Review Summary: One of the most important German rock albums of the 1970's
There's something incredibly ominous about the album Ash Ra Tempel
. Its almost immediate in the way it prepares the listener to what is to be expected. In its totality it has a very free-form and organic nature, becoming borderline ambient throughout its run time by not providing any vocals or tight structuring and letting the improvisation take reigns. And while a pitfall of a lot of similar albums is an inability to grab hold of a listener and more so justify what its doing, Ash Ra Tempel
finds no such struggles. Even in its humble beginning, the first few seconds demand silence as soon as a sound is heard without ever offering much to cover this same silence. Like a sudden dimming of the lights in an anxious preparation, there is the need to stay patient for the act you've been waiting for. It takes a good five minutes to really get going and bring its guitar and drums full into the mix, but even the synthesized noises rumbling through the speakers are done in enough taste to sound like the echoes of a massive stone chamber attributing to Ra himself. There is not one second you'd dare to skip forward in the song, no matter how many times these echoes have been played in ritual. In fact, it would be more then distasteful, it would feel sacrilegious.
That is because the album in itself feels like a huge ceremonious gathering. As though something very moving is happening in front of you, there is a sense that the buildup of the first song is leading somewhere profound. The occasional tribal drumming seems to be there to queue a sudden explosion of sorts before slowly dying down behind the whispering effects around them. This repeats a few times enough to tease the introduction of something big, so when the guitar does finally snake its way into the picture, the skill of Manuel Göttsching becomes obvious from the start. Its quite odd in fact that after the first few minutes of sensual foreplay, the electric guitar, for lack of a better term, just flat out shreds when it finally takes off. But this word tends to have a negative connotation with it, and Ash Ra Tempel
prove there can be subtlety in a style of playing often associated with just showing off. Manuel Göttsching caters with some of the best soloing put on record, no hyperbole, as the guitar acts as a centerpiece surrounded in smoke tricks and flaming torches. Its got a bluesy style and tone akin to the solo in Funkadelic's legendary song Maggot Brain, but applies it in a very different context. The licks seems birthed from Eastern and Egyptian tradition, riding on a grooving melody that reminisces ancient culture to even the uninitiated. He plays as hypnotic as a snake charmer giving rise to a cobra larger then life. Sure the incredibly skillful drumming provides a rhythmic march forward ultimately guiding the direction the album moves in, but in the first song of the album its the guitar that the audience is fixed on. The mix of ancient electronics, tribal drum patterns and psychedelic guitar wailing all build into a massive crescendo to end the first track.
The album is divided into two halves, "Amboss" (meaning anvil) and "Traummaschine" (meaning dream machine). The second half of the album relies less on the shamanic guitar of "Amboss" as explained above and delves deeper into the hallowed crypts of the Ash Ra Tempel
. This is the where the foreboding synths take hold, and provide an uncomfortable presence in the more ambient focused track. The melodies are staggered and constantly shifting, building up and dying out in pulsating intervals. It plays out like exploring a barely illuminated chamber, and offers the deepest sense of discovery into the band's sound. It naturally feels as meditative and ghostly as a trip into the self. Here is where Ash Ra Tempel
truly establish their Krautrock sound, and perhaps lay the groundwork for the entire genre. This album was as equally influenced by major Krautrock and ambient acts like Tangerine Dream as it was an influence for them, a dynamic that made the scene as evolving and adaptable as it came to be. Again there is never a need to justify where they are going, in the same sense something as titanic and eerie as the ancient ruins the album reflects need no reason to stay standing; Ash Ra Tempel
is a gem that need not be rationalized.
A common notion is that Ash Ra Tempel
comes off as dated in terms of production. This, however, plays into its strengths and acts as a subtle reminder that this album is indeed very old. Forty years in the past is an immense amount of time especially when compared to the advances of technology along the way, but some traditions are timeless. Its easy to forget that these innovated electronic sounds were created through primitive analog equipment, years before the digital age took hold of this style of music. The album's recording means offer an ancient sound that, although probably not intentional, pays obvious homage to the style the band was aiming for. This dated production even further reminds the listener how relevant the music from the 70s still is today. Post-rock bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor adopt and build on the sound of Ash Ra Tempel
decades after its release, needing little tweaking to fit the sound snugly in the modern age. Its remarkable to realize how long something like this stays accessible alongside cultural evolution, and begs the question of what albums of today will hold up the same.
In short, this album is a trip into its own cover art. It also acts as a great ambassador for the best of the Krautrock movement or even as another stepping stone for someone already familiar with the genre. Perhaps the greatest strength of Ash Ra Tempel
is its sense of wonder and exploration that is sustained for the entirety of its run time. There are very few albums that can follow this style while providing reason to listen to every second of its recording. A highly recommended experience to anyone who finds themselves ready to embark on a journey to ancient lands.