Nachtmusik" (The night music) deviates from the weirdness and creates a catchy rock track that has a very strong guitar driven melody that has a satisfying sax attack. This one in contrast, is very melodic and constitutes the track most worthy of earworm status on the album albeit with moody organ intermissions. Just try to get those sax hooks out of your head after hearing this! The closer "Der Traum" (the dream) is an extremely moody organ dominated chill session that makes use of a jazzy bass line and percussion.

I found this album in the bargain bin for 5$USD. When i looked it up on line, there was hardly any information at all. It was woefully underrated on Rate Your Music. It even wasn't included on Prog Archives, the world's best progressive rock database and absolutely nothing about the band, the history or the ill-fated Zebra label that PINGUIN appeared on. Unfortunately both label and band disappeared as quickly as they emerged and that is the true shame of all of this. As it turns out, PINGUIN exhibited the perfect balance of quirky progressive rock in all its excesses in tandem with highly accessible melodic rock in all its catchiness. The perfect fusion of the avant-garde and the emotional hooks of well performed music. The fact that this band and their one album has fallen in the cracks while countless other bands with tunnel vision have risen to the top seems, well, utterly illogical. While i can concede the limitations of the day and time, a resurrection of some of these long lost classics needs to emerge and while the art of finding long lost classics in bargain bins rarely occurs, i must say that this one was a total surprise. PINGUIN created a type of band sound that i would love to hear about 20 more albums of. There is something about the finesse of how they pull off all the elements that really blows me away, something that very few bargain bin bands have managed to do. While this was love at first listen, this easily went from an instant 4 star album to a buried 5 star treasure masterpiece in my book. Please do give this album a spin. It won't disappoint if you crave the perfect marriage of highly developed progressiveness with more accessible melodic song structures.

siLLy puPPy | 5/5 |

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