This is the first installment of Untold Sound’s All-Out Kraut, which I can guarantee is much better in content than it is in title.
Ever since Julian Cope published his iconic Krautrocksampler – a primer detailing dozens of artists and albums, krautrock has gained some well deserved publicity. The usual kraut fare like NEU!, Can, and Kraftwerk are but a small subset of the Kraut world. It wasn’t merely a progressive German genre where artists tested the limitations of available technology. Krautrock is an umbrella term covering any and all rock-oriented music produced in Germany in the 70s, including folk, early drone, psychedelic rock and electronic music. The climate of post WWII Germany was no doubt integral in the development of krautrock, as the desire to break free of oppressive societal standards were voiced through music; stretching common musical practices as far as possible.
While there might be assorted Krautrock tropes – the motorik beat, heavily politicized lyrics, etc., there are otherwise few distinguishing features apart from them being, well, German. Untold Sound’s All-Out Kraut is here to give voice to lesser known kraut gems and oddities. First up, Wallenstein’s Cosmic Century (’73)
Wallenstein are considered by many to be an early symphonic prog rock band as opposed to a krautrock group. Comments like this stem from an incomplete definition of what constitutes a kraut artist. Wallenstein are no NEU! or Can – they’re at a different end of the spectrum.
Initially called Blitzkrieg, frontman Jurgen Dollase changed the name to Wallenstein after discovering a British group was already working under the same name. They put out material into the early 80s, their last release aptly titled Ssssstop – after which, thankfully, they did.
During the one year period between the release of their second and third albums, Jurgen Dollase and Harold Grosskopf became members of the kraut supergroup Cosmic Jokers. They also spent some time working with Walter Wegmuller for his wonderfully inconsistent and hugely iconic album Tarot. These outside projects were cosmic and spacey in sound, qualities that carried over to Cosmic Century, recorded in September of 1973 and released that same year. Dollase and Grosskopf were so enamored by these sounds that Cosmic Century’s album credits cited not Wallenstein, but the Symphonic Rock Orchestra Wallenstein.
Labeling Wallenstein as a symphonic rock orchestra shouldn’t deter you. The great thing about prog – kraut or otherwise, is its extraordinary variation and tendency towards the unexpected. The album itself is rather like piano heavy pop-prog – light on synths, heavy on piano which was contrary to the trend of the day. The song Grand Piano is really a great little number that exemplifies the Dollase’s love of the instrument. Yet often times the keyboards sound out of place. Offering nothing more unique than an ultra-heavy reliance on piano, it’s no wonder Wallenstein always lurked in the shadows of big prog names.
When you consider that many of the members participated on Tarot and some of the Cosmic Joker sessions, Wallenstein is a huge disappointment. It’s almost as if their musical potential was actualized in their work outside of the band. I’d call it their best album, but honestly in the whole scheme of things, that doesn’t mean very much. Also, Dollase’s singing is pretty unfortunate, but easily overlooked (thankfully). However much it seems like I’m bashing Cosmic Century, it really is a great stepping stone into what the world of krautrock has to offer outside the standards.