This album foreshadows Grobschnitt's later symphonic prog style (featured on Rockpommel's Land), but also has a hard rock element. The studio version of the legendary "Solar Music" suite is also featured on this album, and has an improvisational and unstructured air to it.
The album starts off with an extremely bizarre, incomprehensible monologue by someone with a heavy German accent (I think it is the drummer). This basically sets the tone for Grobschnitt's cheesy humor that pervades the rest of this album, as well as their other work. The first five songs are great, with some tasteful guitar playing and beautiful piano and keyboards. Much of the music reminds me of Nektar, in that it has a lot of keyboards, but there is a significant guitar presence, which lends a hard rock feel that I really enjoy. This is very melodic and there are moments of high-flying dual guitar soloing that are totally great. The vocals take some getting used to, especially since the lyrics are very bad, but there isn't as much of a silly accent as there is on any of Eloy albums, for example. Stefan Danielak definitely has a strange and unique voice though, which could turn some people off. He has a slightly nasal tone that sort of floats around over the music, but it is still quite emotional and I didn't have a tremendous problem with it on first hearing him. As for the terrible lyrics, they are sort of funny, and don't harm the music too much, in that it has a kind of goofy and irreverent air to it anyway.
After the first half of fairly structured music comes the intense
"Solar Music," which is delivered here in two parts. The studio version
is excellent and the live version on the Solar Music Live album is
even better. The intense jamming and soloing on this piece coupled with
the more vocally-oriented stuff from the first half of the album makes
Ballermann a winner. I would suggest this album as a good place to
start with Grobschnitt, though if you are more prone to enjoy straight
symphonic prog, Rockpommel's Land might be a better pick, though I
find it a tad conventional and don't like it quite as much.
|Greg Northrup||21-August-2002||Rockpommel's Land|
I'm sort of on the fence with this one. On the one hand, this album sort of represents everything that many critics hate about progressive rock. This is a full-on concept album in the grand tradition, though the concept itself is particularly ridiculous. Rockpommel's Land has something to do with a little boy named Ernie who gets swept up by a magic dragon-type thing named Maribu, after which they proceed to have numerous adventures. This might sound pretty lame, but then again Grobschnitt's bizarre humor is well known, and this whole thing might be some sort of tongue-in-cheek parody. It definitely must have taken some balls to do something this pretentious and twee as late as 1977, when the whole movement had sort of died down. Plus, the lyrics are pretty poor, which makes the concept as a whole pretty thin and laughable, though like I said, that may have been intended.
That said, there is some great music here, and some very
striking moments. This is very different from the other Grobschnitt
albums that I've heard, in that its influences are mainly the classic
symphonic prog bands like Genesis and especially Yes, though Grobschnitt
definitely injects their own style and bizarre idiosyncracies. Stefan
Danielak's vocals have an airy tenderness to them, and though they are
quite nasal and odd they fit in with the music quite well. The music is
grandiose, melodic and very beautiful; this is symphonic progressive rock
in all its pompous pretentious glory, and it's not totally derivative. I
find it difficult to make an emotional connection myself due to the
ridiculousness of the lyrics, and overall the tone isn't as successfully
charming and humorous as their Ballermann album. This is not what
I would consider Grobschnitt's best work, though there's no doubt many
fans of symphonic progressive rock will love it.
|Greg Northrup||21-August-2002||Solar Music Live|
This album is basically an expanded version of the intense instrumental track "Solar Music" from Grobschnitt's Ballermann album, stretched out over a full album in a live setting. This is an extremely powerful spaced-out improvisation that should make all fans of early Pink Floyd sit up and take notice. There's great musicianship throughout and some of the guitar soloing is absolutely glorious. Some call this the best live album of all time, and while I wouldn't go that far, it's definitely a must-have from the German progressive rock scene. This is very different from the studio album that came out just prior, the more straightforward symphonic prog album Rockpommel's Land. Solar Music Live is a dense, energetic and powerful jam, primarily instrumental. Letting this album just play over and over and allowing it to sink in is essential to appropriate enjoyment. This is a phenomenal album that shows just how intense prog could be in a live setting.
|Tom Hayes||17-Jan-2001||At a Glance|
The German group Grobschnitt were one of the more famous bands from the classic 70's Krautrock era. They had a long and varied history that spanned over 20 years and were quite popular in their native Germany. Their music was characterized by theatrical sequences, space rock jamming, a large dose of humor and creative songwriting.
