Tanz Der Lemminge, the third album by Amon Duul II from 1971, is, ridiculously, considered their first accessible album after two wildly freeform psychedelic freakouts. I say “ridiculously” because, while Tanz Der Lemminge may be a bit more conventional than the first two LPs, it is a far cry from normal. Split into four major side-long pieces, Tanz Der Lemminge embodies all the characteristics of the Krautrock movement; complex, long-form compositions punctuated by long stretches of wild improvisation, strange, sci-fi lyrical themes and no fear of playing what might be considered fairly extreme music. Musically, Amon Duul II shares much ground with both Can and Atom Heart Mother-era Pink Floyd. There are waves of organ, piano and mellotron, crashing on beaches of throbbing basslines, while reverb soaked guitars skronk like birds above the fray. This is cosmic music, make no mistake about it!
The thing that originally drew me to Tanz Der Lemminge was the amazing cover. I was actually at the store – Underground Records – that I would buy about 15 years later and turn into Twist and Shout, when I looked up at the wall and saw import copies of Can’s Tago Mago and Tanz Der Lemminge for what seemed like a lot of money at the time. The cover of The Amon Duul II album was irresistible to me. Even though I had never heard of the band or their music, I took all my spare cash out and forked it over for a completely unknown quantity. It wasn’t that I was completely unprepared. I was a veteran listener of Pink Floyd, Yes, King Crimson, even Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk, so the idea of long-form compositions and electronic improvisation was not something new to me. I was, however, unprepared for the sustained ferocity of Amon Duul II. Much like King Crimson’s attack, they just pounded away with abandon, but they were stylistically agnostic, slipping easily from highly arranged prog-rock, to totally free spacerock, to gentle acoustic freak-folk, but all effortlessly and with the group mind of the best west-coast American psych bands. At times, like “Stumbling Over Melted Moonlight,” they almost sound like Quicksilver Messenger Service, but then will morph into insectoid drone patterns as soon as you think you have a handle on where they are going. Over the years, I have never gotten comfortable with Amon Duul’s work in the sense that I know what to expect, or where it’s going. Even though I have owned Tanz Der Lemminge for decades, each time I play it is like a new beginning and a revelatory one at that. I am constantly searching for new bands that can take me somewhere I’ve never been. Bands like Amon Duul II.
- Paul Epstein