Reviews:


Greg Northrup    6-August-2001 First / Schwingungen / Join Inn / Starring Rosi

First / Schwingungen / Join Inn / Starring Rosi

One of the most formidable of the German Krautrock groups, Ash Ra Tempel were a powerful force led by guitarist Manuel Göttsching, and also included former Tangerine Dream drummer Klaus Schulze at various points. The group was heavily based around Göttsching's fiery guitar work, and created a number of albums that stand as some of the ultimate space-rock classics ever. Their self-titled debut in particular is widely recognized as one of the most monstrous displays of sheer cosmic force ever put to record, while their second, Schwingungen is nearly as good. The third album, Seven Up, is a collaboration with LSD guru Timothy Leary, but is unfortunately supposed to be something of a let down, though I haven't heard it myself. Thankfully, Join Inn is nearly as good as the first two, featuring the return of Schulze behind the drums, although the album would unfortunately be his final appreance with the group, as he went onto a prolific solo career. Göttsching's later work varied between solo albums and those within a group format, although I personally haven't ventured past 1973's somewhat mediocre Starring Rosi quite yet.

Ash Ra Tempel (1971)

Never has the term "monster" been used to more adequately describe an album than in the case of Ash Ra Tempel's classic debut. Without a doubt one of the absolute pinnacles of the Krautrock movement, this album is a thundering masterpiece of unrestrained experimentalism and absolutely searing atmospheres. Ash Ra Tempel is a completely instrumental work, and makes use of furious percussion, droning keyboards and guitars, and masterful use of repetitive tension and dense, mysterious atmospheres before releasing into explosive solo guitar licks courtesy of Göttsching.

The album is made up of two tracks, the furious "Amboss" (perhaps one of the finest guitar freak-outs ever put to record), and the more varied "Traummaschine," meaning "Dream Machine" in German, which incidentally gives a pretty good idea of how it sounds. "Amboss" opens with some droning keyboard riffs before gradually building up behind Schulze's unrelenting percussive attack, and then exploding into a cataclysmic orgy of blazing guitar, crashing cymbals and rumbling bass. The song builds and releases in this fashion constantly throughout its 19 minutes, yet without a second wasted. "Traummacshine" takes its time building up, beginning with cosmic synthesizer drones, after which a repetitive guitar line drifts in. Before you know it, ten minutes have passed, and soft percussive pulses have entered the mix. By then, the build up has become tangible, gradually becoming faster and more intense, above which huge droning echoes rumble through the speakers like howling solar winds. The song builds and releases constantly, with the entire bottom falling out occasionally, leaving only wandering guitar notes or a lone bassline amidst the swirling ambiance. Overall, this album propels the listener into the furthest reaches of desolate space like few others. A clear cut masterpiece.

Schwingungen (1972)

The follow up to Ash Ra Tempel's classic debut sees the departure of Klaus Schulze as well as the introduction of vocals, marking a slight change in the direction of the band. Nonetheless, their style is still tremendously intense and spaced-out, as always focused around the frenetic guitar work of Manuel Göttsching. The vocal style is extremely unique, almost like schizophrenic ranting, and does little to streamline the group's sound at all. The first two tracks are highlighted by this new vocal style, "Light: Look at Your Sun" is creepy, if somewhat sedate, but still introduces the atmosphere effectively. The real masterpiece on this album however, is the impossibly intense "Darkness: Flowers Must Die". Raging percussion and biting saxophone lines complement Göttsching's severe guitar assault. On top of it all are the madman vocals, screaming and ranting through a variety of voice effects and guiding the track through its numerous explosive climaxes. Words fail in attempting to describe the emotional urgency and sheer power of this track, often recalling the finer moments of the first album through its instrumental holocaust, but taking things to another plateau with its own uniquely chaotic approach. "Suche & Liebe" is an exercise in Tangerine Dream-ish ambiance, with heavy guitar effects and droning electronics. Successful to a point, but lacks the fiery guitar style that I listen to this band for. More dynamics such as on the debut's "Traummaschine" would have been enjoyed. Still, Schwingungen is another excellent album from Ash Ra Tempel, a step down from the first, but certainly no slouch in its own right.

