Monday, March 4, 2013

Walpurgis QUEEN OF SABA An Idyllic Little Dream From Germany That Takes You To A Strange Land

Most German "Underground" or "Progressive" labels in the early to mid 70s put out an alarming amount of high quality music and the scene was overflowing with great bands from all over that country who all had something a little different from each other to say. Brain had some real winners and some dreadful artists signed to their label whilst the parent distributor Metronome mainly had quality acts whose albums are so impossible to find that most of them are in the "Prove To Me They Really Exist" category. One label with a dismal track record however is Ohr- that's German for
"Ear" of the little German I know and I don't want Mythos, Limbus, most of their other rubbish in my ear and WON'T have it in my ear. With a whole lot of mediocre to bad releases Ohr is a label that most will argue with me about and call Walpurgis second division or something like that, but the last act ever signed to the label before it went under are actually from what I've heard the only essential band on the label. For ages I didn't even know that QUEEN OF SABA was on Ohr and assumed it was on the much better Ohr offshoot Pilz. but it actually is on Ohr and was the last record ever released by the label.
                   -The Prejudice Of American Labels Towards Foreign Acts-
 There were a lot of brilliant bands and artists from across the Atlantic who never got a chance at American success because hardly any European records were put out and properly distributed in America and most British bands that came out in the States were a low quality job done by a supposed major label most of the time that remixed and destroyed the music. There were a few exceptions, however, and I'd say Walpurgis could have been one of them, but they only could have made it on an underground level because of the thickly accented vocals. American labels feared bands from other countries since the days of The British Invasion and the fact that The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, Zombies et all were foreign groups making a huge splash in the States freaked the major labels and the radio stations because not only was the radio filling up with music from British bands, but American bands were adopting the look and sound of their British counterparts. At some point the patriotism turned Nationalistic in our country and then in England they turned Nationalistic during the heavy metal era and tried so hard to have no American influences that bands who had American influences were often tarred and feathered by the press. The rivalry between here (America) and Europe/England grew worse over the years, but certainly didn't start too friendly when bands such as The Zombies or more later on more appropriately The Move either were banned in the case of the former or ignored/kept-underground in the case of the latter. What would later happen was that most of the best American bands wouldn't get heard by any country outside America and the more I look at it they didn't go anywhere even in the US. This was bad enough. Then British and European acts were taken as a joke by American labels or a threat and went nowhere. A few bands broke through, but you can know for sure that by "a few bands" I mean a few bands. I still don't know how Abba managed it- to conquer America, England, everywhere out of Sweden, but they did thankfully.
                 -Walpurgis And Their QUEEN OF SABA One That Should Be Heard By All-
    Most of what happened with British/European bands was that they focused on their own countries and developed a unique sound. Walpurgis you'd expect to be a dark early metal band from their name probably and you'd think of Walpurgis Night- the German equivalent of Halloween. No. Walpurgis miraculously were a part German part Polish band who played very melodic guitar psych with beautiful leads and lots of chiming acoustic 12 strings. Think about the part German part Polish part. This was a "Forgive And Forget" scenario of the best kind between a country that decimated another country and some people from that other country. In World War 2 I have nothing but sympathy for all countries involved except Japan, but definitely a lot of love and sympathy for Germany. Having said that one of the worst atrocities of that war was what the Nazi regime did to the middle and upper class of Poland by killing off all of them. It was dreadful. When the war ended Germany and Poland began repairing their relationship with each other and from what I've experienced you won't find lovelier people than Germans AND Polish. When Poland was taken over by the Soviets some managed to escape to Germany and it is my guess that this is how leader/main guitarist/writer Ryszard Kalemba and 2nd guitarist/vocalist Jerzy Sokolowksi from Poland teamed up with Germans George Fruchenicht (bass), Jan Sundermayer (congas, flute), and drummer/vocalist Manfred Stadelmann to form the short lived Walpurgis.
    The melodically oriented band lasted just long enough for one brilliant one off called QUEEN OF SABA which should be filed under psych, but not heavy psych. It's pretty heavy in places and the dramatic thickly accented vocals are very emotional recalling Aphrodite's Child from Greece or a few other German groups, but Walpurgis have a light and peaceful way of playing their music that invites you in to enjoy it rather than creating a barrage of noise. QUEEN OF SABA is a very rare record and I am very lucky to have it, but I can honestly say that this is also one of the most enjoyable and beautiful records I've heard from Germany. I tend to prefer really heavy German rock, but this kind of easy going acid laced melodic guitar psych is also a favorite music form and there's a little of the heavy Teutonic vibe here and there just to spice things up a bit.
