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M. Knox "martynipknox2" (Reading, England)

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Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath
Price: £7.95

8 of 80 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A start, but not much more..., 9 Jan. 2006
This review is from: Black Sabbath (Audio CD)
Even Nostradamus himself would have been hard pushed to predict that 30-odd years after its release, the singer on this, Black Sabbath’s debut album, would be more instantly recognisable as the star of a reality TV show than as the frontman of a highly influential Hard Rock band. But here we are, after all this time, and what a long, strange trip - literal and metaphorical - it’s been.
Sabbath are far from the greatest Hard Rock band of all – Zeppelin hold that title, as any of their albums from Led Zeppelin I to Physical Graffiti will amply demonstrate – but alongside Deep Purple, AC/DC and Zeppelin they form the foundations upon which all subsequent Rock was built. Sadly though, not all of their influence has been positive: with their penchant for leaden riffing, doomy lyrics and cod-Satanism, they, more than any of those other Rock monsters are responsible for the – let’s be honest – rather silly genre of Heavy Metal. Seemingly their renown these days is as much built upon these factors as the groundbreaking music of their early albums.
This album though, is something of a mixed bag, highlighting the fact that this was a band still very much searching for a collective musical identity and - literally in Ozzy’s case - voice. The opening track, ‘Black Sabbath’ is a case in point: opening with the sound of a thunderstorm and a tolling bell, progressing through a litany of Hammer Horror style references to death, Satan and sacrifice, to the accompaniment of slowly churning guitar, bass and drums. While it’s possible to grasp what the band are trying to achieve here, it’s really neither Satanic nor scary, and with Ozzy’s cry of, ‘Please God, Help Me!’ it’s almost more Carry On Screaming than Black Sabbath.
Many of the other tracks are similarly patchy: ‘Behind The Wall Of Sleep’ starts off with a relatively bouncy intro, has sluggish verses, and a more catchy chorus, while ‘N.I.B’ begins with a peculiarly lumpy Geezer Butler bass solo before the riff proper kicks in to propel the song along at a fair lick, while Ozzy recounts another Satanic tale. And while ‘Sleeping Village’ opens with something that sounds as though it was lifted from the soundtrack to a Sergio Leone Western (a good thing), all too soon this degenerates into a mixture of nice Tony Iommi riffing and stodgy instrumental breakdowns.
None of these songs is really bad, but nor are any of them consistently good; each a microcosm of the album as a whole. The best things here are ‘Wicked World’ – which, thanks to the unaccompanied hi-hat at its very start sounds momentarily like a dead ringer for The Bonzo Dog Band’s ‘The Intro & The Outro’ – and ‘The Wizard’, both of which give a taste of better things to come.
‘Wicked World’ features some almost jazzy touches in its intro before progressing into a fluidly shifting tune, slipping back and forth between a lumbering main riff, and a more nimble guitar figure. There are also two other points of note about this song: it has an air of Progressive Rock to it, featuring as it does multiple phases (including a more adventurous instrumental section), jazzy moments, and a degree of technical virtuosity; while it is also more lyrically interesting, being more of a socio-political critique - in the vein of ‘War Pigs’ from Paranoid - than a Satanic yarn. It’s hardly Dylanesque, but this kind of thing is always tricky to pull off, and the band at least avoid embarrassing themselves.
‘The Wizard’ is also better lyrically, pointing the way to its more accomplished descendent, ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ (again from Paranoid). The tune here is nicely compact and punchy, and with Ozzy providing some bluesy gobiron, it could almost be a heavier version of the kind of Blues–based Rock that Jethro Tull were peddling at this time (interestingly, Tony Iommi joined Tull briefly but returned to Sabbath before their breakthrough).
What we have here, if you like, is a classic first album. Not in the sense it being the band’s first album and a classic, but in the sense of showing the promise of the band that made it, without ever coming close to fulfilling that promise. The potential is there – and in the shape of Paranoid they would begin to fulfil it remarkably quickly – but this is far from essential listening. Much of the playing is patchy, some songs simply don’t work, and Ozzy’s performance is best described as variable. If you want to be a Sabbath completist, or if you want to begin exploring their back catalogue from the very start, then by all means buy this. But if you want the best of Black Sabbath, just get Paranoid and Master Of Reality, because as a debut this is an okay effort, but not much more.
Comment Comments (13) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 29, 2014 11:24 AM GMT

