It’s easy to over-think the meaningfulness of German rock (Krautrock) of the late 60s and early 70s, especially since its image has always been somewhat cerebral and cold in itself. Too much from the head, not enough from the crotch, some have complained. Its players meant for it to be “head” music certainly, and all that implies – there was an intention to the music, a commitment to experiment and improvisation sparked by the intellectual and chemical freedoms of the 60s. But at its best Krautrock conjured a mood distinct unto itself, which in its post-WWII teutonic heaviness could be as threatening and scary as any music ever made, and in its experimental innocence also convey a warmth and humor that speaks to the soul. The album Yeti does both these things. Amon Duul II’s second record is a double-album monument of dark European soundscapes that possess a Led Zeppelin heaviness without an over-reliance on the blues or a dependency on rock cliches. The hard riffing has a much more exotic, eastern European or central Asian tone, and the improvisatory tenor, no matter how edited the music might have been in the end, contributes to the feeling that this is NOW music, that this music is happening in the present. Made in 1970, it could be straight out of any time in history. It’s as heavy as Beethoven, as Gothic as, well, the Goths, as free from the restrictions of language as Can, as art-y as Roxy Music, as punk as you think you are, and ROCKS in its way like the most electric god of all time. So yeah, it’s music that’s actually worth thinking about.
I wrote this review of Amon Duul II’s mighty “Yeti” in 1999, three years after purchasing the Japanese import in New York City (at Other Music, then across from Tower Records, a David and Goliath story if ever there was one) for not a crazy amount of money but more filthy luchre than usual for a CD. It ripped my musical head off my shoulders. I’d been toting around Julian Cope’s classic Krautrocksampler (rarely has so little done so much for so few — we krautrockistas are few and far between) for a few months, and was finally purchasing some of his recommendations, many of which were back in print in small runs precisely because of this book. I’d walk the 80 or so blocks back to my apartment, roll a cig (a habit long abandoned, and not without some regret), and listen. Then sometimes I’d wander across the Park to the Museum and stack up the visual on top of the aural. I don’t think I did that with Yeti. As its title suggests, it is indeed a monster. You need to be laying down.
German rock became Krautrock kind of after the fact, like lots of things in pop culture — valued down the line as a historically easy grouping. Amon Duul II was a motley collection of Munich musical dissidents, the ones who kept playing their instruments after the rest of the commune (Amon Duul) got lost in the trip. Luckily, the ones who stuck around were all stellar musicians, operating on the fringes of the jazz and classical avant garde — they’d show up again in various groupings of Popol Vuh, Embryo, and other Munich-based bands that pushed the limits and resisted definition. English musicians would float through — Dave Anderson from Hawkwind stayed for three years — and there IS a Led Zeppelin comparison here: the bigness of the production (for 1970, the drums and bass are nicely separated and very spacious, something maybe only Black Sabbath and Zep were really doing, i.e., bringing heavy production to heavy music), the playing is fluid but not without spontaneity’s imperfections (Jimmy Page’s contribution to rock guitar and what kept Zep fresh can be heard in the guitar/violin interplay here), and the music’s composition balanced with improvisation is its real skin and bones. Yeti was Amon Duul II’s second album — their first, Phallus Dei, is another story — with various members contributing to the original Amon Duul’s music as well (beware though, the original group’s records are trippy, scattershot, undisciplined affairs with flashes of brilliance but extended periods of over-indulgence). A double album, it alternates between extended, suite-like proggish pieces (“Soap Shop Rock”), shorter instrumental drones (“Cerberus”) and anti-pop pop constructions (“Archangels Thunderbird”). The album is capped by the title track, a long jam that manages not to disappear into its own navel gazing — not an easy task. If the Allman Brothers grew up teutonic, the longer bits of “Fillmore East” would sound something like this. The vocals on the record are all over the map, used for effect as much as relating narrative. Renate Knaup’s voice conjures Grace Slick on “Archangels Thunderbird,” while the demented howl of “Eye Shaking King” is truly frightening. Amon Duul II would go on to make a bunch of records, some pretty good, some overrated. I think this is their real highpoint, where they built the template they’d continue to follow. There’s a knife-edge here, a balancing act, that is palpable.
So 13 years after I wrote that review on Amazon you can buy Yeti there as a digital download for 8.99. Awesome. But if you do I hope you bring to it the one thing so easily missed in downloading music: the element of ritual. Give it space, give yourself room. Be prepared.
Here’s the shortest track on the record, “The Return of Ruebezahl.”
— Craig Breaden