1. Stratosfear [10:35]
  2. The Big Sleep In Search Of Hades [4:26]
  3. 3am At The Border Of The Marsh From Okefenokee [8:49]
  4. Invisible Limits [11:24]
Recorded August 1976 at Audio Studios Berlin.
All tracks written and played by Franke/ Froese/ Baumann. Consisting of four parts, Stratosphere reworked the Tangerine Dream trademark sound--a heady mix of electric guitar, drum, and assorted other electronic instruments-- into a form more readily available to those new to the genre than their previous works. A rich blend of racing sequences, dramatic chord structures, and a stranger-than-strange bluesy treatment of a track called "3 am at the Border of the Marsh from...." A surreal experience indeed.

This was the last Tangerine Dream release to feature long time associate Peter Baumann, who left the band a year later.

Paul Clark Behind the lines of analog synths and extended pieces that formed the basis of their classic albums, it is with Stratosfear that one gets, perhaps for the very first time in their career, a prefiguring of the more commercialized direction towards which Tangerine Dream were headed, and perhaps a decade or more down the road would swallow them whole. That being said, luckily that was still a distance off.

Rising uncharacteristically out of a delicate web of twelve-string, the E minor title track "Stratosfear" is marked by a more streamlined sound than what was offered previously by this band: an increase in formal structure, the absence of VCS3 and improvisational room to lend their work some psychedelic edge, and the sequenced rhythms reaching their highest peak of accessibility thus far. Despite all this, however, it is still a very enjoyable piece due to its visible main melody, glowering Moog lines, and the build-up and discharge of dynamics that were still well-deployed by the band.
"The Big Sleep in Search of Hades," very reminiscent of contemporaneous work by Cluster and particularly solo Hans-Joachim Roedelius, offers a meditative resting stop. A ballet trio of flute mellotron, clavinet and bass guitar dance through minor key shades, then are momentarily intruded upon by more sinister calls from the Moog that seem to be almost peeking in from the previous track.
"3am at the Border of the Marsh from Okefenokee" opens up with ghoulish Sergio Leone-like harmonica (!!), languidly delivered against the backdrop of the slow, drip-drop-drip-drop notes that play throughout the piece. I feel it's too bad they didn't stay with this idea exclusively; from here, the rhythm picks up to moderate pacing and the piece largely settles back like a reclining chair into 'C minor with modal soloing on mellotron'... too familiar sounding by this point and fully extracted on previous efforts Rubycon and Ricochet.
"Invisible Limits" is probably the track that reaches the furthest on this album. The piece develops into the galloping sequencing that was introduced by the title track, before eventually getting lost in a haze, and then ending up with a brief elegy of piano and flute mellotron.

Stratosfear is another album that fans can safely catalogue in the "T" section of their CD collection, though in my opinion with the slope continuing to follow a modest linear decline, downward from the peaks of Phaedra and Rubycon.

2006. Joe McGlinchey