Reviews:


Eric Lumbleau    13-July-2001 Simples

For the uninitiated, a first exposure to Magma can feel like the musical equivalent of receiving a hysterically impassioned Zoroastrian sermon. There's no doubting the strength of their convictions, but the source of their passions can initially seem resolutely obscure. Take the time to rearrange your mental furniture and let it seep into your bones; however, and it suddenly becomes shockingly clear. Under the leadership of drummer/vocalist/chief conceptualist Christian Vander, Magma so thoroughly reinvented the wheel aligned between jazz and rock that any preconceived critical strategy for appraising their aesthetic is rendered woefully inadequate to the task, akin to demonstrating the grandeur of the Sistine Chapel with the use of stick figures.

Masterfully segueing between the cathartically doomy and triumphantly celebratory, this five-track EP, compiling early singles tracks from 1971-1974, is a virtual object lesson in the evocation of pathos, drama and histrionic emotionality, their invented Kobian language providing a pure expressive vehicle for their escalating frenzy unencumbered by any graspable narrative thrust. Instead, the narrative is externalized in the form of a complete mythology Magma have constructed around themselves, Kobian being the language of an advanced future race of humans living in an anarcho-utopian paradise on another planet, having fled this desperately corrupted one years before and now having returned to instruct us on the madness of our ways.

Marrying Orff-ian bombast to furiously dense jazz rock and tying it up in intricate knots of Kobian vocalese, this foundation forms a springboard for primary vocalist Klaus Blasquiz's achingly soulful vocals, as he soars in and around a concussive maelstrom of maniacal dexterity that peaks on the blistering "Hamtaak" and "Mekanik Machine", and leaves me in a sweaty and spent heap, having bounded all over my room in wild-eyed derangement.

As close as any music has come, in my estimation, to religious ecstasy, this institution of French music, spear-headers of an entire genre of music known as Zeuhl, are screaming for the same widespread cultural reassessment afforded a group such as Can, and like Can, the plethora of brain-damagingly brilliant bands they've influenced both past (Weidorje, Eskaton, Honeyelk) and present (Ruins, Koenjihyakkei, Bondage Fruit) are a testament to their continued significance. Baptize yourself in this and change your life forever.

(Originally published in Alternative Press #130, p.101; reprinted by permission)




Peter Thelen    26-Feb-2001 The World of Magma

Imagine a world, many centuries into the future, when society as we know it has decayed into chaos and degradation, void of spiritual guidance. The colonization of space is well underway, and space travel has become commonplace. It is in this setting that a handful of enlightened Earth people seeking a better existence finance the construction of a private spacecraft and leave the planet in search of a new world where a new, more spiritually guided civilization can be reborn. They finally find that new home after a long and hazardous journey on the distant planet Kobaia, where the party settles and begins anew.

Magma is a concept band whose albums explain the origins and development of the new civilization on Kobaia, and their interactions with the people of Earth and other planets. All of their lyrics are sung in the language of the new civilization, 'Kobaian'. As one might expect, the music from Kobaia several hundred years from now is very unlike what we are accustomed to on twentieth century planet Earth. Magma's music is very strange, beautiful, and ultimately rewarding, but it does require an open mind on the part of the listener. It is music that must be experienced fully with body, heart and soul; not simply a cerebral performance of some kind of space opera by clever musicians, but a full blown spiritual experience with the music acting as the connecting vehicle between performer and listener.

Led by drummer Christian Vander, Magma began in the final months of the sixties in France, pretty much apart from the underground music scene of the times. In fact most of the original members had worked in other rock and jazz groups before, although without much notoriety. The band has since gone through an almost constant stream of personnel changes, but the alumni list looks like a who's-who of top caliber French musicians: Klaus Blasquiz, Guy Khalifa, Claude Engel, Jannick Top, Bernard Paganotti, Patrick Gauthier, Francis Moze, Rene Garber, Jean-Luc Manderlier, Benoit Widemann, Didier Lockwood, Teddy Lasry, Yochk'o Seffer, Michel Herve, Florence Berteaux, Daniel Denis, Clement Bailly...and the list goes on. All the while, the one constant is Vander and his vision - although the contributions of the other musicians to the execution of this vision cannot be downplayed. The creation of the development of the original concept and the Kobaian language was in fact a group effort. Some players were more influential than others, but with each change in personnel came a slight change in the sound of the band.

