An outstanding reissue
Martin Leitch
11:53 16th November 2021

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Within the realms of late '60s and early '70s German rock, few acts possessed a greater mystique than Ash Ra Tempel. A loose collective of auditory ramblers, the band—helmed by Manuel Göttsching, their very own neuron-frying guitar hero—issued a string of albums that were as innovative and free-flowing as the most daring work of any of their contemporaries. Amongst that catalogue, it's perhaps 1972's Schwingungen that most enthusiastically abandons the rock framework in which the group ostensibly existed.

Indeed, in its long-form compositions—all three of which feel as though they were largely improvised, albeit around a preconceived framework—and audacious melding of influences, the album doesn't so much discard the rock 'n' roll rulebook as trounce it entirely. Suggesting, at times, the ethereal ambience of fellow Kosmische acts Agitation Free and Popul Vuh, Ash Ra Tempel drew more from the era's burgeoning New Age movement than from the stentorian hard rock of Amon Düül II or Jane. Ultimately establishing themselves as an act for the deep-thinkers amongst Germany's growing counterculture, Ash Ra Tempel added an element of free-jazz furore to much of Schwingungen, perhaps evoking Albert Ayler and the latter-day work of John Coltrane more than the output of, say, Can or Faust.

Officially reissued on vinyl for the first time in an age, this new edition of Schwingungen (slightly prematurely) celebrates the album's fiftieth anniversary—and, befitting of that momentous birthday, it boasts crisp audio and a gorgeous vinyl pressing on heavyweight black wax, courtesy of Germany's ever-popular Optimal Media. True to the impressive precedent of other releases we've heard from that pressing plant this year, this is an outstanding reissue—and a good thing too, as intrusive surface noise would render the album's many stretches of murmured ambience practically unlistenable. Fortunately, there are no such issues here; the noise floor is low and surfaces are clean, being free of any audible imperfections. Equally impressive is the mastering, which brings out the subtle details in the soundstage and reinforces the sheer nuance of the band's performances.  

Equally impressive is the packaging and presentation. Issued in a handsome gatefold sleeve that faithfully reproduces the visual aesthetic of the original release, this reissue boasts the kind of striking visual fidelity that a good amount of reissues of vintage titles (particularly rarer albums originally released on smaller labels) lack by simple virtue of the original art proofs having been lost to time. That, presumably, has not happened here—as image quality is impressive on both the front and back covers, as well as the inner gatefold spread. A long-overdue re-release of a Kosmische classic, MG.ART's 50th anniversary edition of Ash Ra Tempel's sophomore album has been produced to impressive standards, bringing a genre-busting sonic journey back into readily availability in the process.


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Photo: Press