During high school I had two best friends from Germany, one from Hungary, and several very nice European girls from the Eastern Bloc were close allies. They were the friends of mine who gave me courage and helped me to survive, but my story starts even before then.
When you are growing up in any well-informed family or in any country where the information is even in the ether you know that Germany has a very dark past of being ravaged along with the rest of Europe by two pointless, horrible World Wars which killed millions and left the country torn up enough for Hitler to rise and then torn up enough after Adolph for a new dawn to rise in the youth of that Nation. Kids who grew up post WW2 in England and Germany and also America, in fact most European/Anglo countries, would soon form a massive underground movement in the 1960s- the counterculture.
There was still plenty of hostility towards this "counterculture" to spread a better, more forward, brighter path for the future whilst retaining the knowledge of the past even during my formative years in high school. I had become a target by my Sophomore year. I wanted to know and I wanted the facts with no lies thank you. I was open for the first time in my life and something had come into my life I found very haunting- Soldiers. I always thought soldiers were taboo, even bad during childhood, but things would change come hearing an album called Lonesome Crow- the first by a young German band called Scorpions. The march-like rhythms and waves of screaming pounding bashing war-like onslaught combined with dark reflective passages stirred up images of what the past had held for kids at my age then of 15 and a half or older. I started to subconsciously associate this dark and menacing album with images of World War 1 and World War 2. The lyrics were pained to put it mildly, yet this creeping menacing album had me floored by it. I could feel the boots marching of every soldier in every nation- now and today. It was like this album of aural apocalypse had brought the human side of war into my mind and heart with the world exploding all around me. Ages later I still can see the same images in my head that I saw when I heard the album the first time.
Having German and European mates was a good thing for me. David (real first name Balaz) Toth, an intellectually gifted Hungarian, was a very open person who I felt comfortable talking to about things other kids didn't ever hear from me. During our period of best friendship there was also a German acid sampling eccentric named Lorenz "Lorenzo" Westewig and I considered him a really special person too. The 3 of us knew that the book by Erich Maria Remarque ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT was on the horizon, but I never knew the impact it would have on me. When we were assigned the book we were warned that it was a really depressing and really "heavy" book and after watching both film versions many times since the subject is very frightening, unbelievably tragic, and very upsetting. During the time I read the book I immersed myself in the characters, especially Paul Baumer- the lead. A young, loving, intelligent boy thrust into the horrors of battle on the Western Front in World War 1. As I laughed at his laughter, suffered with his pain, and at the end cried for an hour over his death I felt that I was also in a war zone. It could have been a brief flight, but no not with me. I wanted to know more. I've learned over time the truth about musicians and the truth about soldiers. We share similarities yet you will always surprisingly find the musicians to be the more narrow-minded ones. A soldier is a young and eager man usually trying to escape from poverty to make something of himself, but if he succeeds and lives to tell of his experiences you won't catch him turning into an egotistical self-absorbed person. Musicians are young and eager people who in the case of especially European (and that includes England) youths are looking to learn from the history of their nation and at the time of Apocalypse's one off and the start of the Scorpions career another war, World War 2, was a subject that would burn like red blood through their songs.
The Germans for the first time could point the finger at other countries- namely America for Vietnam. Most of these musicians would if they went on forge a career of anonymity or in the Scorpions case change their lyrical sentiments to more romantic ones. When a musician grows older he has a soul that is trying to erase his formative youthful years. When he grows old chances are he won't be rockin' or sockin' the truth about all those mysterious foreboding songs to you anymore.
With the horrible war in the Former Yugoslavia raging endlessly I was, we all were, very upset. Here was the country where World War 1 had started and as I looked around I saw no changes in culture or human nature at all there. Genocide and young lives being destroyed again. I wanted to go over there and fight the Serbs, but I wanted my weapon to be loudspeakers. I certainly was having way too much fun to want to go off and get shot.
As I have aged my anti-war yet Pro Soldier beliefs are held more firmly now than ever. I know and have spoken to many British and some other soldiers and I find that history, their history, is one that lives on in a nation and in its music long after all other adolescent fantasies have died. Prepare to be shocked at some of what I reveal to you in this music, and strap yourself in coz this is a hard ride down a hard road.
