Ash Ra Tempel - s/t. 1971 Germany
LP reissues: 1971 Ohr 556; 1976 PDU (Italy); 1997 Spalax (France); 2004 Spalax (France)
CD reissues: 1991 Spalax (France); 1994 Nexus (Japan); 2000 Nexus (Japan); 2004 Arcangelo (Japan mini-LP); 2010 Belle Antique (Japan mini-LP); 2011 MG.ART
When you go around with a moniker like ashratom*, then presumably this is an album I'm going to enjoy. Yea, you could say that. Without hesitation, I would claim that Ash Ra Tempel's debut is in my Top 10 of all time. This is just an album that speaks to me. I can understand why some folks scoff at the album, but for me, it puts me right in the middle of 1971 Germany. I feel like I'm actually there! I was all of 6 years old when this album was released, and my first trip to Berlin came about not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990. And yet it transports me back to that time and place. At least as my imagination would have it. With that backdrop, here is the review I penned for Gnosis in 2001, almost 16 years to the day. I've altered some of the wording, but for the most part, I see no reason to rewrite it at this point.
Germany. 1971. Underground. Those three terms evoke images of the Berlin Wall, intensity, angst, freedom.
Very rarely is a moment so well captured just through music. Yet this is just what happened on Ash Ra Tempel's self-titled debut. The opening piece 'Amboss' (Anvil), is one for the ages. Starting with dark sounds that seem like shadows, created only with primitive electronics and guitar, the piece seems on the verge of falling into a black abyss to never return. Slowly the tension builds to a deafening crescendo, and without warning, Klaus Schulze begins his definitive piledriver drumming pattern. What could be possibly more intense and more chaotic? The listener is pounded into submission. Only to be equally mutilated by Göttsching's furious jamming, certainly the most intense, psychedelic, heavy guitar ever recorded. After a few minutes of this sort of violent cosmic blues jamming, there is a sequence of free-jazz drumming and electric guitar polka-dots that just burst into another firestorm, and along comes Schulze even more furious than before with Göttsching and Enke trying to subdue the entire German nation with their blistering guitar work. The Berlin Wall must fall! It doesn't - but certainly the musicians must have. One gets exhausted just listening to it! This 19 minute opus is followed by the exquisite 25 minute 'Traummaschine' (Dream Machine). Again, the mood is somber but slowly the sound gets louder. The band manages to achieve an electronic cadence while the guitars and electronics swirl. Hand percussion enters in and Göttsching turns up the fuzz for another biting solo. There is a period of rest and again the rollercoaster begins for yet one more jam. To this day, there has never been an album of music that sustained this kind of intensity for 40 minutes. How they were able to so without a moment of wasted time is a testament to the brilliance of one of the greatest albums of all time.
This album had been my Holy Grail for about 3 to 4 years. I first discovered Ashra / Ash Ra Tempel back in 1985 from a store called The Record Gallery in Dallas when I was midway through college. I've spoken about this store in the past, and if you click on the Ash Ra Tempel label, you'll find it in one of those entries (and I learned the proprietor Steve Stokes recently passed away in Portland where he had relocated many years ago. He was a very good man who I will never forget). The odd thing about Ash Ra Tempel, is that all of their albums starting with Seven Up (Seven Up for Pete's Sake!) were reissued by Pop Import in the early 1980s. Those are the copies this store had. In Dallas, in 1985, I can assure you no one else did, not even Metamorphosis by then (locals will know what I mean). So with that, finding the first 3 albums became my determined quest. I found the PDU copy of Join Inn in 1987 as I was wrapping up my degree. And scored Schwingungen in early 1988 (I will tell that story when I get around to reviewing that album again). And finally, after years of searching, I scored the PDU version of the debut in late 1988. From the late great Jeff Baker. It was $55. Where the hell did I get $55 for a record? I have no idea. But I did and never regretted a second of it. My first listen was an unforgettable experience. Right around Christmas in fact.
Let's talk about the physical product for a minute. The original comes in an extraordinary fold-out-of-the-middle gimmix cover. There is no difference between the 56 and 556 releases except the catalog number. I've had both, but sold the 56 copy since it wasn't really in great shape. Today I would have kept it anyway as an extra. The PDU version is a single sleeve, without the gimmix. I kind of want it back too just for the memories, but it's not inexpensive. The Spalax releases are cheaply made and not worth the money. There is a convincing bootleg out there that mirrors the original, so watch out! In this day and age where the LP is once again treasured, I find it disappointing no one has bothered to reissue the LP in its original glory (legally that is). I'd buy one just for the heck of it. Gottsching himself owns his own catalog now, so maybe he'll do it right. Though in general he doesn't have too much regard for his early works, which is too bad. The CDs all come from vinyl as I guess the masters are lost or are in bad shape. The Arcangelo CD I own comes in a box set (somewhat cheaply made, unusual for Japan), that opens up to 3 mini-LPs, which also includes Schwingungen and Inventions for Electric Guitar (why not Join Inn? Who knows?). The packaging of the CD itself is outstanding and replicates the original in every way.
* So how did that silly moniker of ashratom come about anyway? I first signed onto the internet on January 1, 1995 via America Online (AOL). I tried numerous handles that were continually rejected as they already existed. Frustrated I jotted down ashratemp, and it took it immediately without validating that's what I wanted! Oh well.... When I started posting on chat boards, folks started calling me ashratom. And it stuck. So there you go.