Price: £7.77

13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the pillars of Hard Rock, 9 Jan. 2006
This review is from: Paranoid (Audio CD)
Let’s be honest, the cover of this album is complete rubbish. I know the album was originally going to be called War Pigs, and as such there should logically be some kind of military figure on the sleeve. But even if this had remained the title, the cover would still be awful: some geezer dressed in a motorcycle crash helmet, wearing his underpants outside his pyjama trousers and brandishing a sword? Sounds more like a care in the community case than a fearsome futuristic warrior. Happily though, this is one of those “Don’t judge a book (or album) by its cover” scenarios, because the music here is arguably the best that Sabbath ever produced. This is all the more surprising given that it came mere months after their relatively poor self-titled debut.
After that album’s – at times – schlocky material and patchy playing, the music here is much stronger; better written and better played, more varied and featuring a much more confident and consistent performance from John ‘Ozzy’ Osbourne. There is also another hint that Sabbath can be regarded as - at least partly - Progressive. Certainly in as much as their songs often feature distinct sections (notably ‘War Pigs’, ‘Hand Of Doom’ and ‘Iron Man’) and that they were exploring new ideas and directions, particularly in their use of loud/quiet structures.
Oddly, this album begins similarly to the way Black Sabbath ended, with a song, ‘War Pigs’, upbraiding politicians for sitting around in safety while sending others off to die. ‘Wicked World’, the closer from the previous album, made exactly the same point. Similarly oddly, this album closes with ‘Fairies Wear Boots’, which refers explicitly to the group’s drug use, while the first track on their next album – Master Of Reality – is ‘Sweet Leaf’, a paean to the joys of the weed. If nothing else, I suppose it gives a neat unity to their first three albums.
Whereas Black Sabbath was quite tiresome in places, there are lots of things to enjoy here and the album rarely gets bogged down. One of the chief pleasures is the title track itself; this song must be to Sabbath what ‘Stairway To Heaven’ is to Led Zeppelin: their calling card, the thing they’ll always be remembered for, and consequently something of a musical albatross around their collective neck. That’s a shame, as it’s still a fine slice of Rock: chunky riffing, a tight rhythm section and Iommi’s nicely distorted guitar solo, while Ozzy’s performance suits the song to a tee: strung out, haunted…paranoid.
Aside from this though, there’s the excellent ‘War Pigs’, featuring a similarly dark and weighty intro to ‘Black Sabbath’, but where that song dragged and ultimately disappointed, this explodes into life, raging with righteous anger, rather than dripping with fake blood. It’s one of their finest efforts, where the ferocity of the playing reflects the (slightly naïve) fury of the lyric, railing against the warmongers who stay alive while so many others die at their behest. The power of the music and the timeless nature of its lyrical concern really make this one of Rock’s evergreens.
As a whole the album marks a move away from the Hammer inspired theatricality of Black Sabbath and towards the more typical obsessions of Sci-Fi, drugs, war and fantasy. This would mean no less of a preoccupation with death, but less with Satan and Black Magic (although ‘War Pigs’ manages to mention death, war, black masses, Satan and witches). ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Planet Caravan’ are cases in point: the former featuring a crushing riff backing a Frankensteinian lyric about supernatural mutation, revenge and space exploration, while the latter is something of a musical departure; a mellow, spacey arrangement evoking the likes of Santana, or a less playful Caravan, while Osbourne’s distorted vocals recount a romanticised tale of interstellar travel. It seems a little incongruous to place this track between the drug-induced trauma of ‘Paranoid’ and the Science Fiction violence of ‘Iron Man’, but it’s a fine track and adds texture to what would otherwise be a relentlessly heavy album. ‘Hand Of Doom’ meanwhile exploits a darkly sinister loud/quiet backing to bookend a faster, driving, middle section in another song about the pleasures and perils of drug abuse. That the various sections of the song hang together so well is a testament to both the strength of the material and the commitment of the musicians to their work
The same really applies to the somewhat tongue in cheek drug song ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ (“’cause smokin’ and trippin’ is all that you do”). In fact, the lyric aside, this song almost appears to be a catalogue of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal clichés, from the phased guitars of the intro, through the opening bars, to the chugging main riff. But when this album was released these weren’t clichés of course. That’s really the important thing to remember here: although this album has flaws (the clunky ‘Electric Funeral’ being a major one), it is seminal Hard Rock, and as such carries influence to this day.
The riffs aren’t as bold as Zeppelin’s, the playing is nowhere near as good as Zeppelin’s or AC/DC’s, and at times the sound is far more sludgy and muddled than either of those bands would ever have tolerated, but the music has a power and visceral energy that shines through any sonic murk. Alongside Led Zeppelin’s I – IV and Physical Graffiti, AC/DC’s Let There Be Rock and Back In Black and Deep Purple’s In Rock and Machine Head, it’s an album every Rock fan should own. Whether you’re just beginning to explore Hard Rock in general or Sabbath in particular, this is required listening.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 23, 2014 5:30 PM BST