The first album, a 2LP set simply titled Magma, is where the story begins. The first disc concerns itself with the departure and journey to Kobaia, arrival at their destination, the long and patient process of building a new society according to their vision, and their process of learning how to live in harmony with their new surroundings, while attaining a high degree of technological advancement. The second disc involves the rescue of a foreign spaceship which gets into orbital difficulties over Kobaia - this ship turns out to be manned by a crew from Earth. The visitors tell of the continued degeneration and disasters that have afflicted Earth, and at the same time are impressed with the progress that the Kobaians have made, their philosophy and societal organization, and how they have learned to live as one at peace with their surroundings. The Earthmen request that the Kobaians visit Earth and attempt to propagate their philosophy in order to save society from its certain destruction. After some deliberation, a small party agrees to accompany the stranded visitors on their journey home.

1001░ Centigrades, the second Magma album from 1971, begins with the arrival of the Kobaian party back on Earth, and the seemingly friendly welcome they receive. The Earth people listen to the stories of the establishment and growth of Kobaian civilization, to their philosophy, and ideas for the betterment of life on Earth through purification and spiritual enlightenment. But after airing these ideas at a meeting with the Earth authorities, the Kobaian party is promptly imprisoned and their spacecraft is impounded. But a message is sent to Kobaia, and a rescue effort is begun. The Kobaian rescue party offers the Earth authorities the choice of releasing the imprisoned Kobaians, or face certain destruction by the Kobaian's ultimate weapon. The imprisoned Kobaians are promptly released, and although they vow never to return, their visit is to be remembered by the few they came in contact with for a long period of time, their ideas preserved and passed on for future generations.

One of these people who remembered the essence of the Kobaians' visit was a man named Nebehr Gudahtt, a spiritualist who is the subject of the third Magma album, Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh, recorded in 1973. His message to the people of Earth is that their only salvation from an ultimate and certain doom is through self purification and communion with the divine spirit of the supreme being, the Kreuhn Kohrman. With this album we are introduced to the story of the Theusz Hamtaahk (literal translation: Time of Hatred) concerning the period of time on Earth between the Kobaian visit and the celestial march for enlightenment led by Nebehr Gudahtt which concludes this album. At first Gudahtt's message is rejected, and the people march against him, but as they march they begin to question their very existence and purpose. One by one, they begin to see his truth, slowly reaching enlightenment, and begin to march with him instead of against him.

MDK is the third movement of the Theusz Hamtaahk, which leads one to the question - where are the first and second movements? Originally, the Theusz Hamtaahk was ambitiously planned to be three cycles of three movements each (nine movements total), but the idea was apparently abandoned after MDK - at least further movements beyond that point were not identified as such. The second movement appeared the following year as the soundtrack to the Yvan Lagrange film "Tristan et Yseult", recorded by a scaled down 4-piece version of the band and officially listed as a Christian Vander solo record. In fact its CD re-release is credited to Magma and restores its proper title Wurdah Itah (translates to: Dead Earth). The first movement of Theusz Hamtaahk, a full length thirty-five minute opus, was performed regularly live, but was not released on record until the 1980 live album Retrospektiw I-II.

With their fourth album Kohntarkosz, Magma began what is presumed to be the first movement of the second cycle of the Theusz Hamtaahk, the story of Ementeht-Re. Here the story gets a bit more cryptic, intentionally so, as by this time Magma's music is taking on a more spiritual and purely musical nature, where vocals seem to be more an element of the music than a vehicle for delivering lyrics. Kohntarkosz is a man who discovers an old Egyptian tomb of an ancient master, murdered before reaching his aim, which was immortality. When he enters the tomb, he has a vision of Ementeht-Re, and all of his secrets are then revealed to Kohntarkosz.

The story goes on. A presumed second movement of Ementeht-Re was never recorded in one piece, but is scattered randomly across the next two albums Magma Live (the tracks "Hhai" and "Ementeht-Re") and Udu Wudu (the tracks "Zombies", "Soleil D'Ork" and "De Futura"). At this point the story becomes increasingly unclear. Other tracks like "Om Zanka" and "Gamma Anteria" (from the live album Inedits) and "Ptah" (from the unauthorized live Mekanik Zeuhl Wortz) seem to tie into the general concept as well, but Vander has offered few clues as to where the story goes after Kohntarkosz. Magma's 1978 album Attahk appears to have a theme also, but it seems to be unique unto itself and not tied in with any of the previous records. Again, Vander offers few clues. This also marks the last studio album which is sung exclusively in the Kobaian language.