Join Inn (1973)

Yet another fundamental guitar oriented Krautrock album from Manuel Göttsching, and one that continues in the same basic style as the first two albums. Overall, Join Inn sounds a lot more mature and developed, yet on the other hand, a tad more restrained. The album sees the reinstitution of Klaus Schulze on drums and the album is structured almost in the same manner as the debut, with one side devoted to a guitar oriented jam, and the second to a more ambient, yet still quite dynamic, extended track. "Freak N' Roll" features a heavy percussive attack and slithering basslines beneath Göttsching's more delicate touch. The song even shows off a slight jazzy sensibility, and overall doesn't have the same deep space vibe as the previous two albums. Instead, its a lot more down to earth, much more mature, and playing is extremely tasteful and pleasant. The intermittent climaxes still rock hard, but don't approach the shuddering heights of the self-titled debut. "Jenseits" is another stab at an ambient, ethereal piece in the vein of "Suche & Liebe" from Schwingungen, and is, in my opinion, a lot more emotional and dynamic. The vocals of Rosi Mueller are quite beautiful and are perfect atop the developing bed of synthesizer and electronic drones and flourishes. Basically, Join Inn, along with the first two albums, are supposed to be the essential works from Ash Ra Tempel, and I certainly haven't been disappointed by any of the three. This would be the final album of the classic lineup, as the group would be reduced to basically Manuel Göttsching and his girlfriend, Rosi, as well as a revolving door of guest musicians.

Starring Rosi (1973)

This album is something of a disappointment for me in light of the band's prior achievements and is definitely quite different from any of the previous albums. Klaus Schulze has departed for good, as has steady bassist Harmut Enke. Musically, the sound here is much lighter, upbeat and slightly jazzy. Basically, every song is written around Göttsching's still great guitar work, with his girlfriend Rosi adding her ethereal vocals on top. One problem however, is that the vocals are in English, which really doesn't work out very well, as they are heavily accented and feature simply embarrassing lyrics. Nonetheless, Göttsching's playing is still the highlight here, and despite flirting with shorter songs and more compact material, it's still very good and displays his avant-garde mentality. His playing is perhaps more mature and tasteful than on any of the previous albums. Still, it's pretty plain to see that Ash Ra Tempel are no longer the same apocalyptic force capable of unleashing the thundering power of classics such as "Amboss" or "Darkness: Flowers Must Die." As long as you keep the group's past triumphs out of your mind, Starring Rosi is a relaxing and enjoyable album, but not something I ever really pull out when I'm in the mood for Ash Ra Tempel.




Eric Lumbleau    13-July-2001 Join Inn / Starring Rosi

Though popularly perceived as the archetypal free-form acid-blitzed kraut power trio (due in no small part to Julian Cope's sycophantic slavering in Krautrocksampler), Ash Ra Tempel were neither its finest proponents (that would be Guru Guru), nor its sole progenitors. Which is not to say that Manuel Gottsching, Hartmut Enke and Klaus Schulze didn't have a hand in some of the period's most potent explorations. When the primal flailing of these space cadets was elaborated on by members of Wallenstein and Witthuser and Westrupp, and, more significantly, twisted inside out by the perverse genius of Dieter Dierks' mixing skills, as they were on the unsurpassed Cosmic Courier and Cosmic Joker releases, the effect could be nothing short of hair raising. With Ash Ra Tempel though, the results are more likely to tickle your frontal lobe than annihilate it altogether.

Comprised of just two lengthy tracks, Join Inn was the final excursion within Ash Ra Tempel for both Klaus Schulze (who left to continue his extensive solo career), and bassist Hartmut Enke (who just left consensus reality altogether, falling prey to mental illness). "Freak 'N' Roll" is a moderately appealing space trek marred somewhat by Gottsching's reliance on bluesy progressions, a predilection of his which managed to sink the previous Ash Ra Tempel disc, Seven Up, entirely for me. Conversely, the former B side "Jensits" is an epic bliss out, with diaphanous trails of shimmering guitar elusively coagulating around Enke's pendulous bass progressions as a variegated tableau of tones from Schulze's Synthi A waft by. Simply lovely.

