AMON DÜÜL II: WOLF CITY (1972)
Call me crazy, but my guess it's a lion or, at least, a leopard out there on the front sleeve rather than an actual wolf. It also looks vaguely Assyro-Babylonian to me (don't even ask why), which might tie in with the band's vague interest in all things Ancient Near Eastern, already evident in their last title. But, if anything, Wolf City, to me, sounds distinctly more pagan-empire-atmospheric than Carnival In Babylon — and why? Because that old crunch is back.
Yes, second time around, Amon Düül II gets it right. Carnival In Babylon may have made some people (me!) ask the question — would the band be at all able to make the transition from sprawling freakouts to a tighter, more disciplined and restricted unit while still remaining on the «cutting edge», or, at least, still writing good music? It took Wolf City to prove that Amon Düül II were definitely not fading away, not for the moment, at least. Short (a single, 35-minute long, LP), concise, diverse, and complex, it is their finest offering in an «accessible» vein.
I do think it is poorly sequenced, though. By all means, the title track should have been opening the album, setting the mood — cold, stern, unnerving, with one of the band's finest vocal parts, where, for once, the German accent comes off splendidly; not that I am specifically suggesting Nazi associations or anything, because the music itself would make a perfect soundtrack to any movie about any evil empire, be it ruled by Palpatine or Ashurbanipal. From the bizarre opening noises — sounds like a plugged-in electric guitar bouncing off the walls of a deep well — to Renate's paranoid multi-tracked backing vocals, sounding like a flock of scared female slaves scurrying through the streets, it's a minor atmospheric masterpiece. It takes but three minutes to make its point and chain you to the record — so be a good boy/girl and reprogram it to the album-initial position where it rightfully belongs.
Funny enough, that same attitude, two tracks later, is deconstructed and made fun of on 'Deutsch Nepal', where the «Nazi vocals», dubbed over the grim organ melody, are constantly interrupted with the sounds of coughing and sputtering. (Actually, that's a good thing: the melody is so iron-fisted and potentially scary that the band must have felt it necessary to de-puff the proceedings a bit — otherwise, their international audiences might have started paying attention to their Bavarian roots on a more grave level).
Apart from the title track, 'Deutsch Nepal', and the kick-ass guitar intro to 'Jailhouse Frog', however, Wolf City still has plenty of soft, folksy vibes to it. The album's lengthiest track, 'Surrounded By The Stars', is almost entirely acoustic-based, but this time around, it has plenty of dynamics, incorporating American, Celtic, Spanish, and Middle Eastern motives as it moves along, and beefing them up with heavy electric chords where necessary. This is truly «Yeti lite», as opposed to Carnival.
Many sources speak of Wolf City as Amon Düül II's transition from «psychedelia» to «progressive rock». This makes sense, although Wolf City is certainly not «prog» in the ELP / Yes / King Crimson understanding of the term — the backbones of the compositions are far too simple and inexquisite. It is the wide variety, the unpredictability, and the sheer force of these backbones that counts, not their inimitable ways of stringing together incompatible notes and bizarre chords; not to mention the near-complete lack of influence from «academic» styles of music.
Thus, the guitar riff that opens 'Jail-House-Frog' makes it clear that, just the day before, the guitar player had been spinning his Hendrix albums. And when the first chords of the «underwaterish» electric piano complement the acoustic strum of 'Sleepwalker's Timeless Bridge', I seem to discern the melancholic, but amicable mood of George Harrison's 'Isn't It A Pity' — coincidence, perhaps, but just how totally accidental? No, indeed, Wolf City is almost honoured to feed upon the legacy of late 1960s art-pop/rock and build it up from there, colorfully and masterfully. And in doing so, it becomes, in itself, one of the most impressive art-rock LPs of the decade. Thumbs up, with certified approval from the Lord-Mayor of Nineveh himself.
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