And thus the Kobaian story closes. Magma's next studio effort Merci in '84 is sung in French and English, with a couple obligatory tracks in Kobaian, yet it seems very clear from the music and the overall direction that the band is moving in, that the Theusz Hamtaahk and the whole seventies concept of Magma is something they were trying hard to put behind them. This would also be Magma's final studio release. Within months, Christian Vander's new band Offering was born, moving further and deeper into the more acoustic Coltrane-inspired Jazz directions than Magma had ever dared to travel before. One senses the liberation that Offering provided, allowing Vander to explore new avenues that were unsuited to the seventies Magma style. Christian's Jazz Trio was also born in this period also, plus numerous solo projects, all of which very much deserve to be heard.

Clearly, the seventies version of Magma was one of the most influential of all French bands, equaled only by Gong and Ange. They have left a legacy of music that defies any of the standard and convenient classifications of rock, operating instead in a realm of their own creation. It waits to be discovered by new converts, and continually rediscovered by older fans alike. Kobaia iss de hundin!

(Originally published in ExposÚ #8, p. 6-7, Edited for Gnosis 1/20/01)




Rob Walker    26-Feb-2001 Magma: The Classic Years

Magma

Magma's earliest incarnation found its musical roots in the experimental electric jazz scene of the late 1960's. Their debut double album, featuring a lineup of keyboards, guitar, bass and drums, augmented by a trio of horn players, straddles the fuzzy line between progressive jazz-tinged rock and the exploratory jazz of the day. While it is at times reminiscent of Soft Machine or early Chicago, and at other times suggestive of Sun Ra or McCoy Tyner, this recording stakes out some relatively unique musical ground, which on ensuing albums will be expoited to incredible ends. Though Christian Vander's compositional peak was still several years away, both his skill and direction are quite evident here. The jazz element of the music manifests itself less through overt improvisation, despite the jazz background of the band, and more through the increased harmonic vocabulary and timbral variety Vander draws upon in his pieces. Hints of the voice-as-instrument concept, which grew to such prominence in later works, can be found here, along with the first examples of Klaus Blasquiz's manic high-pitched screaming fits. One of Vander's real strengths as a composer is his ability to poignantly portray the emotional contours of the lyrics or the story with his music. On Magma he effectively captures the different experiences of Kobaia's founders, mingling ominous and aggressive pieces with more hopeful and ethereal atmospheres. The structural elements Vander uses to convey these emotions, combined with the indecipherable Kobaian lyrics, give the music of Magma the characteristic other-worldly feel which came to define the Zeuhl sound.

1001░ Centigrades

Magma's second album continues in the experimental jazz-rock direction defined by the first. A few small lineup changes - the replacement of two horn players and the loss of guitarist Claude Engel - combined with Francois Cahen's introduction of electric piano to the group's sound, help push the band into an even more exploratory mode. The album consists of three long tracks which not only develop many of the musical concepts originated on the first album, but also delve into new compositional ideas. Vander's side long contribution, "Riah Sahiltaahk", introduces his penchant for phrase repetition as both a lyrical and a musical device, and his use of syncopation and instrumental counterpoint as a means to counteract the potential monotony of prolonged repetition. While the piece may bear a cursory resemblance to his work on the first album, structurally it has more in common with Vander's future compositions, emphasizing abrupt thematic transitions and an unassuming rhythmic diversity and complexity. The other two tracks, penned by Cahen and reedman Teddy Lasry, reveal a slightly more traditional jazz sensibility, as well as a more flowing compositional style, which Vander would incorporate into his own style in ensuing years.

Univeria Zekt - The Unnamables

A Magma album in disguise, The Unnamables was designed to ease listeners into the musical world of Magma. Recorded by essentially the same lineup as on 1001 Centigrades, the album basically reiterates the stylistic development shown through Magma's first two albums, while abandoning the science fiction concept of the Kobaian story. Three tracks from Lasry and one from Cahen on the first half of the album approximate the accessibility of the more well-known jazz-rock of the time. Vander's pieces on the second half of the album, however, begin to explore similar musical ground to that found on 1001 Centigrades. There is nothing here that is unique in the development of Magma's sound or style, but The Unnamables does contain some worthwhile and engaging music from the first phase of Magma's existence.

Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh

With the almost complete overhaul of Magma's lineup in 1972 came a similarly drastic shift in musical style and direction. Two of the groups main jazzmen, Cahen and Jeff Seffer, departed to form Zao, and with them went virtually all traces of jazz from Magma's sound. Vander's first album length composition instead focuses heavily on vocals as the main melodic "instrument" and repetition as the primary structural device. Eight vocalists are utilized to weave layers of repetitive motifs with their powerful and insistent chanting. The other instruments are relegated to mere supporting roles, providing an incessant rhythmic drive and occasional harmonic and countermelodic figures to compliment the vocals. Vander's drumming is exceptional, subtly avoiding the spotlight while providing enough rhythmic variation and complexity to keep the melodic repetition from becoming overbearing. His drumming style has changed as well to fit the music; the jazzy feel and snare offbeats are less prominent, replaced by an often heavy downbeat emphasis evoking the marching theme of the lyrical narrative. The cumulative effect is both mechanical and dynamic; machine-like in the repetition yet always driving forward and developing towards the dramatic finale.

Mekanik Kommandoh

Recorded several months before the album Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh, but not released until 1989, Mekanik Kommandoh is an interesting early version of this Vander composition. While the actual notes are virtually unchanged, the arrangement differs in several significant ways. The piece begins with a cacophonous piano introduction underneath Klaus Blasquiz's dynamic recitation, before the drums and bass join in for the familiar opening theme. With no guitar or horns in the ensemble, organ and piano are the only non-rhythm instruments to accompany the vocals, resulting in decreased timbral variety and less instrumental counterpoint. Thus the piece maintains a rawer, less refined feel that actually may instill it with more emotional impact. Instead of the chaotic, disintegrating ending of the other recording, this slightly curtailed version concludes simply with the peaceful beauty of the choral coda.

Wurdah Itah

Originally released as a film soundtrack credited solely to Christian Vander, Wurdah Itah was recorded by a quartet extracted from the 1974 lineup; one of the smallest incarnations of Magma ever. Aside from Jannik Top's bass, Vander plays all the instruments and carries his share of the vocals. Though indexed into 12 sections, the music flows together into one seamless piece that is similar in both style and effect to "Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh." The same dark, ominous, and somewhat mechanical atmosphere permeates the music and betrays the emotional context of the incomprehensible lyrics. Vander's improving compositional hand continues to stress vocals and repetition, but with some important developments. In the continuing evolution of vocals as the main instrument, Wurdah Itah sees the first appearance of wordless vocals; use of the voice for its sound alone, devoid of any lyrical message. Additionally, the incessant chanting of "Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh" is mostly gone, and with it some of the repetitiveness in the vocal melodies. What repetition remains, however, is subject to much more variation. Layers of motifs, stated both by the voices and the piano, move through different rhythmic and harmonic settings, lending a new complexity to the music which would be greatly expanded on the ensuing album.

Kohntarkosz

For the recording of Kohntarkosz, the Wurdah Itah quartet was augmented with two keyboardists and a guitarist, giving the band a much more flexible lineup. With Vander and Jannik Top also contributing keyboards, the band is able to create some of the most intricate and dynamic music ever recorded under Magma's name. Vander unquestionably reaches his compositional peak here, fulfilling the musical goals he'd been exploring since the first album. The epic title track, split in half over both sides of the album, is the embodiment of everything that makes Magma's music so remarkable. Melodically sublime and harmonically unfathomable, the music is dark and intensely fierce while maintaining a sense of ethereal beauty and haunting mystery. The simple three note ascending motif, which serves as the unifying element of the piece, is supported by countless harmonic and rhythmic variations, allowing the most repetitive element of the music to also be the driving force in the development of the composition. The voice continues to evolve as the primary melodic instrument, here avoiding lyrical content and simply singing syllables a majority of the time. The emphasis is now clearly on the music as the main vehicle for the Kobaian narrative, the specific details of which have understandably become much more enigmatic. The two short companion pieces on this album, closing out each side as a sort of coda, presumably each highlight some element of this story. On "Ork Alarm" Jannik Top uses his cello combined with dramatic vocals to create a dark and frantic mood which rises to a furious climax. Contrasting that is Vander's "Coltrane Sundia," which closes out the album with a beautifully peaceful acoustic piano and guitar theme.