Ege Bamyasi
Ege Bamyasi
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £16.95

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Can's Third Best Album, 24 Jun. 2005
This review is from: Ege Bamyasi (Audio CD)
When Can released Future Days in 1973 they completed one of the great hat-tricks in Rock history. Few bands have ever produced three albums of the quality of Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi and Future Days one after the other. Fewer still have done it in the space of three years - The Beatles' Rubber Soul, Revolver and Sergeant Pepper spring to mind, and although some may grumble, mentioning Can in such exalted company is far from heretical; at their best Can are one of the greatest bands of all time. These albums represent the pinnacle of Can's career and document the evolution and refinement of the band's unique sound.
The original conception of the band was to produce music that was a kind of Jazz/avant garde/Rock hybrid, but somehow during the band's genesis they must have stumbled across the fluid sound that characterises their best songs. The embellishments of the music stop it being true funk; it is too avant-garde to be classified as that. Having said that, it's far more accessible than much avant garde music, and although it shares improvisatory elements with Jazz, the music's character and feel is definitely more Rock than anything.
The frantic period of creativity that saw the band release the (at times) challenging and eclectic Tago Mago (1971), the transitional Ege Bamyasi (1972) and the ultimate distillation of the classic Can sound, Future Days (1973) was presumably inspired -largely it would seem, anyway - by the addition of Damo Suzuki to the line-up. Before this, Monster Movie (1969) had shown considerable promise in inspirational moments, but the whole of the Can ideal really seemed to find expression through Suzuki.
As the middle album of this great trio, Ege Bamyasi is obviously a very interesting record from the point of view of illustrating the way the music of Can was refined from the raw, fierce, explorations of Tago Mago to the tightly focused excellence of Future Days. In this sense, the pivotal track on the album is probably 'Soup'. Although the song lasts for over 10 minutes and mutates through various phases in a way not dissimilar to Tago Mago's 'Peking O', it never loses the listener. On this occasion the band might be off exploring new musical worlds, but you're invited along too, whereas on 'Peking O' you were pretty much left behind. Yes, there are some moments of choice Damo Suzuki screaming and some avant noodling, but there are also moments of dazzling clarity, where Can's musical dexterity is abundantly evident, not something that can be said of Tago Mago's more 'difficult' moments.
The only other reasonably lengthy track on this album is the thrilling 'Pinch', which succeeds in taking the rolling rhythms of a song like 'Halleluhwah' and streamlining and tightening them still further, into something Curtis Mayfield or Sly Stone would be proud of. The gentle, almost lilting, 'Sing Swan Song' meanwhile, gives a pleasing taster of the mellow warmth to come on Future Days, and the peripatetic shake of 'One More Night' prefigures that album's 'Moonshake'. 'Vitamin C' is more reminiscent of some of Tago Mago's darker moments, and carries a sense of threat and discomfort that is continued into the next track, 'Soup'.
These darker moments are swept away by the bright opening of 'I'm So Green', which arrives with an almost Funkadelic strut before drifting into more esoteric pastures. The pleasing sway of the outstanding 'Spoon' closes the album; interestingly, this track actually made it to number 1 in Germany, not due to any radical re-think of musical policy on the band's behalf (i.e. 'selling out'), but because it featured as the theme tune to a popular TV drama.
As all this shows, this is very much an album that links two great works, but that really shouldn't detract from the quality of the album in its own right. It's neither Can's best, nor most immediately accessible album (Future Days is probably both), but it's one of those albums that just flies by when you put it on and seems to leave you wanting more of the same. After Future Days it's probably the best place to sample Can's music because it tempers the excesses of Tago Mago while showing the lightness of touch of Future Days. So, if you can't get your hands on that, or you want an album of more manageable, bite-size songs, this is a good buy.
That this is probably only the third best Can album says more about this great and fascinating band than I ever could, so all I can do is recommend you find out how good they are for yourself.

