February 24, 2024

I expect most of you have twigged by now that Brexit has brought about a lot of changes, most of which haven’t been quite as intended by the Powers That Be. Lob into that the maelstrom that was the Pandemic, and nothing is quite what it used to be. One end result of all this that has struck me is the extent to which touring has changed – most noticeably by UK bands trying to “do” Europe, and vice versa. And as ever, it’s the up-and-coming brigade that suffers most. Unless you’re a well-established Megalith that can comfortably swallow all the extra paperwork now required for band members – and each piece of kit – for every different country or venue that you’re hoping to play at, the cost and general hassle seems to have contributed to many a planned tour now becoming severely streamlined – as in significantly curtailed. There could well be other factors at play, but the end result isn’t good news…

For me, doting on a whole raft of wonderful retro-rock bands from mainland Europe what this means is that all too often, a UK tour for my heroes ends up being a couple of dates in London (natch); something on the south coast; a gig in Wales and another in Scotland…and that’s it! Me being based in the Musical Morass that lies between these far-flung corners means I either have to rather brave (financially and partner-wise)…..or miss out. And the resulting ‘knock-on effect’ is less social media coverage for these bands….

All of which is a VERY long-winded attempt at explaining how, despite my fave raves, I’d never heard of Wucan until now – I’ve only found one UK-based review of them or their albums in recent times, plus a short but helpful article in Wikipedia, and I stumbled across them completely by accident courtesy of bandcamp links. So, being for the benefit of all you UK retro-rockers out there, let me tell you a little about them, and tantalise you with their last album Heretic Tongue which, to be clear, was being worked upon as early as 2019 but because of the pandemic didn’t see the light of day until 2022 – to the sound of tumbleweed rolling across the UK….

Okey-dokey! Wucan is a German rock band from Dresden, Germany, who like to describe their style as Heavy Flute Rock! To you and me that means heavy 70’s influenced folk rock along the lines of Jethro Tull, perhaps a touch of Focus, and added swathes of psychedelia and heavy retro-rock from the Sabbath stableAha!” I hear you cry!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you…Wucan!

The band was actually formed as long ago as late 2011, when singer, flautist and rhythm guitarist Francis Tobolsky placed an advert in a Dresden student magazine with the headline “Blues Brothers Wanted“. Guitarist Tim George and drummer ‘Pätz’ joined up in early 2012, followed by bass player Patrik Dröge. Francis, Tim and Patrik have remained as constants ever since, and don’t seem to get any older when you skim through their videos! – must be the “Peter Pan piper” touch! They’ve worked their way through several drummers since then, I believe the latest occupant of the hot-seat is Philip Knöfel. They launched their first full-length epic Sow The Wind that year, featuring lots of psych riffs, proggy structures, folky elements, and a nice juicy hard-rock undercurrent. It featured track lengths of anything between short, sharp thrashes to epic works of art of 15 minutes in length in the case of “Wandersmann”. They followed this with 2017’s Reap The Storm which followed pretty much in the same vein. Given their retro-rock leanings, they got to tour several times as support to another German band Kadavar, and have also been close compadres of fellow countrymen Zodiac.

As the above shows, they also got to tour the UK last Autumn, which brings me back to my original rant. Wucan’s tour was a “massive” four dates – London, Tilbury, Glasgow and Newcastle. See what I mean? Anyway, on with the music. Wucan describe themselves as trying to nail the loose ends of hard rock, loving their influences whilst always trying to add something different. They dont do “killing dragons and all that jazz”, but aim to lyrically address the here and now, not dealing in escapism but trying to tackle contemporary issues such as modern rage and a view of the world through German eyes?