Live (Hhai)

1975 saw several personnel changes in Magma's lineup, but the instrumentation which recorded the brilliant Kohntarkosz remained virtually unchanged, only adding Didier Lockwood on violin. This ensemble recorded what is generally considered Magma's strongest, most diverse, and most impressive album. The double live record contains versions of six of Magma's most appealing works, infused with even more drama, emotion, and dynamics than the studio material. An awe-inspiring full-length rendition of "Kohntark" opens the album, following the studio version closely but opening up in the second part for a frenzied violin solo from Lockwood and a short bass solo from Bernard Paganotti. The piece culminates with a rousing choral climax replacing the slower, darker conclusion to the studio recording. A new track, "Hhai," follows, featuring a bright, optimistic repeating electric piano figure which accompanies the melody, stated through Klaus Blasquiz's inspiring vocal gymnastics and Lockwood's supple violin. The piece opens up for some electric piano soloing and builds to another dramatic vocal conclusion. Vander significantly rearranged the opening track from Magma's first album, "Kobaia," to construct the next piece. With a prominent bass line and syncopated electric piano chords, "Kobah" has a flowing, laid-back funk feel to it, incorporating some tight violin and guitar fills. "Lihns" is another new track, a peaceful, celestial, hymn-like piece with gentle vocals lilting over a delicate electric piano figure. The album closes with the second half of a "Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh" performance, beginning with a short, violent bass solo and a soaring violin solo before proceeding into the dramatic finale. This live version omits the closing choral coda. The Seventh CD release of Live also includes two extra tracks. "Da Zeuhl Wortz Mekanik" immediately precedes the "Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh" excerpt, effectively capturing about two-thirds of the full piece. "Emehnteht-Re" is another new track which begins with a haunting choral melody, leading into a rhythmically augmented variation accompanied by a repetitive violin, bass, and high-hat groove.

Theatre Du Taur

Recorded in Toulouse roughly three months after the concerts from which Live were taken, this two CD set was released for the first time in 1994 on Christian Vander's AKT label. The band is identical to the lineup on Live except for the replacement of keyboardist Jean Pierre Asseline with Patrick Gauthier. This concert features fantastic performances of "Kohntarkosz," "Hhai," "Kobaia," and "Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh," with slightly different arrangements from the Live album. "Kobaia" is extended to nearly twice its earlier length to make room for a Gabriel Federow guitar solo. "Hhai" is also extended a few minutes, and "Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh" is presented in its entirety, not abridged as on Live. A bright soundboard recording, the sound quality is excellent, and does justice to these wonderful performances.

Theusz Hamtaahk

This unauthorized release contains the first half of a live concert from March 1976. The band's lineup is identical to that of the Theatre Du Taur show, but the performance reveals, among other things, the prominence to which Bernard Paganotti's bass had grown during the 6 months since the Toulouse concert. Both in his extended fuzz bass solos and his monstrous presence during ensemble parts, Paganotti gives the music a much heavier feel than it previously had. This disc features two of Magma's epic pieces, "Kohntarkosz" and the yet-to-be officially released "Theusz Hamtaahk." The rendition of "Kohntarkosz" is similar to previous live versions, but opens up a bit more to feature a synthesizer solo in addition to the usual bass and violin solos. "Theusz Hamtaahk" stylistically dates from the Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh/Wurdah Itah period, and in fact begins with a slower version of the opening two sections of "Wurdah Itah." The repetitive keyboard figure from "Wurdah Itah" is maintained while the dark vocal melodies of "Theusz Hamtaahk" take over, exploring a somewhat similar musical terrain.

Mekanik Zeuhl Wortz

A two CD set, this contains the second half of the concert begun on Theusz Hamtaahk. The first disc features a stunning and powerful rendition of "Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh," which unfortunately fades out several minutes before the end of the piece is reached. Still, this is in the running for the best version ever released. Paganotti's heavy bass gives the piece a relentless momentum, and his overwhelming solo continues for more than 11 minutes before giving way to Didier Lockwood's violin. The second disc contains lengthy versions of "De Futura Hiroshima," a Jannik Top piece to appear on Udu Wudu, and "Emehnteht-Ptah," an extended Christian Vander drum solo. While 25 minutes of drum soloing may get a bit tiresome, this is a welcome inclusion as the only Vander drum feature ever released. The sound quality on both Theusz Hamtaahk and Mekanik Zeuhl Wortz is quite good, especially considering the age and the source of the recordings.