Cluster II
Cluster II

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating artefact., 24 Jun. 2005
This review is from: Cluster II (Audio CD)
In a sense I suppose Cluster aren't really a Krautrock band at all. If one regards the organic, improvisatory genius of Can as the very pinnacle of Krautrock, then this is clearly a very different proposition. Although the term is used as a convenient catch-all for a range of experimental musical styles emerging from Germany in the late '60s and early '70s, it could easily be divided into various sub-categories: Can, although unlike any other Rock band before or since, played electrically amplified instruments (successfully experimenting with tape loops, electronic effects and so on), while Faust - often regarded as the enfants terrible of Krautrock - followed a similar, albeit even more avant garde, path. Tangerine Dream meanwhile, created icy sonic vistas using sequencers and synthesisers, while Kraftwerk, similarly inspirational in their creation of electronic music, took things a stage further, making pioneering use of drum machines and even going so far as to design and build their equipment. Neu!, then, must fall between these groups, trying to create a fusion of electronic and electric music, using a human drummer to try and create a sound like a drum machine; forcing conventional instruments to sound like something, well, new. So, it becomes apparent that there are a lot of different ideas being grouped together under this one title.
Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius, or Cluster, are virtually another new strand in this knot of musical invention. As their field is essentially electronic music, it would seem sensible to align them with Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream, but the fact that they used electronic instrumentation, in effect, manually seems to place them closer to Neu! On this album there aren't sequencers like on a Tangs album, but there is electronica aplenty. Because of the way this music is created though - applying a Can-like sense of improvisation to electronic instruments - it has a rougher feel than the hard, shiny edges of Tangerine Dream or Kraftwerk, but is every bit as interesting.
Strangely perhaps for music that has a certain untidiness to it, this still retains the feel of something that was dreamt up by white-coated boffins in a laboratory. The way the tracks shimmer with electronic energy, and sounds drift ethereally in and out make it feel at times like it might even have been created by an alien intelligence.
Interestingly, for a Krautrock group of any stripe, there are no drums, or drum machines on this album. Obviously Can & Neu! used drums as important factors in their musical compositions and structures, while Kraftwerk used drum machines heavily. Here though, the rhythms are created and sustained through repetitive, throbbing, electronic noise. That this is sometimes all that is audible means that the music is both highly rhythmical, but also essentially rhythmless in the traditional sense (i.e. there are no drums or bass to underpin the music). This governs the mood of each track as the music shifts and swells, often changing only in pitch. The tracks here are in essence very simple (possibly a result of the labour intensive way they were put together - or partly at least) but it's possible to conceive of this as incidental music for a Sci-Fi film. On a more sophisticated level though, it almost seems as though Cluster took traditional Rock or Pop music, dismantled every element that constructs rhythm, harmony and melody and started over from the ground up, using the simplest noises and laying different layers of sound on to each other.
To try and differentiate between the tracks here is difficult and largely futile, as the album could effectively be one long piece moving through various phases, so similarly are the tracks created; but for the odd bit of organ, piano or guitar, this is basically an album of electronic sound. The major exception to this would be the final track, 'Nabitte', with its doomy piano chords and moaning vocal accompaniment. Perhaps the irony here - intentional or not - is that the most 'human' and organic track on the album is also the most disturbing and dark.
The overall impression of the album is of something at once both stark and ambient, but surprisingly warm and friendly despite that. It certainly isn't an album I could wholeheartedly recommend to everyone, but to the adventurous Krautrock fan, or the enthusiast of pioneering electronic music, further investigation is certainly recommended.

