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Novalis - Novalis CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.79 | 175 ratings

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4 stars The flipside of the Krautrock coin in the 1970s was the more benign sound of mainstream German Progressive Rock, and this fondly remembered Hamburg quintet was a model of its kind. Their self- titled 1975 album was actually the band's sophomore studio effort (after "Banished Bridge" in 1973), but this was where Novalis found its voice, and after some critical changes in personnel (adding an electric guitarist; subtracting an English-language singer) it might almost have been intended a second debut.

The group coined the phrase 'Romantic Rock' to describe their sound, but the music was more or less synonymous with the Classical / Symphonic Rock template already in vogue at the time. It's a style that may not have aged well, and never earned the highbrow retrospective praise reserved for the more subversive Krautrock of CAN or FAUST. But Novalis performed its own act of cultural protest when they scrapped the English lyrics already prepared for this album, henceforth singing exclusively in their native tongue.

Language issues aside, the band was still heavily in debt to its English role models. Thus the obligatory Hammond organ jam (shades of early KEITH EMERSON) briefly galvanizing the otherwise circumspect "Wer Schmetterlinge Lachen Hört", and the eerie but effective Space Rock of the aptly titled "Dronsz". The latter track distinctly recalls "Meddle"-era PINK FLOYD (Nick Mason and Novalis drummer Hartwig Biereichel might have been twins separated at birth), but with a decidedly Teutonic chord structure and instrumentation.

Elsewhere Anton Bruckner's 5th Symphony gets a lush cosmetic facelift in "Impressionen", and the late 18th century poetry of Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenburg (alias Novalis) is borrowed for "Es Färbte Sich Die Wiese Grün". You'd never guess from the mouthful of a title, but the words are integrated so seamlessly into the song that they might almost have been intended as lyrics, two centuries prematurely.

Clearly this was a band looking backwards to the past for its inspiration. These boys weren't about to join the counter-culture demonstrations of their Krautrock compatriots, but the band's best albums (including this one) still hold plenty of residual nostalgia value, especially to those of us lucky enough to have heard it new in 1975.

Consumer postscript: the 2004 Revisited Records CD includes a live (and longer) bonus performance of the album highlight "Impressionen". Sonically it's a bit rough around the edges, but unlike the more polite, keyboard-centered studio version it features more of Detlef Job's blazing guitar work, cranked to maximum amplitude.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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