Udu Wudu

Here, Christian Vander strives to incorporate the various past styles of Magma into a single composite sound. Thus, one can hear elements of the early spirited jazz-rock mingling with the mechanical drive of the Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh period and the vocal-heavy, complex arrangements of the most recent works. A core group of Vander, Jannik Top, and Klaus Blasquiz is joined by several other musicians on various tracks. The first half of the album contains five short pieces; three composed by Vander and one each from Top and Bernard Paganotti. Overall the music is extremely dark and foreboding, with a heavy bass presence and prominent use of the synthesizer. Paganotti's contribution, "Weidorje," features the insistent, repetitive bass riffing and chant-like melodies that his later group of the same name would come to embody. The second half of the album features Top's 18 minute piece "De Futura," a truly frightening, doomy vision. Two heavy bass themes alternate through several variations, joined by a sinister synthesizer, Vander's furious drumming and Blasquiz's vocals for a frantic accelerando to the diabolic ending.

Inedits

Released in 1977, Inedits contains live excerpts from six unreleased pieces, recorded over several years during the early to mid '70s. The recordings capture some of the Magma lineups not represented on the studio albums, and the edits tend to focus on the solo or instrumental sections of the pieces. The first two tracks, from 1974, feature some heavy fuzz bass jamming from Jannik Top, as well as a Claude Olmos guitar solo. The middle two tracks also hail from 1974/75, and highlight the electric piano; Benoit Widemann's nimble soloing on "Om Zanka," and the funky Rhodes riffing of Gerard Bikialko and Micky Grailler along with another Claude Olmos solo on "Gamma." The final two tracks present some earlier material; an avant-garde sounding excerpt from the 1001 Centigrades era, and a very "MDK"-ish snippet from the 1973 Mekanik Kommandoh lineup. It's a shame one can't hear the full pieces these tracks were extracted from, but this is still an extremely interesting and strong collection of live material.

Attahk

While Attahk continues in the same general musical direction set by Udu Wudu, the moods and emotions evoked on this album are decidedly more upbeat and positive. At times funky and at times jazzy, Vander's music on Attahk is thoroughly energetic and maintains a strong spiritual quality. A noticeable gospel influence has crept into the vocals, which are among the most acrobatic and dynamic on any Magma album. The seven pieces explore several stylistic variations on the Magma sound, all the while conveying a somewhat uncharacteristically hopeful and optimistic sentiment. Though the lyrics are still in Kobaian, the pieces don't seem to directly relate to any of the previous elements of the Kobaian concept. Attahk proves to be a very strong and engaging album, the last of Magma's studio efforts to fulfill the potential of Vander's musical vision.

Retrospektiw III

In June of 1980, various Magma alumni gathered in Paris for a series of reunion concerts. The two Retrospektiw albums that resulted present some of the best performances from those shows, covering several of Magma's classic pieces and live favorites. Retrospektiw III contains three tracks, two of them previously unreleased. "Retrovision" is an 18 minute extravaganza featuring Bernard Paganotti's thick bass, an energetic guitar solo from Jean-Luc Chevalier, and a healthy dose of the gospel-influenced vocal style originated on Attahk. Compositionally it comes from a similar musical mold as the material on Udu Wudu, and even briefly quotes a section from "De Futura." The version of "Hhai" found here is the longest one on record, clocking in at over 13 minutes. It's highlight is a blistering, back and forth violin/synthesizer duel showing off the soloing chops of Didier Lockwood and Benoit Widemann. The closing track is the short and beautiful "La Dawotsin"; a solo electric piano/voice piece performed by Vander.

Retrospektiw I - II

The second album culled from the 1980 reunion concerts is a double, and features breathtaking performances of two of Magma's epic live pieces. The first official release of "Theusz Hamtaahk" is a welcome inclusion. This version begins slow and deliberate, gradually picking up momentum through the repetitive instrumental middle section. Agitated vocal and synthesizer melodies build to several peaks during the finale before bringing the piece to a resolute ending. The rendition of "Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh" captured here is perhaps the most powerful one ever released. The use of synthesizer on this version is unique and extremely alluring. Bernard Paganotti's bass solo towards the end of the piece is short and rather avant-garde, quite different from the type he used to play in the mid '70s. It leads into a spectacular long violin solo from Lockwood that is perhaps one of his finest moments with Magma.

