c/o Andrew Cottrell, Background Magazine, NL
Shamall is the pseudonym used by German DJ, multi-instrumentalist and composer, Norbert Kruler who released his first work in the late 1980s, influenced by Krautrock as well as mainstream electronic music, although over time he has been more heavily influenced by the progressive music scene and has incorporated a range of acoustic instruments to better expand the musical palette. Schizophrenia is his 15th release of recorded work and weighing in at 2.5 hours worth over 2CDs, it is an absolute monster.
Given the length and the heavyweight subject matter this is never going to be comfortable listening and in truth it presents a somewhat indigestible feast, which is a shame because as you might expect from a performer of this experience there is much to admire and what is presented here deserves a larger audience than I suspect it will be able to attract. Clearly Kruler’s strengths are in his arrangements and the majority of the work comprises what is clearly his favoured mode, extemporising Wish You Were Here style keyboard ruminations over a Berlin school array of technology and programmed beats. I found these more ambient passages worked rather well with occasional bursts of guitar and saxophone extending the range of tone and bringing in warmth as well as frantic aggression, suitable for the theme. The vocal passages were less successful, however, while the voice is suitably angst-ridden, the tone rarely varies giving a monochrome effect which is unhelpful in a piece of this length, and the use of short, repeated motifs not only fails to do justice to developing the serious themes, but also at times gives the impression of listening to an extended series of remixes. It is certainly a relief when the female voice comes to the fore towards the end of either half, affording some more subtle forms of expression.
Where Shamall really shine, in my book, is in reaching into new areas outside the comfort zone of the favoured Tangerine Dream meets Pink Floyd mode. The acoustic tones which dominate Thoughts Part II show a skilled and subtle arrangement, and the opening few tracks of part two are superb, zinging with energy and invention. World Of Emotions is as good as anything I have heard recently in this genre and in The Inconvenient Truth Part 2 there are passages brimming with electricity.
In Schizophrenia Shamall have produced something which is more approachable and digestible than it may appear at first sight, but it is still a long and often uncomfortable listen which is unlikely to attract a new audience despite there being much in here that is new and very good indeed. A more ruthless approach to editing and discipline in avoiding the temptation to overextend and remix pieces could produce a tauter piece which would attract a wider audience to some of the real talent on display here.
c/o Background Magazine, NL, Andrew Cottrell