And so to have a look at Heretic Tongues – it’s not even the band’s most recent album, a live set having been recorded and self-produced in 2023, but the songs are currently their most recent studio recordings. The album was released in May 2022 and I understand a fourth studio album is currently under development. The album has seven tracks, all of quite “normal” length with the exception of the epic closer. The lyrics are part English, part German, with bandleader Francis Tobolsky once again coming over as a hugely charismatic singer who can deliver a powerful and authentic performance, to the point where she’s currently regarded as one of the top rock vocalists in Germany. Compared to their previous work, the album sees an increased use of synthesizers and also a theremin ( a sort of musical wand?), whilst seeking to create more complex soundscapes than previously (according to the band’s website) without diluting their signature hard-rock sound. Whether that proved to be universally popular I don’t know!

The opening track is Kill The King, wading in with some meaty riffs, flute and a nice tight bass and drums unit. Fans of Witchwood and Tull will quickly feel at home here. Francis’ trademark vocals are hugely expressive, there’s a real “live” feel to this track, faithfully illustrated in the second video attached which looks to be a complete run-through of this album. Not sure about the extended choral chant on this one, which also looks to be an opening feature of their live shows.

Don’t Break The Oath is next (also first video below), it comes barnstorming in with a tasty riff and the first burst of Tim’s excellent guitar work – theres a real touch of Jan Akkerman about him at times, his fretwork is just so effortless…meanwhile the track rampages away, a stonking rhythm and dynamic vocals. There’s a nice change of tempo in the mid-section instrumental, it swirls irrepressibly around you before we’re back into headbanging mode to round off!

Fette Deutsche is the first song in German, more great riffery swapping lead roles with Francis’ flute in a mix of psych and 70’s boogie. The translated lyrics take a pop at (I guess) right-wing attitudes in Germany. Francis’ singing is impassioned, energetic and “in yer face”, nicely balanced with a distinctly spacey instrumental bridge section before we’re back to the boogie/chorus mix and psych fade-out.

Far Beyond is longer, a change of tempo led by synth lines, a hypnotic loping bass-line and perhaps cleaner guitar lines. It’s very 70’s and I love it! The vocals are rich, almost operatic – you could imagine Francis giving “Ride of the Valkeries” a good belting, complete with Viking helmet! The rhythm to this one changes several times, it’s an engagingly creative slab of Prog that shows off their individual musical talents very well. There then follows an interesting morph into Far Beyond (Until We Meet Again), a nicely loose work-out around the basic rhythm, almost disco at times, always driven by the bassline – clever stuff.

Zwischen Liebe und Zorn is the second track sung in German, it’s a return to a very Tull/Witchwood blend of prog and retro-rock, interspersed by distinctly teutonic vocals/chants. Lyrically the translation reads like a hippy-ish revolutionary mantra circa 1968 and the singing reflects that. There’s some blistering guitar work again from Tim, I’m so impressed by his work, his guitar intertwines so well with Francis’ flute, always underpinned by the redoubtable rhythm section. Possibly my favourite track up to now.

And so to the album’s closer, all twelve and a half minutes of it. Physical Boundaries has a slow, nicely atmospheric, spacy intro that gradually brings in the rhythm section, a hypnotically simple guitar line and delicate flute work over the top. It’s quite Proggy, with (for me) distinct shades of the Manband at times in that feel of an extended work-out but still tautly accurate and spell-binding, especially when Francis’ bewitching vocals come in. Being a life-long Man fan, that is praise indeed! For a work-out such as this, the time-changes and individual instruments being so well composed and controlled, this quartet are a mean set of musicians. The second “movement” evolves in a softer vibe while still keeping that hypnotic psych-rhythm going into the final spacey section. This is quality psych/retro-rock that still sounds fresh, contemporary, crisply mixed and produced, and meticulously crafted – this track is simply epic!

Listening to some of their early work definitely brought Focus to mind, and their spirit still lurks within this band. Add to that chunks of Jethro Tull and I can happily recommend this to all lovers of Psych / Prog /Retro-rocks – there’s some superb musicianship on here, a cut above most others in the genre.

I’d like to think they might get to play ALL of the UK sometime very soon!

Ordinarily I’d just have the one video to give a flavour of the band – but given the timescale and nature of this article, I’ve treated you all to an extended video of the band working out – Enjoy!