German Oak: claustrophobic bunker music is a trip into deep black inner space and time

German Oak, self-titled, Flash Back, FBCD1001 

Originally released in 1972 and only selling eleven copies at the time (according to the Aquarius Records website) due to its meditation on Nazi German rule and World War II, this self-titled album by a German five-piece band has a very cold, strange and dark echoing sound: all the music had been recorded in a bunker. The album consists of extended rock-jazz instrumental jams with weird and very abstract rhythms dominated by blunted guitars, ghost drums and percussion, and other wailing instruments, some of which are identified as simply “noise”.

The atmosphere is very claustrophobic and the musicians play as though for their lives before the encroaching darkness crawls over their heads and shoulders, covering their eyes, mouths and ears, rendering them helpless and immobile and permanently entombed in the black bunker. There is quite a lot of tension especially in the suitably named “Down in the Bunker” where the very air, cold as it is, could be cut with a knife and the knife shudders briefly and freezes rock-solid.

The CD release consists of four tracks lasting just under 40 minutes and an extra three tracks including “Swastika Rising”. Of the four original tracks, “Raid over Dusseldorf” sounds the most psychedelic and trance-like, no doubt due to its driving rhythm loop and the dreamy, wobbly guitar tones that set up a swirling, spiralling ambience in which lead guitar melodies, tapping cymbals and a drumming groove take listeners on an extended trip through a time-tunnel vortex. This is a very delirious and mesmerising piece in spite of the underground conditions; come to think of it, the bunker studio setting enhances the music as each tone, riff or melody appears on the track as if emerging from unseen rabbit holes, to disappear back there once done, and so an element of surprise always seems to be hovering over the musicians’ jam.

“Swastika Rising” is notable for its creepy organ drone, electric guitar meanderings and its unfortunate ending (the tape cuts out) which lands us straight into a sample of a Nazi rally at which Adolf Hitler rants at the microphone, followed by a mellow-toned lead guitar solo over a surging yet choppy rhythm accompaniment. Contrary to its name, “The Third Reich” is a trippy, funky, mesmerising wander through inner space: probably not the kind of track folks on the website will be discussing and dissecting any time soon. “Shadows of War” is a very muted track of organ drone followed by fragments of found sound, flotsam and jetsam effects: this piece lands the band close to the outright experimental and early industrial music territory inhabited by Throbbing Gristle, Monte Cazazza and SPK.

A very intriguing and remarkable album of dark, sinister ambience and moods, this deeply underground recording is worth finding and holding onto as much for its historical  context and place in German ’70s rock / pop music as for the music itself. The LP version apparently doesn’t contain the bonus tracks so the CD version is preferred.

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