The dubious reputation Starring Rosi has incurred over the years is, to these set of ears, altogether undeserved. The tightening of focus and coherency within these tracks has led to the besmirching of what, taken on it's own terms is an entirely appealing, though admittedly more low key outing. Underpinned by the new rhythm section of Dieter Dierks and Harald Grosskopf and punctuated by Rosi's inimitable narration, the feel throughout is like a soma-soaked tradewind. Breezy, warm and thoroughly inviting.

All in all, this is pretty essential brainfood for the lysergically inclined, though only after tossing a few sugar cubes in the direction of the Cosmic Couriers/ Cosmic Jokers.

(Originally published in Alternative Press #125, p.108; reprinted by permission)




Tom Hayes 9-Feb-2001 Ash Ra Tempel / Ashra / Manuel Göttsching Overview

Today in internet chat rooms, the neo-Krautrock music fan know-it-all hipster can recite all the details of Can, Faust, Kraftwerk and Neu!. However, the band that really had more to do with the creation of the movement goes on somewhat, but not completely, unnoticed. Ash Ra Tempel were perhaps even more pioneering in the search of experimental music forms from the heyday of the Berlin scene. They seamlessly combined electronics, psychedelia, and rock to the most extreme and radical while somehow interjecting a serene state throughout.

So it is quite possible the most authentic genius is someone who has no idea that he is one. Somebody who shys away from the spotlight and wonders aloud, "What is the big deal? I play guitar, I play keyboards, I play music and I enjoy it." Yet this person is so genuine that his style is instantly recognizable, the most pure a sound can be. This is true of so many great artists that are well-known, but is also true of those fine craftsman that are unknown. Manuel Göttsching is a textbook example of the latter. Every interview he gives shows a gracious man who tires of talking of his past, who is forward looking and wants to show what he still has to offer. But the whole picture displays the life of this great painter.

Germany. 1971. Underground. Those three terms evoke images of the Berlin Wall, intensity, angst, freedom. There was an exciting music culture happening throughout all of Germany at this time with bands like Tangerine Dream, Amon Duul, Guru Guru, and Embryo. All of them were turning their backs on the more well known commercialized style of their American and British counterparts to create something new - something uniquely German. And no band helped define this milieu in recorded music more than Ash Ra Tempel. So perhaps in reality it was three friends: Manuel, Hartmut Enke, and Klaus Schulze (fresh from a similar angst ridden album, Electronic Meditation, with Tangerine Dream) who joined their hearts and souls to play music that interested them. What has to be realized is the environs of the day, the mindset, the intensity, the politics, the change of the Western world as we know it.

Very rarely is a moment so well captured just through music. Yet this is just what happened on Ash Ra Tempel's self-titled debut. From the start, one had to know this was going to be a special affair: A day glow orange cover of the Egyptian sun god Ra which featured a gimmick cover that folded open from the center. The opening piece "Amboss" (Anvil), is one for the ages. Starting with dark sounds that seem like shadows, created only with primitive electronics and guitar, the piece seems on the verge of falling into a black abyss to never return. Slowly the tension builds to a deafening crescendo, and without warning, Klaus Schulze begins his definitive piledriver drumming pattern. What could be possibly more intense and more chaotic? The listener is pounded into submission. Only to be equally mutilated by Göttsching's furious jamming, certainly the most intense, psychedelic, heavy guitar ever recorded. After a few minutes of this sort of violent cosmic blues jamming, there is a sequence of free-jazz drumming and electric guitar polka-dots that just burst into another firestorm, and along comes Schulze even more furious than before with Göttsching and Enke trying to subdue the entire German nation with their blistering guitar work. The Berlin Wall must fall! It doesn't - but certainly the musicians must have. One gets exhausted just listening to it! This 19 minute opus is followed by the exquisite 25 minute "Traummaschine" (Dream Machine). Again, the mood is somber but slowly the sound gets louder. The band manages to achieve an electronic cadence while the guitars and electronics swirl. Hand percussion enters in and Göttsching turns up the fuzz for another biting solo. There is a period of rest and again the rollercoaster begins for yet one more jam. To this day, there has never been an album of music that sustained this kind of intensity for 40 minutes. How they were able to so without a moment of wasted time is a testament to the brilliance of one of the greatest albums of all time.

