AMN Reviews: Magma – Emehntehtt-Re Trilogie DVD (2017; Seventh Records)

31usyqbgpulIn their 48th year, Magma shows no signs of slowing down. Touring extensively in 2015 and 2016, Christian Vander continues to lead an energetic ensemble of new and old members. The music of Magma is perhaps indescribably unique, consisting of a combination of symphonic rock, artistic chant, creative jazz, and minimalism. This 2-hour DVD release is notable because it features full versions of two of their more recently-released album-length suites: K.A. (Kohntarkosz Anteria) and Emehntehtt-Re. While both pieces trace their compositional lineage to the 70’s, studio recordings were first released in 2004 and 2009, respectively.

Recorded during their 2014 campaign, Magma’s performers are Stella Vander on vocals and percussion, Isabelle Feuillebois on vocals, Hervé Aknin on vocals, Benoît Alziary on vibraphone, James MacGaw on guitar, Bruno Ruder on keyboards, Philippe Bussonnet on bass, and of course Christian Vander on drums. The trilogy consists of three pieces, the aforementioned K.A. and Emehntehtt-Re, with Kohntarkosz sandwiched between.  All three are of epic length, each an entire album’s worth of music.

Christian Vander Quartet in the twentieth musi...

The DVD begins with the first ever officially-released live recording of K.A. Magma succeed in capturing the aggression, complexity, and subtle beauty of the piece. K.A. I and K.A. II are both vocal-heavy, with the latter featuring powerful call-and-response parts. K.A. III offers a more overt prog-rock approach, with a long keyboard-led instrumental break. Despite this performance having two fewer vocalists than the studio version, Stella Vander, Aknin, and Feuillebois capture the spirit and fullness of the original. Additionally, the contributions from MacGaw and Bussonnet go beyond the text of the piece, so to speak, providing accentuating lines and solos. The result is a brilliant rendition of one of Magma’s strongest compositions.

Kohntarkosz, the second offering, is a well-worn piece, performed by Magma for over 40 years. There are many versions thereof, but perhaps the classic rendition is from the 1975 Live/Hhaï recording.  So much has been written about Kohntarkosz over the years, especially its combination of harshness and delicacy.  Here, the guitar takes a lead role that was traditionally performed by a horn section. Overall, this version is a smoother and more polished Kohntarkosz than those of the past. The vocals, in particular, are both lilting and dark, exhibiting precision that results from heavy touring. Whether that adds or detracts from the experience depends on your take on Magma. The definitive live version of Kohntarkosz? Maybe, maybe not, but a very good one.

Emehntehtt-Re is a deceptively complex piece, especially the beginning of Part II, where three vocal lines combine into a main movement.  I have listened to the studio recording literally dozens of times, which has perhaps given me certain expectations about how this section should sound.  On the studio version, it contains a very powerful and full anthemic theme.  Here, the tempo is slower at first, the pacing is slightly different, and it doesn’t have the immediate punch of the studio version. However, as the piece goes on it picks up steam. By the time Magma reaches the Zombies section (Emehntehtt-Re contains a reworking of that Udu Wudu track), they are plowing along in archetypical Zeuhl fashion.

Simply put, Emehntehtt-Re Trilogie is a must for Magma fans, especially those of the direction the band has taken in the last two decades. And in case you didn’t figure it out yet, I’ve written this review solely based on the music on this DVD. The video? I’ll save that for another day.