|MEKANÏK DESTRUKTÏW KOMMANDÖH||1993||3.02/pi|
Magma is a progressive rock band based in Paris but mainly existing in some sort of sci-fi fantasy world (even more so than most prog outfits.) They sing in Kobaïan, which is, not so suprisingly, the language of Kobaïa, a planet colonized by refugees from Earth. Or something. The liner notes that aren’t in Kobaïan are in French, and I haven’t yet gathered up the courage to try to pick my way through them.
They are led by Christian Vander, a classically trained drummer who also contributes vocals and keyboards. I won’t go into the rest of their vast, ever-changing lineup here. The style of music they play is known as Zeuhl, and believe it or not, the band has actually spawned a small legion of followers who play their own take on Kobaïan music: a sort of maxi-minimalist opera influenced by krautrock and jazz and modern art music.
Lineup: Christian Vander: drums, vocals, organ, percussion. Jannik Top: bass. Klaus Blasquiz: vocals, percussion. Jean-Luc Manderlier: piano, organ. René Garber: bass clarinet, vocals. Claude Olmos: guitar. Stella Vander: Organik Kommandeühr, choir. Choir: Muriel Streifeld, Evelyne Razymovski, Michèle Saunier, Doris Reihnhardt. Teddy Lasry: Organik Kommandeühr, brass, flute.
Arguably the definitive Magma album, and one of the best progressive rock records of the 70s, M.D.K. is a continuous suite, with only the side break for an intermission. It is a focused barrage of voices and rhythm that doesn’t let up for 38 minutes, running through a variety of moods (mostly dark ones) and who-knows-how-many operatically chanted catchy refrains that repeat, evolve, and run together over the course of the piece. An uncharitable person might suggest that it was stretched out to 38 minutes only to fit the standard length of an LP—but I’d rather toss those thoughts aside and let myself be swept away by the music, and the relentless backbeat.
Despite the opera associations, this is not prog rock in the (sometimes all-too-accurate) pejorative sense of rock infused with the wimpiness of classical music. Magma come at it from the opposite direction entirely: classical music which is prepared to fuck you up.
Recording in a non-existent language was actually a brilliant idea: they can write 40 minutes of the most pompous, idiotic lyrics ever committed to tape and who would ever know? Just leap in and soak up that crazy Kobaïan sound, and let the music tell its own story. Heck, write one yourself, if you want.