Faust IV
Faust IV
Offered by musikdrehscheibe
Price: £19.75

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Faust's Finest, 11 Mar. 2005
This review is from: Faust IV (Audio CD)
Krautrock gave birth to some bands that were pretty out there, but Faust are generally regarded as the most extreme of the lot. This is probably down to their fondness for testing musical arrangements (the lengthy, sparse 'It's A Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl' from So Far for instance) and an unconventional approach to live shows (attacking a concrete block with an elctric Kango hammer on stage, or putting down your instrument mid-song to play pinball, that kind of thing). This though, is generally regarded as their most accessible set, featuring as it does, some almost conventional moments. It might not be the best place to start any exploration of Krautrock - Can or Kraftwerk would be better options - but it's the best place to start exploring Faust.
With a lot of Krautrock, it's hard to cite obvious musical reference points, and I suppose that's to be expected in a genre where many acts are trying to push the musical form as far as they can before it stops being music any more ('Aumgm' from Can's Tago Mago or the whole of Faust Clear), but on parts of this album, and on 'Picnic On A Frozen River: Deuxieme Tableux' in particular, there is a distinct Frank Zappa influence on Faust, to such an extent that even the tone of the guitar on the third section of this track sounds Zappa-esque.
To try and explain the album as a whole is almost impossible as it covers such a broad range of musical styles, none of which is easily categorisable. The first track, drolly titled 'Krautrock', is twelve minutes of sinister, slow-burning electronic noise, but is immediately followed by the (almost) comedy reggae of 'The Sad Skinhead' ("Apart from all the bad times you gave me, I always felt good with you"). This, in turn, is followed by the bassy throb and moody guitar figure of 'Jennifer', and even this is subsumed in a lengthy squall of electronic noise, before the song reaches its conclusion (played, unaccompanied, on a badly tuned upright piano).
'Just A Minute (Starts Like That!)' kicks off with an almost rolling groove, but soon dissolves into more electronic beeping and fizzing before the album's centrepiece 'Picnic On A Frozen River: Deuxieme Tableux' slides in. This is truly a work of barmy genius; even on an album as madly multi-faceted as this one, this track stands out (incidentally, contrary to the album cover, this track includes versions of both 'Giggy Smile' and 'Picnic On A Frozen River'. The track that follows 'Läuft...Heisst Das es Läuft Oder es Kommt Bald...Läuft' is called 'Run'). In true Progressive Rock fashion it moves through three distinct phases, sometimes evoking memories of The Mothers Of Invention circa Freak Out or Absolutely Free, but always fed through the Faust musical mincer. There are moments of outrageous catchiness, (the final, almost danceable, section), surpassing loveliness (the segue into the second phase of the song), and even some Ian Underwood-ish sax honking. It's a song that sounds as fresh today as it must have thirty years ago. Because it's a song so unlike anything else, there's nothing about it that can really date it, and it really showcases everything great about Faust.
That's not to dismiss the remainder of the album lightly, 'Läuft...Heisst Das Es Läuft Oder Es Kommt Bald...Läuft' is much more elegant than its rather unwieldy title might suggest, and the intro to 'Run' could almost come from fellow Krautrock pioneers Tangerine Dream. But 'Picnic...' is the undoubted high point.
The more I listen to Krautrock, the more I begin to understand its similarities to Progressive Rock, but at the same time I also become more aware of its differences. Where British Prog came from the tail end of psychedelia and was founded in a desire to stretch and re-shape the conventional Pop/Rock song, Krautrock came from a country that felt - to the generation of people making and listening to this music, at least - culturally barren. Consequently I think, British Progressive Rock is heavily influenced by the country's musical heritage and a desire to forge something new by combining classical and contemporary forms, whereas the German equivalent doesn't (possibly daren't) look back. Instead, it is informed by nothing but the desire to destroy traditional ideas and make something truly revolutionary. The fact that the two are somehow structurally similar because of this is probably deeply ironic.
The ideals of Krautrock are probably as well reflected in this album as in any of the genre. Consequently, it's not an album you'll necessarily fall in love with at once, but if you give it time, it might just change your life.

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