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A Krautrock supergroup featuring members of Guru Guru and Univers Zero.

Music Review: Gurumaniax – Psy Valley Hill

Gurumaniax are something of a prog-rock supergroup. Led by Krautrock legend Mani Neumeier (drums) and his former Guru Guru stalwart Ax Genrich (guitar), the emphasis is on heavy duty psychedelic prog. Univers Zero member Guy Segers (bass) completes the power trio, with the emphasis fully on power.

While Mani has led Guru Guru from 1968 all the way up to the present day, the years Ax spent in the band (1970-75) are generally considered to be their most essential. These were the glory days of Krautrock, and Guru Guru contributed such classics as UFO (1970), Hinten (1971), and Kanguru (1972) to the cause.

Guy Segers joined the Belgian “chamber rock” consortium who call themselves Univers Zero in 1979, just in time to appear on Heresie. It is regarded as one of the darkest records ever, and is as mythical in some circles as anything Guru Guru accomplished.

With all of these credentials, Gurumaniax sounded great in theory. As we all know however, so-called supergroups are almost always a disappointment. Whether there is too much ego in the room, the guys have lost their chops, or time has just passed them by, these collaborations have a high rate of failure.

Thankfully, that is not the case with Psy Valley Hill. As opening track “Drumoroto” unfolds, you get the sense that this is a band with a lot to say. As the title implies, it is a drum showcase, and Mani brings everything he has to the performance. But nobody is laying back. Segers lays down some funky bass, while Ax gets a little crazed feedback action going on his Strat.

“Spaceship Memory” follows, and provides a direct link back to Guru’s early days. The thirteen minute song recalls elements of “Spaceship,” which closed out their second album, Hinten in 1971. As the initial trippines wears off, the three go into a bit of a chill-zone, and Ax’s guitar dominates. There are times when this track veers into some of the post-apocalyptic territory of Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain,” the parts in between the terrifying solos of Eddie Hazel.

In fact, the ghost of that troubled, yet brilliant guitarist seems to haunt Ax Ginrich often here. That signatory sound is even more prevalent on the aptly titled “Ghost Of Odin.” The closest Gurumaniax come to Univers Zero is on “Electrosaurus,“ which incorporates some severe dirge motifs.

The best Krautrock balanced the serious music with a bit of goofy, off the cuff material, and Psy Valley Hill lives up to the tradition. “Telefonladies,” is probably the funniest, a tribute to the old school telephone operators who used to help us make calls. It is also a sly wink to Kraftwerk, who cut “The Telephone Call” many years ago, in a similar vein.

The album closes with a bluesy lament titled “For Uli T.” Bassist Uli Trepte was a founding member of Guru Guru, and played on their first three albums. He passed in 2009, and his former colleagues pay him a nice tribute here.

Far from being a disappointment, the old guys who got together “one more time” as Gurumaniax have achieved the near impossible. They have released a credible Krautrock album in 2010, against all the odds. Anyone who liked what that genre, or good prog was all about back in the day should definitely hear Psy Valley Hill.

About Greg Barbrick

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