What followed was no less a masterpiece, though very much different from its predecessor. Schwingungen, Ash Ra Tempel's second effort, is a vastly underrated album even by ardent fans of the band. Perhaps it's due to the absence of Klaus Schulze or that this album never was reissued until the CD age (unlike the others)? The controversy here surrounds John L., Ash Ra Tempel's one and only vocalizer (singer just isn't an appropriate term here). He is, to say the least, the Krautrock movement's supreme example of a paranoid schizophrenic. For those who are familiar with the LSD ramblings of Dawn on Brainticket's Cottonwood Hill, then John L. is her male equivalent. "Darkness: Flowers Must Die" just about says it all. And does John L. say it all! While a steady rhythm section chugs along (not near the intensity Schulze brought however) - there are sax bursts, fuzz guitar flashes, tribal drums, and other phased sounds and noises creating a very edgy atmosphere. Through the chaos, John L. is screaming and anguishing (through electronic effects) about the decay of cities and the Earth. "Flowers must die, flowers must die", "Die, die, die, die ,die..." and all hell breaks loose. Here, Manuel Göttsching pulls off the most angry and concise guitar solo of his career, and at the end, if the listener is not left in a heap in the middle of the floor - well, they're just not getting involved! In keeping with Ash Ra Tempel's wild side/mellow side theme introduced on the first album, the flip 19 minute composition is an exercise in choral, tranquil electronic beauty - recalling Pink Floyd's "Saucerful Of Secrets" at their most cosmic and trippy. An album that should leave one emotionally exhausted. And this is what probably happened to John L. - a figure not to show up again in the annals of Krautrock.

During this period, Ash Ra Tempel were contributors to a kind of cosmic circus, touring around with others of a similar mindset concerning philosophical thought, lifestyles, and music. Seven Up, is the recorded document of this time while in Switzerland. And it may also be one of their more overrated albums. The fame the album has achieved is due in part to two elements: (1) The involvement of drug culture icon Timothy Leary, and (2) the dropping of acid into the band members' 7-Up. While that might sound radical up front, Seven Up is quite tame compared to the first two masterpieces. The first side long montage is a medley of electronics and drugged reworks of pop hits from the 50's and 60's. Unique? Yes. Satisfying? Perhaps not. Side two is a rework of the spacey "Suche and Liebe" from Schwingungen. This version, called "Time," which contains a different opening, is quite good - but not overly moving - and you get the impression the band's ready for bed after partaking in too much alternative nutrition. A much better version of 'Seven Up' can be found in the outtakes and studio reworks found on Gilles Zeitschiff's Sternenmadchen.

We now introduce Manuel Göttsching's lovely girlfriend Rosi Mueller (who previously only had cameos on Schwingungen and Seven Up). Ash Ra Tempel's thirrd studio release, Join Inn, sees Klaus Schulze back in the saddle. On this album he provides less drums and more keyboards than on the debut. "Freak N' Roll" opens the album in typical heavy fashion. Schulze's trademark machine gun drumming technique comes to the fore very early this time - and one would almost expect them to outdo the phenomenal "Amboss" from the first album. But they climaxed a bit too early and had to settle for Göttsching's unique guitar rambling combined with the Enke/Schulze energetic rhythm section to make it until the finish. "Jenseits," however, is Ash Ra Tempel's crowning spatial moment. Here, Schulze shows his brilliance with electronics, laying down a tranced locust-at-night sound while Hartmut Enke defines what a bass guitar can do for space music. Göttsching's guitar just shimmers and flows. But the highlight here has to be Rosi's seductive yet fragile and innocent voice whispering on top. I have absolutely no idea what she's talking about, which adds to the exoticism and mystery for non-German speakers. Another masterwork, completing the trio of the brilliant early Ash Ra Tempel albums (including Ash Ra Tempel and Schwingungen). Afterwards, Hartmut Enke suffered from drug problems, Klaus Schulze went on to solo fame and Göttsching was left with the Ash Ra Tempel name and his girlfriend.

