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Walter Wegmüller - Tarot CD (album) cover


Walter Wegmüller



3.98 | 41 ratings

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5 stars My apologies in advance for what promises to be a more than usually long-winded review, but this almost mythical twin-disc set presents a daunting challenge. How can anyone truly evaluate such an immense musical journey, especially when the itinerary changes with quicksilver indifference every next minute?

And does it really deserve five-star recognition? On one hand the album was strictly a blue moon novelty project: a kitchen-sink Krautrock stew of haphazard detours, digressions and dead ends. Ringleader Walter Wegmüller has been described by more than one source as a "Swiss gypsy", which sounds a bit like an oxymoron. But it was the same gypsy vagabond instinct that made the album a bona-fide cross-section of counterculture Germany in the early 1970s, cutting a mile-wide swath across one of the most fertile musical landscapes in modern history.

More than that, the album finally realized all of producer R.U. Kaiser's kosmische fever dreams. Over its four sides of vinyl it managed to blend the fuzzy mysticism of "Lord Krishna von Goloka" and the psy-fi rock 'n' roll train wreck of "Seven Up" into a single messy but holistic vision, performed by an all-star cast of Krautrock superstars bringing some of their best stuff to the sessions. If you were wondering what an embryonic ambient guru like KLAUS SCHULZE might sound like playing lead synthesizers in a rock band, here's your answer: more Eno than Emerson, unsurprisingly.

Heck, the project even spawned an entirely separate album: ASH RA TEMPEL's "Join Inn", created spontaneously during a lull in rehearsals.

The extra focus was in the concept: a musical illumination of the Tarot, with each track representing another card in the Major Arcana (no wonder the album stretched to a second disc, otherwise each selection would have been around 90-seconds long, tops). The idea may have been narrowly defined, but the finished album was an embarrassment of riches. How's this for variety:

- The dumb fun of "Der Narr" (The Fool)

- The uninhibited Krautrock cacophony of "Der Magier" (The Magician)

- The holy drones of "Die Hohepriesterin" (The High Priestess)

- The cosmic folk dance and testosterone guitar thrash of "Die Herrscherin" and "Der Herrscherr" (The Empress, and The Emperor)

...and that's only Side One of the first LP. Elsewhere the album spans a latitude of style from the charming, childlike lullaby of "Der Weise" (The Hermit, spoken and sung by Klaus Schulze) to the almost Post-Punk "Die Prüfung" (The Hanged Man). The latter opens Disc Two with an unexpected barrage of cheesy rhythm machines, odd processed vocals, and broken guitar shards straight off the streets of Manchester circa 1980 (think Joy Division, or at least Crispy Ambulance).

I'm not sure how closely each excerpt interprets its own card: "Der Tod" (Death) is merely a single, ascending synthesizer note, rising into the ether for 80-seconds. But anyone who thinks the Kosmische Kurieres were all just a bunch of stoners with no sense of humor needs to hear the Master of Ceremonies intro to the album (illustrating The Fool, of course). The mock cabaret presentation of each player, in fractured English vaudeville style, recalls something better fitting a GROBSCHNITT gig.

Wonderful stuff, to be sure. But it's all only a warm-up to the encore of Side Four: 23- minutes of arguably the most miraculous Space Rock ever created. Words fail me here, much to your obvious relief, I'm sure. It's enough to speculate that while the tapes were rolling, and the jam was nearing it's final crescendo, riding a tidal wave of Teutonic funk, cascading mellotrons, and Manuel Göttsching's searing guitar licks, at that moment the Cosmic Egg was well and truly fried under the empyrean light of R.U. Kaiser's Kingdome Come, with a side of hash browns added free of charge.

Lacking a proper frame of reference you could argue that the music works even better without Wegmüller himself, that his intermittent orations, declamations, chanting, and occasional pre-verbal groan (see: "Die Prüfung") interrupt some truly stellar psychedelia. But the album really needs to be heard alongside the other releases on the Kosmische Musik label. Unlike Sergius Golowin or Timothy Leary, Walter Wegmüller was far more in tune with the actual musicians under his direction, and vice versa.

STEVE HACKETT would later borrow the same album concept for his own solo debut ("Voyage of the Acolyte", 1975). But no way could an English gentleman-progger from Pimlico embrace the dark necromantic core of the Tarot like a 1971 Krautrocker. Wegmüller would never make another record, and the singularity of this effort (early editions included reproductions of the artist's own hand-painted oracle cards) is only one part of its enduring legend.

The other is of course the fact that it led directly to the infamous COSMIC JOKERS (qv): a misguided attempt by Kaiser to continue the same musical trip. His ploy almost worked too, but given the alarming aftermath of that scandal I'll take a messy classic like "Tarot" over the classic mess of the Cosmic Jokers any day.

Neu!mann | 5/5 |


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