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Ikarus - Ikarus CD (album) cover




Eclectic Prog

3.85 | 71 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
4 stars IKARUS was a fairly short-lived band from Hamburg, Germany and only delivered one album in the midst of the early progressive rock years but stood out in the ever growing Krautrock crowds by having developed its own distinct sound. The band itself had its roots in a cover band called the Beatique In Corporation founded in 1966 and despite the members mostly having been classically educated, specialized in covers ranging from Elvis Presley to Tom Jones. BIC had its change in musical direction after winning a competition that found them included on a compilation titled "Pop & Blues Festival '70" on MCA Records and after that honor the sextet that included Lorenz Köhler (lead vocals), Wolfgang Kracht (bass, back vocals), Jochen Petersen (acoustic & electric guitars, alto & tenor saxes, flute, clarinet, back vocals), Bernd Schroder (drums, percussion), Manfred Schulz (guitar, lead vocals, back vocals) and Wulf-Dieter Struntz (organ, piano) would change the band name to IKARUS, however this version of the Greek mythological legend failed to soar so high before crashing.

While the German prog scene was unapologetically going its own way apart from the rest of Europe, certain bands like IKARUS were more in tune with the British scene than say with Can, Amon Duul II or other early bands like Xhol Caravan. Instead of long atmospheric nosedives into the world of psychedelic freakery, IKARUS was more about tight-knit instrumental interplay that crafted classically composed blues rock sounds into sprawling progressive behemoths with jazzy drumming and woodwind sections to conspire to create one of the most eclectic sounding albums of Germany's early progressive rock scene. This eponymously titled debut and sole album contained a mere four tracks but each stood apart from the other and at times makes you question if it's really the same band from beginning to end which showcases the eclectic musical mastery of IKARUS and its inclusion of highly trained musicians who finally had the chance to leave behind the simplicity of 60s pop covers and show their true talents with their own exquisitely designed composiitons.

Like many bands of the early 70s timeline, IKARUS had one foot firmly planted in the late 60s sounds of psychedelic rock and heavy psych with newer 70s elements of hard rock, jazz-fusion and the symphonic prog that was emerging in the UK. The opener "Eclipse" straddles on for over 15 minutes but is subdivided into the suites "Skyscapers" which takes on a heavy bluesy rock guitar riffing style augmented by a domineering organ, flute, ballsy bass and energetic drumming bombast. The track takes on some early Led Zeppelin characteristics in the guitar department and as well with the vocal style of Lorenz Köhler whose singing is probably the weakest link on the album but isn't actually that bad once you get used to it after a few listens. I'm not sure exactly where suite one ends and the second begins but the track takes a roller coaster ride through various movements that include acoustic guitar and heavier rock alternating and eventually culminating in a killer freaked out organ solo in the middle. The track with its somewhat funky bass groove is also the easiest composition to grasp hold of before the complexities of the following three takes many more liberties.

"Mesentery" is a huge improvement and displays a connection between the English band Marsupilami with its energetic zigzagging complexities in compositional prowess along with some of the organ and mellotron sounds that got the band often compared with Van Der Graaf Generator but the band never gets into those kinds of musical sophistication and despite being more disciplined than most Krautrock bands still favors the desire to find themselves into sprawling jams. The mid-section provides a strange psychedelic breakdown with guitar slides, angular drumming patterns and comes off a bit as the weird part of Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love." Next up "The Raven" which finds a much more upbeat jazzy swing ushering a series of alternating sounds with some resembling a more jazzy psychedelic pop of The Doors with a Santana type of percussive business and a stealthy workout of progressive time signatures via the choppy bass and guitar riffs. This second track to exceed the 10 minute mark begins on a lighter upbeat mode before turning into a dark frightening otherworldly mix of Krautish kosmische freakery and heavy organ driven heavy rock outbursts. The track is based on a poem by Edgar Allan Poe. Some of the compositional structures are super strange.

The finale "Early Bell's Voice" is the most obvious with its connections to the world of classical music as a piano roll begins before the organs and mellotron sounds accompany it. The sax and drums follow and the track moves on to display some amazing instrumental interplay that brings some of the works by Catapilla to mind. For those who have found the 2015 remastered version of the CD in their collection like i have then you will be treated to an unreleased 15 minute live bonus track titled "Sunwave." While it doesn't match the majesty of the original four tracks, it does provide the listener with some context of how IKARUS evolved from a rather ordinary cover band and found itself climbing the ladder of the psychedelic 60s rock scene only with more complex compositional arrangements that would eventually emerge as the totally coolness of this debut album. Despite a tour of West Germany with label mates Wind and Tomorrow's Gift at various progressive rock venues and the chance for a contract with Metronome Records, it seems the members of the band had greater aspirations and the band broke up soon after this album was released. Most notably Jochen Petersen was a producer and he would go on to produce albums by Novalis, Tomorrow's Gift, Blonker and Thirsty Moon as well as working with Achim Reichel and Randy Pie.

The sole album of IKARUS is one of those intricately designed albums that was ahead of its time much like the music of some of its British contemporaries like Marsupilami, High Tide or East Of Eden. Idiosyncratically standing outside of the other German sounds IKARUS was one of those bands that packed a whole career of ideas into a single album and then moved on. With driving blues rock, psychedelic organ and jazz fueled sax and drumming attacks, IKARUS was on a whole other level as far as complex musicianship was concerned and as a result this album needs a few listens to sink in. True that the vocals are the weakest part of this experience but they're not horrible either and at worst ignorable while the majesty of the musical interplay steals the show anyway. While many of the bands were focusing on one aspect of music or another as they wove it into a more complex array of prog rock or jazz, IKARUS on the other sort of had six individually brilliant musicians who could just drift in and out of style and in and out of sync with each other. Sometimes they sounded like they were in their own world and at other times fell into line militantly for the greater good. Definitely one of the most unique early German experiences that has been woefully under-appreciated over the ensuing decades. If you're looking for a true early eclectic experience in the world of progressive rock then this sole album of IKARUS won't steer you wrong.

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |


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