c/o Sluchacz, Akademia Art Rocka (PL)
The German progressive rock is not very popular in our country. However, it turns out that sometimes it is worth looking for it. Recently, one of my friends recommended the latest album by Shamall to me, with the title “Schizophrenia”. The band name didn’t tell me much, although Norbert Krüler, the Westphalian bandleader, has been composing for over 30 years and has recorded more than 20 albums. Initially, he was engaged in electronic music. Later he turned to art rock, when at the beginning of the new millennium he opened a new chapter in his work with the album “The Book: Genesis” – progressive music strongly rooted in electronic sounds.
Later, within twelve years, he recorded another seven albums, also very successful. However, the production of the album “Schizophrenia” took him almost six years, not counting his side projects. The album was released in October last year. It is a double album with twenty-two tracks and a total playtime of over one hundred and fifty minutes of music, but it is so fascinating that it is difficult to pass by it indifferently. Even if at first glance the total playtime may seem too complex (which, by the way, seems to be the norm in the case of Shamall), it is worth listening to the album several times and with concentration. The band’s music wins and engages the ear and mind with each subsequent listen.
Six years for the recording and production of the album was not wasted time. In fact, Norbert Krüler, mentioned in the introduction (vocals, guitars, piano, organ, keyboards, bass and programming) is responsible for the whole thing, both in terms of composition and lyrics. He is accompanied by Matthias Mehrtens (lead guitar) and Anke Ullrich (also lead and accompanying vocals).
“Schizophrenia” is a very personal statement by the composer. He touches thematically on the problems of today’s world. He asks difficult questions and tries to find out in which direction our civilization is developing. He does not give easy answers. The growing ignorance of societies and the growing fear of the future make this most beautiful of worlds, which we have subdued and made friendly to us, not seem so at all. It is becoming increasingly difficult to discover in it a safe place for ourselves. Life on the green planet is becoming increasingly dehumanized, we experience intolerance every day, and it is slowly becoming the norm that impresses no one. Although Norbert Krüler looks at the problem from his own native perspective, his observations have a universal dimension. Every day there are growing problems due to the lack of effective measures to protect our planet. However, in the individual dimension, we don’t care much and still feel good when we look in the mirror (Man In The Mirror). The Shamall Headman decided to shake the audience. He does not want to accept the ubiquitous turning of the gaze and escape from the problem. The title “Schizophrenia” is the one who, knowing the threat, turns a blind eye and does nothing. On the other hand, Anke’s voice appears as a counterpoint, singing about the beauty of the world and its magnificent colors. The serenity of the main character is disturbed by the fact that she prefers to indulge in indifference, sit on the couch and smoke pot.
Similarly interesting is the musical dialogue between Anke and Norbert in “Supernatural Dream”, which adds additional colors and variety to the composition. Despite its extensive form, the whole thing really doesn’t wear out. The dramaturgy of the story grows and melodic solos of keyboard instruments that appear from time to time make the album really attractive. Matthias Mehrtens’ guitar and his thoughtful solo parts should also be highlighted, as well as the varied, dynamically programmed drums.
The first part ends with the track “Thoughts” P. II. Its narrative gradually thickens, while the theme, worked to a climax, suddenly falls silent, leaving the listener as if in limbo.
The second act of the drama unfolds just as leisurely, and the first piece shows that the composer still has much to say. It is difficult to categorize this music clearly. It is both a noble progression, drawing on the old art rock, combined with the best of German Krautrock (although the album is English-language), and the whole thing skillfully colored with elements of electronic music. The whole thing is a captivating journey through a variety of musical styles, but they are combined into a thoughtful whole and constantly enriched with new inspirations. We have here both strong and interesting riffs, fascinating mood changes and climatic solos. There are fast-paced passages, but also quiet moments that allow you to take a breath. And there is also a subtly woven passage accompanied by classical orchestra.
One of the most important tracks of the second album is the epic “World of Emotions”, enriched with a great guitar solo. In the second part of his story Norbert Krüler gave more space to the guitar of Matthias Mehrtens. At this point we should point out “The Inconvenient Truth” P. II and “The Shape of Things to come”. We have there the capital, extensive Matthias parts, supplemented by Norbert’s keyboard solos. In the second part we also hear Anke Ullrich more often. Basically, the entire conclusion is recommended here, from “We Are All In The Same Boat” to “Eyes Of A Stranger”. It is a truly epic narrative that gradually maintains the tension, although almost an hour has passed since the beginning of the work.
After the first listen I thought that the album could be shorter, but I quickly changed my mind. It’s worth giving it time. Then it fully unfolds its charm, freshness and dynamics. I emphasize once again – it is a very complex project, which includes a total of twenty-two tracks and two and a half hours of music. It is difficult to focus on individual details in this case, but we have to admit that each further listening again leads to new impressions and mysteries. Even the opening of the entire title track, over eighteen minutes long, would require individual analysis, but in my opinion the overall impression that remains after listening to the whole is more important.
In this music there are no empty words and phrases that disappear into oblivion after the end of the album. Significant are the repetitions of a few themes, based on order, that run through the entire work. Also worth mentioning is the very careful production, from the care of the final mixes of the tracks to the attractive graphic design of the cover.
I do not hide the fact that “Schizophrenia” has been a frequent guest on my CD player for some time now, and at the same time it has considerably stimulated my curiosity about the earlier achievements of Shamall and Norbert Krüler. I fear that this music may become addictive….