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Bron: Aura, nr.4, 1979
Auteur: Phil Burford

Popol Vuh

Popol Vuh – Bruder des Schattens, Söhne des Lichts (Brain 0060.167)

Popol Vuh – On the Way to a little Way (Original Soundtrack to Herzog’s Fantôme de la Nuit (Egg 900 573

Popol Vuh seem to have been rather busy lately, although their output has always been quite prolific compared with other German bands. The groupare out on their own creating music in a unique style which cannot really be compared to anyone else. The Brain album, recorded in August 1978 and released on import just before Xmas, follows the same style promoted on Heart of Glass, but in a more mellow manner. The feverish drumming that accompanied the majority of tracks on the earlier releases has vanished to a large extent, leaving the main theme as an interweaving of Fricke’s simple piano motifs with Daniel’s intricate acoustic and electric guitar patterns. This is especially true of the three tracks on side 2 which, after a few cursory hearings, seem to be very ordinary, but still later you find the depth and warmth which are hidden within each piece of music. Fricke and Fichelscher do really seem to have some sort of magic chemistry working between them to produce such beauty from only piano and guitar, music to float away on.

Side 1 is taken up by the extended title piece, and opens with a beautiful passage of male choir/oboe and cymbals, conjuring up images of imaginary lost, mystic temples. The music is totally removed from any sort of rock tag which might be used to try and label it, comparisons with the Grateful Dead which have been rooted by some people seem to be very tenuous. After the opening five minutes, the choir disappears and we are left with Fricke and Fichelscher exchanging messages on piano and guitar, taking us on a timeless trip with the help of Al Gromer’s careful/sparse use of sitar, and Ted de Jong’s occasional tamboura, plus the ever present oboe floating in the background. Perfect.

The second album has only just appeared on Egg and is another kettle of fish altogether. Understanding of the recording, personnel etc, is not helped by the cover which concentrates almost totally on aspects of the film. The only clue is given by the production date of 1978, but listening to the album you find perhaps the most diverse Popol Vuh album to date. Judging from the credits for the ten tracks included here, if seems the line-up of the band remains virtually the same as on the Brain release. As opposed to the latter, Fricke is seen to share the writing more than ever before with Al Gromer, Danny Fichelscher and Ted de Jong, all contributory efforts.

Side 1 begins with ‘Mantra’ a very ‘Indian’ influenced place with Gromer and Jong to the forefront on sitar and tamboura This is followed by a Fichelscher acoustic guitar track, very light and flows along well. The Indian filling comes to a head on the third track written by Gromer, combining the sitar from the east with the guitar from the west. The final track follows in the same musical mould, although a more melancholy mood is introduced by the intoning sitar, Fricke, despite writing two tracks on Side 1, seems very little in evidence on the actual tracks and it all seems down to Fichelscher/Jong and Gromer it is only with the first three tracks on side 2 that he comes to the fore with three beautifully controlled synthesizer pieces (this is written Daniel abd Jong), which let the silence speak as loud as the synthesizer itself. For some reasons the first track ‘On the Way’ seems very familiar, but still shows Fricke is a real master of the synthesizer. Tracks four and six are re-workings of ‘Kleine Krieger’ and ‘King Minos’ of the earlier Vuh album ‘Einsjäger & Siebenjäger’. The basic tracks have been re-recorded, adding various sitar sounds as embellishment, and both ideas work. The other number on Side 2 ‘Die Nacht der Himmel’ has the same feeling as the opening track on the Brain album, temple choir enchanting the night with sparse musical back-up.

Two albums of equal  importance, the Brain release is the more coherent but the soundtrack album shows the band at their most diverse, perhaps it make sense after seeing the film as the music this time seems to have been tailored directly for the story.

The question is, how long now can Fricke and Fichelscher keep up such a high standard?

Both highly recommended.