Grobschnitt were part of a new and exciting movement coming out Germany. Like many of their era and mindset, they were considered a perfect match for the fledgling Brain label - a new progressive sub label of parent Metronome. These early pressings were delineated by an olive green label.
Their self-titled debut is a superb slab of hard guitar / organ and complex rhythms. Grobschnitt's guitarist, Lupo, has a very sharp edged sound and plays in a consistent fiery/heavy blues mode. Drummer Eroc is a master of creating and maintaining the tempo for the complex yet energetic compositions. The four tracks contained within recall the more well known heavy German bands of the day like Orange Peel (on Metronome) and 2066 and Then (on United Artists) with a more progressive slant ala Inside era Eloy. Had this been their only album it surely would've gone down as one of the great one-off classics.
Grobschnitt were a zany theatrical bunch almost to the point of being a comedy troupe using the German language. They showed elements of this kind of drama on the debut - as in the opening sequence which features a mock choir. But, for the most part, the humor was subdued and not a large part of their repertoire. But by the second album, they began to incorporate more humor and zanyness into their compositions. Ballermann is the result of these conscious efforts. Personally, I feel the music can sometimes play second banana to their almost goofy approach and they begin to lose focus on the things that made the first album so great. As well vocalist Wildschwein starts to affect his voice in an annoying, silly way. However, Ballermann is a double album and each disc represents a new style for the group. The second LP shows another, yet unrevealed, side of the band. Grobschnitt introduces their space rock sound which they tag as 'Solar Music'. As a pure play space rock band, Grobschnitt is almost unmatched. Much different from the more atmospheric German acts like Ash Ra Tempel or Gila, Grobschnitt take on a more direct approach to jamming space music. The guitar roars, the keyboards soar and, as a bonus, it's almost entirely instrumental. Eroc's drumming propels the band to great heights. A classic of it's kind. As a whole Ballermann is a very good album though somewhat marred by their craziness. I should add that many listeners consider their humor a plus.
Grobschnitt's third, Jumbo, can be considered a natural progression from Ballermann. No doubt attaining a modicum of success on the previous album, Grobschnitt decided to continue along the path of the song-based portion of their predecessor. In some ways they've actually surpassed Ballermann as the songs are more clever and the music somewhat more interesting. All the same it remains a fairly goofy album (for a lack of a better term) and one I find hard to listen to. Unlike Ballermann, there are no space rock opuses to offset the shorter songs.
Rockpommel's Land represents another major shift for Grobschnitt. Here they play a symphonic music in the Yes/Genesis tradition. Considered their masterpiece by many, I didn't find the album compelling at all and does not come recommended. The problem is this kind of symphonic style is not Grobschnitt's forte I'm afraid. I feel Wildschwein's heavily accented vocals are not well suited and the compositions are fairly weak in comparison to others in this genre.
The follow-up album gave the listener a glimpse into their ever-evolving and creative live show. Solar Music Live is about Grobschnitt living up to its potential and doing what they do best. Taking album #2 of Ballermann as its base, this live effort adds a whole new energy to the original recording. One of the strongest recordings of its kind - the listener will be hard pressed not to be entranced by its power. Lupo's guitar here is particularly engaging and Eroc's drumming is quite powerful. I cannot recommend this album highly enough.
Unfortunately from here on it was downhill for the band. At this point in 1979, the progressive music scene was over in Germany. For all bands of the era, the choices to survive were not pretty. Grobschnitt could've gone punk (which would have been too demeaning for musicians of this caliber) or tried for a more commercial sound. The latter is the route Grobschnitt journeyed on. Though with a twist as many of their songs were sung in their native tongue. Some quality moments emerge and Grobschnitt remained quite popular in Germany. But for progressive listeners, these albums will hold little interest.
One exception to the downslide, was the obscure live album
Sonnentanz. This was an attempt to revive and update the 'Solar Music
' suite complete with saxophones and modern digital keyboard equipment. The
results are mixed and the sound is certainly not as fiery as the original,
but probably worth seeking out for fans.
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