Stern Combo Meissen - Reise Zum Mittelpunkt des Menschen. 1980 Germany


The Stars of Meissen, who hail from the namesake town near Dresden, were arguably East Germany's most accomplished progressive rock group. Reise zum Mittelpunkt des Menschen is the second of their two recognized progressive rock classics and is a keyboard extravaganza. There are three distinct types of compositions present here, each defined by the predominant keyboard of choice.

On the "modern" front, one will hear the latest polysynths of the day, which many now call "cheesy", though I suspect as time moves forward, this particular sound will take on a life of its own. The music here has a certain Iron Curtain patriotic vibe, as the working man stands proud with his rigid face looking upwards. It's a type of progressive one might hear in the Soviet Union, somewhat like Edward Artemiev, or even Horizont. There's a bit of Eloy here too, in regards to the spaciness.

The second type of composition is driven by the trusty Hammond organ, and represents some of the best material here. In fact, the choppy manner of playing and irregular rhythms recalls the much unheralded (west) German band Trilogy. Though the shadow of Keith Emerson looms large as expected.

And then finally, and perhaps most surprising, is the heavy dosage of mellotron. It's a surprising sound coming from the East, and its usage is dominant in places - to the point of Jose Cid / Quarteto 1111 territory. You have to feel sorry for the poor sap who had to go in front of Procurement to justify how the mellotron is an essential purchase for the State. If only to have been there as they roll the mellotron through Checkpoint Charlie...

So overall a superb example of 70s Eastern European progressive rock. All the lyrics are in German, as was every album on the other side of the Wall.

Personal collection
CD: 1993 DSB / Deutsche Schallplatten Berlin

The album's original copyright date is 1980 (on the State run Amiga label). Like Trabant's, one will often find the LP beaten, and left by the side of the road. As such, it's highly recommended to secure a CD, though there's only one legit pressing and it's tough to find (of course it is...). I'm not 100% certain here, but I believe DSB is the renamed Amiga label.  I bought mine not long after it was released. In doing research for this entry, I see the album has been reissued with most of their discography in an Original Album Series type format. But since most of their other albums are not of interest to progressive rock fans, it's still a costly endeavor.

Originally published January 30, 2010 and pushed forward to current date with completely rewritten notes.

2 comments:

  1. A stone-cold classic, in my top 3 from Germany! The head on the cover is nothing to do with "working man standing proud", I don't think: it looks like your typical phrenology skull, which ties in with the title (Journey to the Centre of Man) and the lyrics, which are all about human emotions, social interactions, etc. More psychology than socialism.

    I'm afraid I have to disagree with you about the OAS type Amiga albums box. The other classic you're referring to is probably Weisses Gold, but I'd like to confer classic status on their eponymous debut (strangely, a live album) as well. I really don't understand why it is so overlooked. Top notch extended symphonic tracks, with one of them a classical adaptation (Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain). The only thing that this doesn't have, and Weisses Gold does, is a concept. For me it has the edge over Weisses Gold, though, because Weisses Gold has narration (to which I'm rather allergic). Der weite Weg and Stundenschlag are perhaps not classics, but they still contain enough progressiveness for the fans to enjoy and even the more pop-oriented tracks are high quality, IMHO. So you get five good to great albums out of seven (the less said about their last two albums with a different lead vocalist the better). Not a bad score!

    And on the same label as the Amiga box comes an interesting compilation album, Hits und Raritäten. Now, a title like Hits and Rarities may not sound very promising: as we all know, these kinds of albums tend to be 90% hits and 10% rarities. But here the ratio's much better. What we're getting here is studio versions of all the original songs from the debut album. I didn't know these existed, so they're an interesting addition, although they don't differ too much from the live versions. Then there's a track that seems to be a cover version of a Tomita adaptation of a Mussorgsky piece... The rest of the tracks took some detective work to figure out (not a lot of info in the cd booklet), but they seem to be single B-sides mostly. Luckily only two of them are from the Taufrisch/Nächte era. As you would expect, nothing progressive here, but apart from those two later tracks very enjoyable, quality pop songs. The last track is an early song with a female singer and it's surprisingly good! So overall about 90% new material, even if, like me, you own all the studio albums. The only negative point: a few duplicates from the studio albums, while a few B-sides seem to be missing.

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    1. Thanks for the excellent comments and insights, Bas!

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