German hard psychedelic rock came roaring into existence in 1969 and stayed there for nearly over a decade. The bands all tended towards ominous names to match their ominous music and they all grew up in the shadow of World War 2. Bands like Armageddon, Apocalypse (whom I will discuss in full here), Scorpions, Nite Sun, Wind, and Gift (which is German for "Poison" actually) explored the themes of war, violence, and apocalyptic sentiments through their music to varying degrees of success. While Gift assaulted us with a barrage of noise over 2 full length albums in an attempt to make us believe that life was really damned miserable the God Like bands of the early German underground movement would have to be Apocalypse, Scorpions, and the first Electric Food LP. British bands were heavily leaning towards dark lyrics about war and disenchantment as the war in Northern Ireland would go from a bad start in 1969 to a 33 year nightmare for that country, but some of these bands were just looking for an excuse to write sensationalistic nonsense. In England there were thousands of young bands and most of them were brilliant thank you, but Germany was the country where classical music was a proud tradition so for lack of a better term "symphonies" came easier to the young German bands.
Apocalypse were the same boys who made the pop psych classic Kannibal Komix (their spelling not mine- clever ain't it?) album and who after Apocalypse went on to Megaton with all 3 bands involving the ex US Army SGT Les Humphries who had turned to music as their Svengali. Les Humphries was a strange character about whom I don't know a whole lot, but with Enrico Lombardi who was a group member and later producer Gerd Muller in the line up they wrote and recorded the Apocalypse album- one that more than lives up to the threat it promises on the cover. The cover shows a sky turning all kinds of weird colours with at the bottom 7 multicoloured stars turning into barbed wire and holding a bleeding cut off human hand. The back cover shows a background collage and demonic beasts writhing in tortured shapes. If this sounds like you can't stomach it already and if looking at it makes you think it will be too "Heavy" for you the music outdoes the cover!
Dispute goes on about whether Apocalypse was recorded by their producer Giorgio Moroder in 1969 or 1971, but I would compromise there and take my guess as 1970. However you slice it, it was really early and predated the similarly tortured Lonesome Crow. "Life Is Your Profession" begins with a heavy bass drum or timpani being bashed while a choir from Hell in Gregorian madness chant in the background before blasting guitars and aggressive vocals which evoke England's Open Mind or followup band Megaton but way trippier come in. The chorus uses very classical choral harmonies in the background and this is a recurring theme throughout the album. Lyrically, it sets the tone of violence, menace, and destruction that is prevalent throughout the album. "Let It Die" follows and features guitarist Jurgen Drews (now an infamous trashy cabaret singer in Spanish Malorka [sic]) singing in a soft depressed voice in a sitar-led doom-ladened dirge. The weaving sitars, sparse instrumentation, and creepy menacing harmonies have me feeling like I am lying shell shocked in a trench in World War 1. It's hard to believe that such a horrible sensation could also bring a really vibrant love of live and love of the song and album in this very dark music. "Patricia" is the longest track on the album and here the Second World War comes right straight into your living room when you play it. For some of the most tortured, menacing, dark music this album has a staggering amount of power and life. There is enough imagination and drive here to make it THE BEST HEAVY PSYCH GERMAN RECORD AND A WORLD CLASS MONSTER. "Patricia" has quiet and plaintive, wailing sections in its epic structure and features some really monstrously heavy guitar parts. After the soft verses and screaming blasting choruses the song changes into an out of tune guitar and even more out of tune thickly accented vocal about "Too Many People That Cry." The vocal sounds like he's just been shot and then he says "Picture this just 20 years ago" and the war comes out of the disturbing past right into the song with the sounds of chanting, marching, freaky Ghost Like hordes of the damned attacking your mind before a scorching guitar solo hits you so hard you don't know what has just transpired.
Classical influences from Bach to Wagner figure heavily throughout this album. Side Two is more short song oriented and for the first 3 tracks ("Milkman," "Try To Please Me," and "Pictures Of My Woman") the music is much more of a freaky Swinging London psychedelic hard rock sound that I would liken to both The Koobas and the previously mentioned Open Mind or Dutch classic the 2nd album by The Shoes (Let The Shoes Shine In- a new wonderful discovery). There's even a hint of the craziest songs on the July album here, but even more twisted. Dark, doom concerns continue and add to that sexual aggression, wry humour, and unpredictable song structures that seem to be there just to explode to create a psychedelic vision of complete loss of connection with the real world. Yet the world is real that is described in here, alright. They grew up looking at desolation everywhere and here it inspires musical brilliance. "Linda Jones" is about a very plain, self-pitying girl who commits suicide with a Gas stove and is an obvious nod to The Beatles. After all, who had to conquer Germany before they could conquer the world?? The, uh, er, that is BEATLES. The Fab Four had changed music forever and Apocalypse are undoubtedly sincere in their paying thanks to Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr here.
