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Magma

Zess

Review by Gary Hill

I don't think that these guys will ever have a huge following. Their music is too strange for the masses. When you consider that the lyrics are all in their own constructed language and the music seems to merge equal parts classical, jazz and rock into something that's really not any of the three, you'll understand that they are not intended for the general music fan. I would think that anyone with an open mind could appreciate the sheer talent on display. For me Magma's music works largely because they are unique. You won't find another act who sounds like them. Their music is challenging, but also rewarding. This new set is a 37 or so minute epic divided into seven movements. There are rumors that it will be the last Magma album. I hope not, but if it is, it is a fitting swansong.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2019  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Zess
This piece is of epic proportions and divided into multiple movements. Sometimes the division between movements is obvious. At other points it is seamless. There is a real snowball rolling down a hill kind of sense in terms of the movement and growth here.
1.
Piano with a dramatic, foreboding tone brings this into being. Some classical strings are heard, adding to that sense. A spoken vocal is heard before female singers join. This has a very classical music bent to it and works forward gradually. It takes on operatic elements as the male vocal returns in a sung mode. As the female voices take control again, the track focuses almost exclusively on classical music. It drops down in intensity after a time as piano and female voices lead the way. The singing turns toward jazz as this gets ready to transition into the next movement.
2.
Piano with an element of rock music seeming almost ready to pop out serves as the backdrop as this movement starts. A male vocal comes over the top in spoken ways.  While this has both classical and jazz in the mix, it's more toward the classical side.
3.
There is a jazz meets classical element here. This builds in intensity in more jazz-oriented ways. It is very much a continuation of the previous movement, though. It has a very seamless transition. This really rises into some powerful territory, reaching some real peaks. They explode out into some of the first real rock music of the set here.
4.
This movement is where things really start to soar and reach for the heavens. This is so powerful. Classical strings dance over the top as the cut continues building upward. There is both a musical building and an emotional one. Things peak into a cool prog rock meets classical thing around the half-way mark of this movement. It seems that everything to this point was building gradually to this. Some jazz music is in the mix, too. The prog shifts are fast paced and impressive.
5.
Continuing from where the previous movement left off, this has a focus on the female vocalists. There is a driving impetus here and a lot of classical music in the arrangement. It's still very much progressive rock, but informed heavily by classical music. It gets jazzier in the driving modes. As it drops back a bit a different flavor is expressed. The interplay between male and female voices later is quite cool.
6.
The piece reaches another powerhouse peak on this movement. This thing is so powerful. It is another section where it feels that the whole composition has been building to this point. Classical and intense rock merge on a cacophonous section further down the road. Then it resolves to a dramatic classically based movement.
7.
After the previous movement peaks, this becomes the resolution. It comes in with a satisfying, mellower section. The vocals create a balladic approach. Bursts of powered up chorale type stuff serves as a counterpoint. The closing section is classic Magma and makes for a great ending.
You'll find concert pics of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
 
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