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Progressive Rock CD Reviews


Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh

Review by Julie Knispel

Magma arose out of the French music scene of the late 1960's with a sound unlike any rock band from any region. Based around the spiritual jazz explorations of John Coltrane with lyrics in an artificially constructed language called Kobaian, Magma was the brainchild of drummer Christian Vander. Through an ever changing array of musicians and lineups, the band's signature sound was never far from the forefront, even if styles shifted (as they would at the end of the first long phase of their career); heavily driven by Vander's drumming, with piano and thick bass guitar creating a foundation for intense vocal workouts. Arrangements were often somewhat deceptive in their complexity, as what would sound like a single musical phrase repeated ad nauseum actually featured gradual shifts in accent, moving progressively from one theme to another.

The band's best-known works are part of a series of story albums telling the tale of visitors from the distant planet Kobaia. Once residents of Earth, they left to find a place unspoiled by society and industry. Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh, perhaps the band's most acclaimed work, tells the tale of a Kobaian prophet named Nebehr Güdahtt, who warns the people of Earth that they are destroying themselves through destroying the planet. Only through a spiritual cleansing can they possibly find salvation. At first, the peoples of Earth resist, organizing and marching against him. By the end of the album, however, a change is seen, and pockets of followers begin to follow the teachings of the Kreuhn Kohrmahn, Kobaia's Supreme Being.

Magma's music is difficult to come to grips with, between the apparent repetition and the use of lyrics in a language that is impenetrable. One must accept the vocals as an instrument rather than a relayer of story and content, listening for emotion instead of narrative. If one can do that, the subtle beauty (and often, the brutal intensity) of Magma's music can be more readily seen.

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Track by Track Review
Hortz Fur Dëhn Stekëhn West
Piano and bass ostinatos open the album, as smatterings of cymbal crashes and brass hits mix with bursts of wah-seasoned guitar. Vander and a choir of 7 other singers begin to chant in Kobaian, while a heavy and anthemic musical theme arises from the depths. Vocals shift to being handled primarily by female voices, while brass and clarinet intone the melodic figure, orchestral in its majesty. Vocals range from the chanted to intense, nearly primal screams. Rene Garber's contributions on bass guitar should not be overlooked; while perhaps overshadowed by bassists who followed him in the group (Jannick Top,, his playing is fluid and elastic, pinning everything together with a tone that cuts through the mix without being trebly and thin.
Ïma Süri Dondaï
Leading out of the opening movement, this section is built around a fairly simple melodic figure with solo male vocals, most likely contributed by legendary singer Klaus Blasquiz. Alternating between his solo vocals and intense bursts of choral chanting, the album maintains its intensity here. Several musical themes from the first movement are revisited in variation form here, in typical Magma style. Flute and bass clarinet feature heavily here, while horns (not to be featured in Magma's material after this album) continue to add richness to the arrangement.
Kobaïa Iss de Hündïn
Translated, "Kobaïa Iss de Hündïn" means "Kobaia is Infinite/Limitless" (yes, there are Kobaian to English dictionaries available online, allowing you to translate the known Kobaian words into English). Several simple melodic figures are built upon here, with discrete piano, horn and vocal melodies all evolving and drawing together to a single spiritual intoning of the name Kobaia. An instrumental section evolves out of this, with Claude Olmos' guitar solos adding a nice additional lead "voice" to the material. The instrumental section fades way too early, one might feel.
Da Zeuhl Wortz Mekanïk
M.D.K.'s fourth track opens with a reiteration of the joined melodic figures from "Kobaïa Iss de Hündïn," previous, with a thrumming Garber bass line and wild chanted female vocals. This section is one of the more melodic on the album, with several separate vocal and piano themes to follow and enjoy.
Nebëhr Gudahtt
As mentioned in the general overview, the subject of this movement is the prophet of Kobaia who came to Earth to warn its residents of their impending self-inflicted doom. The track opens quietly, with choked cymbals, a simple piano line, and a melodic bass line played high on the neck. Male vocals (most likely Vander's) are dark and low pitched, creating an air of imposing power, shifting from sung notes to almost spoken words. Even as vocals shift to a sung falsetto, the imposing mood and ominous power is not lessened. As the track builds in intensity, the male vocals become almost psychotic and unhinged, expressing huge passion and emotion in a way that can be understood even if the words themselves are not. Under it all, chanted female voices (Gudahtt's followers, perhaps) support the male lead, while the band builds layer after layer of instrumentation toward a massive climax.
Mekanïk Kommandöh
A previously recorded full-length version of this album went by the shorter and "simpler" title Mekanïk Kommandöh (this earlier version would finally see release in 1989, 16 years after its recording). The track carries on from "Nebëhr Gudahtt" previously, and as such it continues many of the same vocal and musical themes. Horns begin to filter back into the mix, often carrying the same melodies as the vocals. Organ (contributed by both Christian Vander and Jean Luc Manderlier) adds a somber, ornate tone before a massive explosion of rapture, with chanted vocals sung with more joy and emotion than one might think possible. The band's playing is quick and unfettered here, releasing thirty minutes of built up tension in just over 4 minutes.
Kreühn Köhrmahn Iss de Hündïn
Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh closes with this paean to the infinite and limitless nature of the Kobaian Supreme Being, the Kreühn Köhrmahn. More restrained in opening than the music which came before it, a single piano line leads into a slower, more gospel-like choral vocal arrangement (showcasing Christian Vander's love of soul and spiritual music). Underpinning it all is Vander's jazz-influenced drumming, while an over top intense screamed vocal line soars for the depths of space. Suddenly the mood shifts, with intense horns and a pounding beat arriving, as if from nowhere, heralding the screams of the damned evoked through male voice and horns. The album ends on 14 seconds of sustained feedback, leading the listener to wonder what just happened musically and thematically.
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