Concert - Bobino 1981

The latest release on Vander's AKT label is a two CD set featuring live material from 1981. The band at this point was fairly versatile, with multi-keyboards and horns joining the multi-vocal, bass and drum lineup. Thus the song renditions presented here are generally full and lush, and bear some resemblance to the sound of late '70s fusion groups like Return To Forever. The selection of pieces on this set, though, is sort of a mixed bag. The version of "Hhai" is as strong as the one on Retrospektiw III, and features guitarist Jean-Luc Chevalier trading furious solos with Benoit Widemann on synth. Chevalier also contributes outstanding solos on an extended "Retrovision" as well as on the highlight of the set, a 30 minute previously unreleased "Zess." This Vander composition is in the classic Magma style, beginning with a long, mysterious choral incantation and concluding with a slow, dramatic crescendo to the finale of the piece. Aside from a very fusionish "Zain," the remaining tracks are rather weak, and tend more towards the style of Magma's next studio album, Merci.

Merci

With a seven year hiatus since Magma's previous studio album, Merci finds Vander pushing a completely new sound for the band. The influence of early '80s pop music is fairly strong here; gated drums, synth bass and dance rhythms abound. More traditional song structures are employed by Vander, and the Kobaian language is gone, with French and English lyrics taking its place. The vocals and harmonies are still often reminiscent of '70s Magma, but the gospel twist which was introduced on Attahk has become much more pronounced. Rene Garber's 11 minute track "Elephas Levi" comes the closest to evoking the spirit of classic Magma, but lacks the fire and emotion of the earlier works.

Mythes Et Legendes, Vol.1

Released in 1985, Mythes Et Legendes, Vol. 1 is essentially a condensed overview of the Kobaian story. It features extracts from several early compositions tracing the narrative up through the end of the first cycle, "Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh." The pieces are interspersed with spoken interludes, in French, which serve to fill in other parts of the story and connect the musical segments. While most of the music is taken from the studio albums, there are two excerpts here which cannot be found on any other albums. The short piece "Klaus Kohmbalad" is an extension of the serene theme heard fading out at the end of Vander's "Riah Sahiltaahk" on 1001 Centigrades. Also included are eight minutes of excerpts from a presumably early live performance of "Theusz Hamtaahk," a somewhat different and more upbeat arrangement than later versions.

Les Voix

Les Voix was the debut release on Christian Vander's AKT label, created in order to make available various live Magma recordings currently gathering dust in Vander's archives. This was a bit of an odd one to start with, considering it hails from a 1992 concert which featured an almost exclusively vocal lineup and no electric instruments. The performance, however, is stunning, and this rather delicate lineup still imbues the music with Magma's characteristic emotional intensity. The CD opens with "Emehnteht-Re," a mysterious, ethereal piece performed by a choral octet accompanied by a lone piano. The cheerful second track, "C'est Pour Nous," comes from one of Vander's Offering albums, and gives him a chance to show off his vocal skills. The final pair of tracks, each around 16-17 minutes long, present excerpts from two of Magma's longer pieces, "Zess" and "Wurdah Itah." These haunting acoustic versions are deceptively restrained, revealing an expressiveness and power equal to any of Magma's electric lineups. Recorded straight to digital at the concert, the sound quality on this disc is superb.

(Originally published in ExposÚ #8, p. 8-10,13; Edited for Gnosis 1/20/01)



Peter Thelen 20-Jan-2001 Les Voix

Les Voix is the first release on Christian Vander's AKT label, recorded at the Douarnenez concert, August 2, 1992. The lineup at this point featured Christian (vocals, piano and drums), Simon Goubert (piano, keys), Pierre Michel Sivadier (keys), Philippe Dardelle (contrabass), and in keeping with the title ("The Voices"), Stella Vander and seven other vocalists grace this show with a constant flow of high energy choral work. As might be expected from this mostly acoustic lineup, the musical style here is more in keeping with the recent Offering albums than the early Magma of the 70's; drums are used only sparingly. The album's four tracks include three from the vintage years: 'Emehnteht Re', 'Zess' and a sixteen minute version of 'Wurdah Itah'; in each case the chorus has been used to implement the parts originally done by guitars and synthesizer. The end result is nothing short of stunning. The recording quality is superb, it's easy to forget this is a live one!

(Originally published in ExposÚ #1, p. 7, Edited for Gnosis 1/19/01)




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