Friday, March 17, 2017
Novalis - Banished Bridge. 1973 Germany
LP reissues: 1974 Brain; 1977 Brain; 1977 Brain (Japan); 1981 Brain
CD reissues: 1997 Repertoire; 2010 Victor (Japan mini-LP)
Novalis' debut has taken me a long while to digest. When I think of Novalis, I think of a band that is highly melodic, polished, superbly arranged, with sparse vocals in German. Banished Bridge is none of those things. Novalis' debut has about as much in common with the rest of their output as does Eela Craig, Scorpions, and Eloy's opening moves. I've often read that Banished Bridge sounds like early King Crimson, or even other more established UK prog bands of the era. I don't hear it myself. Maybe Wenzel occasionally sounds like Greg Lake, but with a thick German accent.
Still, what is it that we have here? I've owned this album in one form or another since the late 1980s and I couldn't tell you. Time to figure it out.
It's the title track that really throws one off the scent. So finally I decided to listen to Side 2 first. On these three tracks we have a fairly typical organ based Krautrock sound, very much what you would expect to hear in 1971. So from that angle, Novalis are behind the times, but still pleasant. Solid 3.5 material.
But the title track, this is the secret of the album. Basically it's a symphonic prog version of Dom's Edge of Time. What? Well... there are these long stretches of tranquil/drone trip-out music with mumbling downer vocals in English that do in fact recall a mold infested bridge-to-nowhere in the countryside. Out of the depths of depression rise the organ and synthesizers, which provides the perfect contrast. And so it goes between both styles for its 17 minute duration. Awesome. Had this been side 2 instead, I'm sure this album would be more highly regarded today. It sounds like a side 2 honestly.
Personally I think this album is a lot more "true Krautrock" than ever given credit for. After this, Novalis along with Eloy, pretty much defined the German variation of symphonic progressive rock. Almost the antithesis of the raw Krautrock sound we've been accustomed to.
As mentioned above, I've owned this album since the late 1980s. Almost a parallel ownership situation to the Jane Together album that we just updated. I started with the single sleeve black label, and graduated to the 1974 green label gatefold. In this case though, I did finally secure a true original with the Metronome on the insignia. As for the CD, the Repertoire version from 1997 is excellent, with a history of the band, and great sound - licensed directly from Metronome. I bought it not long after its release.