Thus we have Starring Rosi, another unjustly panned Ash Ra Tempel album. Rosi, whose mug adorned two previous albums (and very unflattering at that), finally got the proper photo treatment here. On this album, she looks like the dream babe she probably is. And the music? Well first Manuel had to recruit producer Dieter Dierks for bass duty, as well as the Cosmic Couriers' long time drummer stand-in, Wallenstein's Harald Grosskopf. And so the music is just completely different from the emotional workouts of the previous three studio offerings. The mood is lighter and freer - and it sounds like Manuel and Rosi are having a fun date. The guitar playing shown on the latter half of "Freak N' Roll" makes its presence on "Interplay of Forces" and "Laughter Loving." "Schizo" recalls earlier albums but is sadly too short. Through it all we have Rosi's lovely spoken voice (this time in English) and a little ill-advised singing from Manuel (something he fortunately gave up quickly). Overall a very pleasant and unique album.

Needing a change, Manuel Göttsching began his solo career, though he maintained the Ash Ra Tempel moniker for one more album. Inventions for Electric Guitar was a revolutionary album for the day and is still forward looking almost 30 years later. Creating a sound-on-sound electronic vibe using only guitars and tape loops, Manuel creates a beautiful tapestry of music that is at once intense and yet beautiful. He adds color with vicious solos while the guitar loops are bouncing in the background. Yet another brilliant work - and something entirely different. What a creative mind!

Though released many years later, 1975's Le Berceau de Cristal, a soundtrack to a French film, displays the logical development between the Ash Ra Tempel and Ashra albums. Hooking up with friend and former Agitation Free guitarist Lutz Ulbricht, Manuel continues his exploration of guitar sounds and electronics. Many elements of Inventions for Electric Guitar can be heard here, and the addition of Ulbricht allows for more experimentation and latitude.

With many of Göttsching's contemporaries now firmly established in what was known as electronic music, it was only natural for him as well to continue developing this style. New Age of Earth was the result of his new direction. Featuring primarily keyboards and sequencers, the guitar was now demoted to an accent instrument, though still very effective. The music is particularly beautiful on tracks like "Ocean of Tenderness" and "Nightdust", the latter featuring some startling guitar playing near the finale. This was my introduction to the band, and since I was already a fan of electronic music like Schulze and Tangerine Dream, Ashra's music was easy for me to relate to. However, Manuel's approach was very much different from their brooding works. Ashra showed a lighter touch - one of hope and peace. Though New Age of Earth was originally released in France under the name Ash Ra Tempel, the album is generally regarded as the beginning of a new era known as the "Virgin" years, after the UK label who signed them in 1977. This coincided with a shortening of the name to Ashra. Some have credited Manuel with coining the 'New Age' term to define a style of music, though I'm not sure how historically, much less musically, accurate that really is. Coinciding with this period, Dreams and Desires (another album not released until the 1990's), demonstrates the new style, though with far more guitar involvement.

For his next solo work, Blackouts, released in 1978, Manuel returned to the guitar once more to release his masterwork of the Virgin era. His blend of soulful electric guitar with whooshing synthesizers and sequencers has never been matched to this day. The set of tracks "Midnight on Mars," "Don't Trust the Kids", and "Blackouts" is astounding and Manuel's guitar playing here is hotter than anywhere since the Inventions For Electric Guitar album.

In 1979, Manuel Göttsching once again changed directions. Reuniting with former colleagues Lutz Ulbricht (guitar and synthesizers) and Harald Grosskopf (drums and synthesizers), Ashra presented their version of the power trio. Correlations was the first release of two by the lineup. Once again the mood is light, with bouncy almost funky rhythms, heavy use of sequencers, and of course, Manuel's spirited but rambling guitar. Belle Alliance, 1980's follow-up album by the trio, contained many similarities to the previous effort, though there were some exceptions. "Screamer" and "Aerogen" really were power trio tracks while tracks like "Sausalito" and "Boomerang" were slight improvements on the catchy numbers found on Correlations. This album concluded the Virgin era.

