Novalis were a krautrock group formed in Germany in the seventies. The lyrics on the group's first album Banished Bridge (1973) were written in English. However, their producer Achim Reichel, formerly of The Rattles, suggested that they should sing in German. From that moment on the group incorporated poems by their namesake, the Romantic-era writer Novalis, along with their own lyrics. After lead singer Fred Mühlböck had joined the group they gained their greatest successes and even international recognition with the albums Sommerabend (1976), Brandung (1977) and Vielleicht Bist Du Ein Clown? (1978). They donated the proceeds from the concept album Flossenengel (1979), which was based on the theme of whaling, to the World Wildlife Fund. In the early eighties, and in the wake of the Neue Deutsche Welle, Novalis appeared to be rather outdated. The group was looking for new musical directions, but disbanded after numerous personnel changes. Their final album was Nach Uns Die Flut (1985).
Lately Flossenengel got a very good re-release that contains some background information and pictures from that era. This can all be found in the booklet. Nowadays drummer Hartwig Biereichel still remembers when it came out in 1979. “This album marks our creative peak”, he recalls. “The dreamy and naive phase ended with Flossenengel. It's a concept album and each song builds on the preceding one. Moreover, for the first time we had shorter tracks. In contrast to our previous monster tracks, the songs were more condensed, what many pleased but others criticized. With this album we became compatible for the radio for the first time. The songs were rougher, but at the same time more rhythmic and structured.”
The concept of the album deals with Atlanto, a whale who was captured and as a result almost died. Yet, in the end the fisherman who had held him in captivity frees him in the ocean. For many people this story is strongly reminiscent of the famous movie Free Willy. However, in those days nobody had ever heard of this movie because it wasn't made yet! The musicians of Novalis tell this story very creatively needing ten tracks for the tale of the whale. Right from the start you'll notice the high level of progressive rock music on the outstanding instrumental opening piece Atlanto. The music on this track has been combined with original underwater recordings of whales.
Throughout the album it's obvious that Novalis were influenced by the bands that dominated the progressive rock scene at the time. Therefore it isn't strange that traces of Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd can be heard. Especially Im Netz contains many elements, like the sound of the lap steel guitar that shifts the music in the direction of Pink Floyd's music. Other krautrock bands like Grobschnitt and Eloy might have been influential as well. That's understandable since these bands also learned a lot from the British bands that ruled the progressive rock waves in the seventies.
It's a delight to listen to the many fantastic guitar and keyboard solos performed by Detlef Job and Lutz Rahn on the entire album. However, I'm also aware of the fact that not everybody will like the way Fred Mühlböck sings; sometimes it's a bit too theatrical. People who prefer English lyrics have to get used to lyrics sung in German. The rather short Ob Tier, Ob Mensch, Ob Baum concludes the album; it symbolizes the solidarity between humankind and nature. Just as on the first track they integrated the singing of the whales into the music which ends Flossenengel very pleasantly.
People who are connected with krautrock made in the seventies, but also with the aforementioned bands should check out Flossenengel by all means. Highly recommended even without bonus tracks!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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