Compared to what followed it the closing track "Blowing In Blow" is even more terrifying than "Let It Die" which is the second scariest track here. This could be any freaked out soldier in any pointless war. "I Think I'm Going Back To Things I Know So Well/Of Muddy Covered Leaves And Broken Bomb Shells" is the main lyric. Every demonic effect and trick including the kitchen sink and both WW1 and WW2 explodes in an ominous attack of screaming mania. This makes Amon Duul II or even the unrelated Amon Duul sound like nothing! The hard rock song semblances hold every track on this album that rocks together and the occasional pop hooks and strength of belief hold the freakiest parts of the album together. Ironically this album was the soundtrack to a film called Wunderland Der Liebe- Wonderland Of Love- Harldly!
By the time of my second and final full onslaught in this mini-novel rock opera Lonesome Crow by Scorpions Germany held enough musical talent to carry that nation for the next decade easily, but there was always something special about Scorpions. Here the classical and choral influences sound like Apocalypse meets Uriah Heep while the main star is 15 year old guitar wizard Michael Schenker. For the first half of his career Michael may have well been the best guitarist in the world. He was already an innovator on this debut album for him. His molten classically inspired licks and riffs also have a bluesy Cream like undercurrent and the whole album is built around frightening images being brought to reality by Klaus Meine's wailing over the top vocals. Meine would never lose his touch. As time went on he would still show a real knack for melodic phrasing and all out venomous screaming when needed. The Scorpions can lay claim to a fact that no other German band can- they conquered the world of not just hard rock, but as time would go on the Pop Charts worldwide. As I have said before about musicians most begin with an entirely different mindset than what they end with. Nowhere is that more relevant than here. "SUN IS DRYING OUT MY BRAIN!!!! AND SMILING RECOLLECTIONS ARE MY PAIN!!!! I'M GOING MAD!!!!" screams Klaus in the opening track aptly titled "I'm Going Mad."
Dark shadowy vocal chants, Klaus sounding uninhibited in his rage to the point of being possessed, and some more melodic moments form a tapestry of fear, decay, and teenaged angst never equaled since. Songs like "Leave Me," "Inheritance," "In Search Of The Peace Of Mind," and the over 13 minute title track do exactly what Apocalypse do whilst bringing it more up to date- this is post war flashing right back into the Hell of the War. Even in the quiet sections there is a lot of real pain that you can feel and when they explode into screams and violent guitar solos it takes you so far out of your own cozy world that you become one with those who suffer in every war and every form of oppression. I will never believe in war, but I do have my fascination with some pretty dark music that obviously came out of the huge hole left in a Nation's conscience by its systematic destruction of youth. The Scorpions were really young when they made this, as stated Michael Schenker was a 15 year old prodigy, but we've probably all had dreams that flirt between heroism and tortured darkness and that is where this is coming from. The terrorized subconscious is unveiled as if by musical exorcism. The demons of troubled young people's hopes and fears comes to life through the music. It's far from the commercial hard rock of "Rock You Like A Hurricane" and closer to the more streamlined heavy hard rock/melodic sound of In Trance- yet much, much more disturbed. On first listening to Lonesome Crow I was knocked cold by how heavy it was. It would take a few spins back in that distant winter of 1991, but through the years its remained a favourite- along with Apocalypse Germany's best.
Also well worth checking out are some fantastic British underground dark themed bands of this era. The British would often be more soulful, more melodic, and more private than the all-out open-everything-up of the Germans, but they gave us the best inspirations for worldwide hard heavy progressive rock with Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and many others. One of the very best British albums is Still Life's only release on the very collectable Vertigo Swirl label where some pressings were released in Canada in a thick but exact same sleeve. Whilst the picture of flowers topping a rotted out human skull is tasteless the music is very soulful, very emotional progressive/psych rock that I will unveil for you in its brilliance the next go round.
The whole world was acknowledging things, waking up, but throughout my entire life I've found that period of realization to be long dead and gone to most people. In high school I was physically and emotionally attacked for nothing more than speaking my mind and being myself. I stood for love and openly emotional sympathy towards those thought to be beneath me and that had me shot down. I kept on fighting, though, and the more it went on the more of a war zone the school life became. Kids turned to drug and alcohol abuse while I watched some of my best friends destroy their lives tragically. Watching All Quiet On The Western Front in especially the colour version with Richard Thomas as Paul Baumer I wish I could have saved his life as his destruction I've missed emotionally/figuratively by a hair many times. Life is frightening and not far from overpoweringly violent sometimes- hold on and face your fears- give love to anyone who needs it and remember that music is the ultimate in unleashing unchained aggression- not war where millions die needlessly. My closing words are Music and Peace to you.