And then silence. For the Ashra fan, there really wasn't any more recorded material to hear throughout the 1980's. The one exception was, E2-E4, released on Schulze's In-Team label and under Manuel Göttsching's own name. A purely minimalistic electronic album, E2-E4 is one hour-long piece with some nice guitar soloing on top. The odd phenomenon about this album was the amount of air time it received throughout Europe. During many trips to Germany, I've heard this album in music and clothing stores and apparently it was quite popular with the sampling music crowd. Maybe not as compelling as some of Manuel's earlier works, it certainly shows his constant presence on the world stage and how influential he really is. In 1989, Walkin' the Desert was released. Yet another approach to music was born, one of a much more experimental nature capturing an almost modern classical motif. Once again, long time collaborator Lutz Ulbricht was on board to help out.

Again, another period of silence ensued until 1998, when not one, but two albums were released. Both @shra and Sauce Hollandaise recall a combination of Dream and Desire-like guitar playing with the minimalist approach of E2-E4. Both make for very nice background music and represent Göttsching's live performances of the era.

In the year 2000 the Ash Ra Tempel moniker was reborn. Joined by long-time colleague Klaus Schulze, the appropriately titled Friendship was released. This is the best release by Manuel since Blackouts and shows that he hasn't lost his touch. The first two tracks, "Reunion" (30:40) and "Pikant" (21:40), have the following qualities: On one hand the listener can hear Klaus Schulze's all too familiar chord progressions that he's been using these past 20 years and both still insist on using some of the old lounge/disco beats that first debuted on Ashra's Correlations. On the other hand we hear Manuel crank up the guitar (yes - crank). So for the first time since the Join Inn era we get to hear the master rave up in the old style. But for the title track "Friendship" (26:30), it's all about Manuel Göttsching and his loud guitar. After all these years and still there is nobody that does it better! It's so refreshing to hear this kind of music again. Even the percussion samples are hot. On that front, it would have been nice to see Klaus blow the dust off of the drum kit and go into insane piledriver mode ala "Amboss." Oh well, we can dream can't we?

So there we have a recap of a brilliant career. One, I might add, that is hopefully nowhere near finished. One often thinks of the great jazzers like John Coltrane and Miles Davis who continued to push the envelope of music, to continue onwards with the exploration of exciting sounds. Where commercial boundaries do not exist, only one's love for imagination and creativity matters.

(Portions of the Schwingungen, Seven Up, Starring Rosi and Join Inn reviews were originally published by Exposé magazine, issue #18, page 26)   




Sjef Oellers 9-March-2001 Ash Ra Tempel

The first Ashra Temple album is my favourite album by the band, because it already defines their music completely, as well as being one of the defining albums of free rock. Fantastic acid rock guitar leads drenched in feedback, wah-wah, phasing, etc., is underpinned with a busy, rumbling rhythm section. On top of that there are washes of disorienting electronics. Heavy parts that sound a bit like Jimi Hendrix on a free jazz/free rock trip are counterbalanced by almost ambient, ethereal parts where electronics play a major role. An anarchistic feel pervades the whole album. Later albums are excellent continuations of the same formula, but for me they never reach the intensity of this classic album.



Sjef Oellers 9-March-2001 Schwingungen

Schwingungen is a must hear album if only for its anarchistic, uncompromising musical statements. The vocals may put off some listeners, but I think the mood on the album is defined a great deal by them. They are very gruff and sung with an almost hysterical intensity. The guitar playing of Manuel Gottsching is great throughout the album varying from heavy, free acid rock style to dreamy parts where the guitar is sometimes so mutated and processed that it almost sounds like a synth or electronic equipment. Still fantastic, but a notch below their first.



Sjef Oellers 9-March-2001 Join Inn

Join Inn sounds like a continuation of the first two albums. The first sidelong track sounds like the Grateful Dead guitar trips on the "Zabriskie Point" soundtrack. The second sidelong track is more of that ambient, cosmic tripping music, this time supplemented with spoken vocals by Rosi, who was the girlfriend of guitarist M. Gottsching at the time. Solid album but nothing that hadn't been done on the first two albums.



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