This is by far the scariest Krautrock record of all. Recorded 1972 in an air-raid shelter in Düsseldorf it is sort of channeling the German past. On the back of the record there’s a note: “As we played down there in the old bunker, suddenly a strange atmosphere began to work. The ghosts of the past whispered. There has been fear, desperation – but also hope. Maybe you will feel such impressions too, by listening carefully.” In regard to the bad sound quality of the record and the clumsy playing one could have all these feelings while listening, indeed.
But apart from bad jokes, what is it that drove these guys to record and layout the record the way they did back in 1972 – plus sampling bits of Hitler speeches into the lo-fi-bunker-jams? Julian Cope even reports that the band stated: “We dedicate this record to our parents which had a bad time in World War II.” (The copy I own, the Flashback-Rerelease from 2010, doesn’t feature that quote.)
All in all German Oak resembles a Heavy Metal aesthetic much more than anything else and it comes as no surprise that one of the German Oak members started a Hardrock/Metal project in the late 1970’s. Within the Metal genre it is common to address extreme issues/topics with extreme music and by recreating/imitating an event’s imagery without advocating or affirming its historical content/message (a fine example for that attempt/method: Sodom “Ausgebombt“). It’s an (often – aesthetically – failing and somewhat naïve or at least: helpless) attempt to criticise or comment on an event that all arts fail to cope with: the horror of war.
“German Oak” is an example of the (necessarily) failing artistic attempt: On first sight the record (shockingly, suspiciously) looks like a random Nazi-Rock-Record, with the drawing of a soldier wearing a steel helmet on the cover garlanded by laurel and the pseudo-Fraktur-type logo of the band’s name (and the band’s name in itself). But it isn’t a Nazi-Record, it is more of an awkward (and somehow appropriate) comment on the German past, a strange encounter with the “the ghost of the past” that were looking for shelter in that bunker.
All that stripped away from the music, what remains is jam-based, psychedelic and brute Lo-Fi-Blues-Noise-Rock, sounding like an instrumental and demonic version of Blue Cheer or a drunken-teenage-version of the Dead C – or some proto Heavy Metal.