        The first track "Disappointment" oftentimes gets slammed for not sounding anything like the rest of the album, but I love it. Who ever said there was anything wrong with variety!!! "Disappointment" is a beautiful commercial ballad in the vein of Aphrodite's Child and Procol Harum with sad lyrics about a bitter ending to a relationship and emotionally wailing vocals. Jurgen Dollasse from Wallenstein guests on keyboards and Kalemba plays some lovely ultra tasteful guitar. Take Adrian Vandenberg (he's one of THE BEST GUITAR PLAYERS IN THE WORLD) from The Netherlands and slow him down a bit in an earlier era and that's how tasty the guitar is on QUEEN OF SABA. Instead of a self indulgent approach to their music there is so much freedom in Walpurgis's music, so much hope and joy in their steadily jamming flowing music that I have a sense of fulfillment seldom equaled when I listen to their album. There are even a few moments where the guitar is so close to Boston that it's been said by more than just me that Tom Scholz must have heard these guys and ripped them off!
    Walpurgis do something important for the rest of the album. They play laid back melodic guitar based psychedelic/progressive rock without it ever sounding lazy. At times the jams are Kak level and there is a nice balance between peaceful dreaminess and over the top melodramatic vocals. The vocals won't be for everyone as they are thickly accented and very extreme, but I like that. "Hey You Over There" is a mellow rock number with an unexpected nod to hard rock in the middle which is more characteristic of the rest of QUEEN OF SABA than "Disappointment" is and the interplay between the two guitars, flute, and rhythm section is remarkable. There's a lot of beauty in Walpurgis and it makes me really want to hear this record when Spring comes and the weather perks up a lot. Enough of winter! Most German music makes me either think of keeping warm during winter or makes me think of an idyllic country scene from a long distant place and this album is much more of the latter.
     Recently I've been listening a bit to what was my #1 most wanted record Dog That Bit People on vinyl reissue and I honestly have to say that many other British and European bands outshine that album. I love eclecticism in music, but Dog That Bit People despite their high quality are a bit directionless. After the huge change from romantic ballad to a more friendly commercial rock sound there isn't any feeling of a loss of direction rather there is a progress to this music. "Queen Of Saba" the title track is the heaviest track on the record with driving rhythms, wailing fuzz/wah-wah guitars, and exotic lyrics. If you like German rock more than the kind of cosmic rambling stuff and are like me then you'll rate this one higher than most people who like the crap records on the Ohr label which pass for "classic." Forget about Ash Ra Tempel, this is real music. I've never got into that kind of German music or the counterpart from Britain or America which would be The Grateful Dead or something like that, but when this band jam they get out there!
       The guitar work is stellar, virtuosic. The playing is crisp and lively, the production is sympathetic to the music, and the songs are great songs. The only problem is that when Walpurgis sing they do it in what sounds like the more overemotional British style although the vocals never bother me on QUEEN OF SABA. It does have to be mentioned, though. If you love melodrama Spooky Tooth style or more accurately the previously mentioned Aphrodite's Child it won't effect your love of this album and certainly it doesn't detract from my love of it. What may be the problem is soft music with heavy vocals and how that is such a contrasting sound. Personally, though, I'd say the singing is pretty good on the record and on tracks like "Queen Of Saba" it works wonders. Better to be really emotional than sound like a robot.
   "Daily" is a song about the boredom of every day life and for a topic that has been covered a million times there is a beauty to the song which makes it more poignant than a lot of other tracks written on the same subject matter. The song, as most songs about life do, begins with the day and ends with the night, but the vocals are much mellower and this would be the 2nd softest track on the record. "Daily" has some nice acoustic guitar and features another great contribution from Jurgen Dollasse.
       Side Two contains just two songs "What Can I Do (To Find Myself?)" and "My Last Illusion" which feature the longest instrumental passages of any songs on the album without going into pseudo cosmic rubbish. "What Can I Do (To Find Myself?)" is based around soaring guitars and melodramatic vocals and sounds like it is about the problem of not knowing where you really belong or even who you are. Back when I was a teenager there was the true side of me that I showed every day and there was also the true side of me that was kept hidden and an at-that-time frightening to me secret. I couldn't admit my homosexuality or a few other things that were key components to myself. When I hear this song it sounds very close to how I felt then. Walpurgis are sympathetic band. They aren't pompous or bloated or arrogant. The vocals, as dramatic as they may be, are suitable to the level of emotion in the music. "My Last Illusion" is a beautiful song with very sophisticated instrumental passages and great jams that take up most of the song and will take you to a beautiful place. Think about the world. Think about other people. Think about yourself. Be your own true person, but don't be selfish and snub potential friends. I had some of my best friends become best friends just through my generosity towards them and the huge amount of that which they gave me in return. Walpurgis make me happy and I know that may not be what you expect from a band called Walpurgis, but life is full of surprises. This is one of the best German records and since a M- copy is around $700 I got a VG to VG+ one for way less and it sounds great. That would be the best way to hear Walpurgis as the reissues typically don't get the job done properly. Turn this one up and you can lay back and relax without going to sleep. Walpurgis made a great melodic album that needs to be heard by everyone.


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